Thread Tools Display Modes
Prev Previous Post   Next Post Next
Old 11-01-2009, 02:47 AM
xash is offline
Charter Member
Join Date: Jan 2001
Location: Palo Alto, CA
Posts: 4,133

How to protect and clean your computer from malware

There are 10 kinds of people in the world. Those who understand binary, and those who don't. This thread is for the latter kind.

There used to be a thread in GQ that gave you some good info on how to fix your computer from viruses or spyware, but that was more than 101 years ago. This is the new and updated version, back by popular demand. Now with shiny new tidbits. Meanwhile, those of you with Macs can just point and laugh.

Even if you don't currently have any problems, you could prevent future attacks by following the instructions below.

Q. My computer seems infected by some spyware/adware/virus. What do I do?

Here's what you need to do:

1. Go offline. Turn off WiFi, remove the Ethernet cable, or do whatever you need to go offline.
Note: If you see a fake "anti-virus" prompt, do not click anywhere on the screen. Just turn off your computer and follow these instructions.

If you are already infected with the fake "anti-virus" follow these steps first, then return and follow the rest of the steps in this thread:

How To Remove Antivirus Live and Other Rogue/Fake Antivirus Malware

2. Backup any important data to an external USB drive or CD/DVD.

3. Install anti-spyware software

Download some spyware removers. If you have access to another computer, download these files on the other computer, then transfer them to your computer using a USB stick. Boot into Safe Mode in Windows on your computer, and run the following software:

Note: To boot into Safe Mode, press F8 just after powering on your computer, and keep pressing F8 in 3 second intervals till you see a screen with choices. Select "Safe Mode" (not Safe Mode with Networking) from the options and press enter. If you don't have access to another computer from which to download the software, then select "Safe Mode with Networking" instead. Once your computer boots up into Safe Mode, proceed with installing the following software.

ATF Cleaner
Note: Run this first to clean out all temporary files. This will greatly reduce scan time.

Malwarebytes' Anti-Malware

Spybot Search & Destroy
Note: Make sure to select "TeaTimer" and "Spybot Resident" options during install. TeaTimer is a bit heavy on resources, but will protect you from future attacks. If you have more than 1GB of RAM, select it. After running the full scan and cleaning up whatever was found, click on the Immunize icon on the menu on the left, and then click the Immunize button to immunize against known spyware.

Lavasoft Ad-Aware

Super AntiSpyware

Panda Anti-Rootkit

Trend Micro Rootkit Buster

After installing each of the above, run them one after the other. Make sure to choose "Custom" install whenever possible, because some of these might install additional stuff such as toolbars and other options which you don't need. Once installed, update the software with the latest definitions before running the scans. Run each of the above in full-scan mode, one after the other. Make sure to clean/fix whatever it finds.

4. Install anti-virus software

Download and install one of the following free anti-virus software:

Avira AntiVir
Note: This is reportedly the best free anti-virus, but some users have reported issues with the definitions update function. If the update function doesn't work on your machine, uninstall and install another anti-virus from this list. For advanced users, if you want to disable the upgrade nag screen that Avira displays, please see this page.

Microsoft Security Essentials

Avast! Anti-Virus

AVG Anti-Virus

5. Clean out temp files, and other junk

Download and run:

Note: This is a powerful cleaner software, be careful with what you select. Also run the registry cleaner from Tools/Registry Cleaner

6. Remove suspicious and unused starup entries

After using CCleaner to clean up temp files and cookies, go to the Tools option in CCleaner, then click the Startup option. Here, you'll see a list of all programs that startup when your computer boots up.

If you're sure of what you're doing, you can delete entries. If you are unsure, disable the entry instead.

If you want to scan any individual file on your computer against about 40 anti-virus programs, upload the file to the following site (free, no registration):

You can also check each individual entry against the exhaustive list at the following link to decide whether to keep it or delete it:
Note: Scroll down on that page to see the Search option, then type in the name of the startup entry to see what it's for.

7. Download and run HijackThis

If, after doing all of the above, you still find that something is not right on your computer - e.g. search results are being hijacked - then your only option to clean up is to get expert help for your individual case.

Download and run HijackThis:

Read the FAQ of HijackThis from the above link. Once you have saved your HijackThis log, upload it to the following forum to get help from a techie:
Note: Please read the instructions carefully before posting to the above forum

If you want to quickly scan your HijackThis log using a web-based automated tool, use this:
Note: Use this for reference purposes only. If you don't understand any of this, just get help from the forum linked above instead.

8. Re-install Windows

If you still have problems caused by spyware/adware/virus, do a clean re-install of Windows. Make sure to backup your product keys, etc. before doing a clean install. There are freeware tools that will extract keys from existing installations on your computer. One such tool is:

9. Start a thread in GQ
If you believe that the solutions listed above do not apply to you, or you have attempted them and have further screwed up your computer, or if you are unsure about how to proceed, feel free to start a new thread in GQ.

10. Start a thread in the Pit
If you just can't take it anymore, rant about it.

11. Other useful software
Download and install Ghostery and set it to auto-update the blacklist.

This site contains an exhaustive list of the best free software for Windows, including Firewalls, Disk Deframenters, System Utilities, and other software to optimize your computer:

12. Backup Backup Backup
I cannot stress enough on this. Anyone who has lost data in the past will tell you how important this is. External USB hard disks are available for under $100 these days, and allow you to backup your entire computer.

My favorite backup software is Acronis TrueImage. It's not free, but totally worth the money:

Another favorite is Dropbox. Download and install it, and set your important folders to backup directly to Dropbox.

Other free backup software options are reviewed here:

Note: This post will be updated from time to time. If you have general computer questions, or solutions to common problems, that you think will be of help to others and should be included in this thread, feel free to add it below. Some of the posts from this thead that contain useful info may be copy/pasted into the OP. Some posts may be deleted to keep this thread useful.

Thanks for reading.


Last edited by xash; 06-23-2012 at 03:16 PM. Reason: Added Ghostery and Dropbox


Thread Tools
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is Off
HTML code is Off

Forum Jump

All times are GMT -5. The time now is 08:55 PM.

Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.8.7
Copyright ©2000 - 2019, vBulletin Solutions, Inc.

Send questions for Cecil Adams to:

Send comments about this website to:

Terms of Use / Privacy Policy

Advertise on the Straight Dope!
(Your direct line to thousands of the smartest, hippest people on the planet, plus a few total dipsticks.)

Copyright © 2019 STM Reader, LLC.

Copyright © 2017