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How Do I Remove Malware?

Antivirus and other security software can help reduce the chances of a computer being infected by a virus or other malware.
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  • Written By: R. Kayne
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 13 November 2014
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Malware, or malicious software, is the scourge of the Internet. Malware can slow a computer to a crawl by running unauthorized background processes. It can consume bandwidth, leading to a sluggish Internet connection, and cause annoying popup advertisements or redirects of your browser. Malware might also bypass security measures, steal sensitive information, and trigger system instability. Luckily, there are various ways to remove malware.

Most computers have at least some anti-malware software already installed, such as an anti-virus (A/V) program. Try using the A/V's “on-demand” scanner to check your system. Be sure the program’s anti-virus database is updated before starting, and configure the software to not only detect but to remove malware. If the infection is a new strain, it might have slipped by the program prior to the virus signature being added to the database.

If you have a separate anti-spyware program installed, run its on-demand scanner next. If not, it’s a good time to download a program, install it, and allow it to do an in-depth scan of your system. Many malware programs are disguised as anti-spyware, so only use a program recommended and hosted by a well-established, reputable site such as PCWorld, MajorGeeks, ZDNet, TuCows, SourceForge, or the like.

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As an adjunct to installed software, you can also use an online scanner hosted on a website. Caution is again warranted, as malware sites posing as anti-malware sites will return false results, scaring the surfer into installing an “anti-malware” program that is actually malware itself. Luckily, there are several, free reputable online scanners, which include the ESET Online Scanner, Trend Micro’s HouseCall, Panda’s ActiveScan, Computer Associates’ Threat Scanner, F-Secure’s Online Scanner, and more. Most free online scanners will only detect but not remove malware, though the ESET and Trend Micro online scanners do remove malware. An online scan requires ActiveX controls to be enabled and can take a considerable amount of time depending on the scanner and the amount of data to be scanned. In some cases it might be more convenient to let a scan run overnight.

Only one anti-virus program should be installed on a system at any given time, but several anti-spyware programs can be present, though having more than one running as a background process might slow the system or cause conflicts. When you suspect an infection, however, (or as a matter of monthly maintenance), you can open these programs, update their databases, and run the on-demand scanners consecutively to look for and remove malware. What one program misses, another might find. This is also the value in augmenting an installed A/V program with a periodic online A/V scan.

On occasions where you suspect or have confirmed that a specific infection is present, perhaps a virus or worm “making the rounds,” you might not want or need to scan the entire system, but wish only to address the particular threat. In this case, enter the same of the infection in any search engine, along with “+removal,” as in, virusname +removal. Follow reputable links to find potential fixes such as patches or small scripts that will check for and remove the malware.

If you receive monthly Microsoft system updates, the Malicious Software Removal Tool is automatically downloaded and run once to detect and remove malware, looking chiefly for timely, prevalent infections. When malware is detected and removed, the program generates a report to the user. This tool should not be relied upon as the sole strategy against malware, but does help to augment a monthly regimen of routine computer scanning that includes an up-to-date anti-virus program and at least one reputable anti-spyware program.

To prevent future infections, keep the operating system patched with the latest security releases, use a good A/V program that is updated daily, and compliment it with high-ranking anti-spyware. Avoid downloading software from unknown sites and beware of shared files such as torrents. Much malware is spread through email, so delete all mail that comes from unknown sources, unopened, and don't click on a file received through email unless it comes from a trusted source.

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Discuss this Article

lluviaporos
Post 3

@pastanaga - I read an article once which described the work of someone who hunted down malware makers for a living, and he did things like set up a computer system that was completely unprotected in order to study what came into it.

Apparently, within minutes of going online, his unprotected system was riddled with viruses and malware, which I find surprising. I always keep my anti-viral software on and take precautions, but I thought it was measure you take just in case, rather than something that absolutely had to be done or you would lose your system.

pastanaga
Post 2

@Mor - Unfortunately, even if people can understand how to work the internet on the surface, a lot of them don't understand the implications of it and they leave themselves vulnerable.

Generally, I find, when removing malware the easiest thing to do is to do a system restore, as long as you've been keeping a backup. If that doesn't work, then I'd look up online the specific files or symptoms your computer is showing, as it's likely that other people have recorded how to get rid of that particular form of malware.

I know some people who go as far as to segment their computer so that there isn't any way for anything found online to get to anything important, but that is probably going a bit too far for the average user.

Mor
Post 1

It's far better to make sure that you don't get malware in the first place. My neighbor is constantly having me over to remove malware from his laptop and he basically makes the same mistakes over and over even though I tell him not to. He downloads things from the internet and doesn't run his virus check because it slows everything down.

I suspect what he actually does is visit sites he doesn't want to tell me about (and which I don't want to hear about!) but even if you do that you can protect yourself with proper anti-viral measures and some common sense.

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