My main question is if I have a dirty, virus infected, windows hard drive and I want to copy stuff to a clean backup hard drive, can I use a Fedora live CD to copy the files without the virus infecting the clean drive?
Heres the background. Basically I have a windows computer that's totally owned by viruses. I have another clean hard drive for storage. I want to save some of the stuff on the infected computer to the clean hard drive. If i plug both drives in, and boot to the Fedora live CD, can I copy over files from the dirty drive to the clean one without worrying about the virus jumping drives?
If you don't copy any infected files to the backup hard drive you're good
Linux itself is impervious to windows viruses ( 80,000 plus plus ) but is vulnerable to linux viruses ( about 100 - 200 are thought to exist ).
As long as you have enough RAM you can install anti-virus software while running under your live CD session and scan your files before you copy them to prevent any nasty files from getting copied to the clean hard drive.
ClamAV can be installed while running the live CD.
yum install clamav clamav-update edit /etc/freshclam.conf remove the "Example" line, save, quit, then run freshclam. freshclam will download the latest virus definitions.
You can also install the linux version of AVG using rpm. rpm -i package.rpm
Whichever software you choose make sure it is authentic and always verify the keys and checksums. There is a lot of malware out there, particularly for windows although there have been attacks against linux too, purporting to be anti-virus or legitimate security software.
Software installed using yum is digitally signed and checked to prevent that.
I don't think I've ever heard of any FAT32 corruption under Linux that wasn't due to hardware problems. I believe FAT32 under Linux has been stable for many many years so it should be safe, although I would not recommend it for legal and other reasons. Microsoft recently sued tomtom over FAT32 and forced them to settle, even though there was a good chance the FAT patents were invalid to begin with.
NTFS is a different animal. I think the NTFS driver is generally quite stable but I wouldn't bet my life on it. NTFS read support was stable and write support was experimental but this was a few years ago.
You could, at least temporarily, copy your data to an ext2 or ext3 filesystem and if you don't have a huge amount of data, archive your stuff to DVD.
I'm in the exact situation the OP is in...my friends laptop is completely unusable right now and I'm pretty sure its due to viruses...my plan was to simply reformat it but he told me that he would really like to save all his school work before wiping everything...I did a little research and found this