Try as we might to safeguard our PCs, computer viruses are still a fact of life. As much as we’d like to view the internet as a safe haven for our time-wasting pursuits, there are a number of risks that must be taken into account. Pop-up ads, social media, email attachments – all these are major threats to our computer’s safety and well-being.
Your computer is bound to have contact with viruses, no matter how many precautions you take. While removal of malware can be a difficult process, it can be done for free. Follow this helpful guide where we lay out the steps you will need to take.
There are many kinds of malware
The term “virus” is not strictly used to describe actual computer viruses, but is actually a catch-all term that is used to cover any sort of computer infection. When it comes to malware (the correct term for these infections), there are three different types to be on the lookout for: worms, Trojans, and viruses.
There is also a form of malware known as scareware, which will send you prompts that request money in order to fix your issue. Another common form of malware is adware, which is unsolicited advertisement that gets installed on your personal computer.
Image credit: MassIT
How to diagnose infection symptoms
A common mistake made by users is assuming that their antivirus program will catch all of the infections for them. While they certainly are intelligent and can help greatly, they are much more effective when you remain diligent about installing the latest updates.
Top 7 signs of malware
An antivirus program should be used in tandem with your own malware hunting skills. And it helps if you know what to look for.
1. Homepage changes without your consent
If you are now being directed to a different homepage when you log in to your preferred web browser, this is a sign that your computer has become infected with malware. When your homepage randomly changes without your consent, this is a telltale sign of malware related infection.
2. Site re-directions
Just like the previous sign, a web browser that starts directing you to sites that you did not choose to go to is most likely infected with malware.
3. Pop-up ads
No lengthy explanation needed here as we all know what pop-ups are and why they are bad.
4. Regular crashes
While an occasional crash may be unrelated to malware, frequent crashes are typically a symptom of a larger problem. If crashes are happening in conjunction with the rest of these problems, you are likelier to have malware.
5. Unfamiliar toolbar
If you see a toolbar that you know you did not install, then it is probably there due to malware problems that have gone without correction.
6. Slow running times
Computers run slowly when they are online, but if yours is also running slowly offline, then this is a sign that you have a malware issue.
7. Poor browser loading
If your browser’s internet connection is in perfect working order, but your pages are not loading in a timely manner, this is a malware related problem more often than not.
Simple steps to take once your PC is infected
Once a user learns that their computer is infected, there are feelings of panic and trepidation. A person often feels completely unprotected in a scenario such as this. However, a malware infection does not have to be the death knell for your PC (or its file library). By following these ten easy steps, you can rid yourself of worms, Trojans, and viruses, allowing your computer to resume its normal running capacity.
1. Be sure to back up important personal files
Backing up files is something that we should all be doing before malware has a chance to attack. Even if you already are, your files should also be copied into a second location, independent of your PC, just in case. There is no need to back up every single file on your computer, as you could end up saving infected files along with those that are clean.
2. Disconnect your PC from the internet
Once an infection has set up a shop inside your computer, it will transmit signals by using your internet connection. When you are battling malware, it is important to disconnect from the internet entirely. If you are a desktop web browser, all you will need to do is unplug your Ethernet cord. A laptop user must unplug the Ethernet cable from its connection, and a wireless browser can disable their connection by pressing a button on their laptop or find their internet connection within the task bar.
3. Locate an antivirus rescue disk and boot in safe mode
When a user boots their computer in safe mode, this allows them to prevent every component of the PC that is non-essential from having a chance to run, which gives them a far greater probability of locating the issue. If you wish to start your computer in safe mode, press the restart button, then press and hold the F8 button during the startup process, and select the Safe mode option.
Should the Safe mode option not be highlighted automatically, you are able to navigate to it by using your arrow keys. After you’ve booted your computer, you can continue the process of removing malware. If the computer doesn’t start, a Windows rescue disk can be used. There are also free rescue disks available from companies such as AVG and Avira. A Linux Live disc also works wonders in these instances.
4. Track down another functioning computer
In the majority of the malware cleanup scenarios, you are going to need to use another reliable computer with internet access. This is due to the fact that you will need internet access to research the problems that you are attempting to correct. You will also need a reliable connection in order to download the programs required to fix the problem.
A person who does not own a second computer should make time to speak with a trusted friend or a family member and explain their situation. College or university students will typically be able to sidestep this issue, as their tuition payments entitle them to the use of a public computer lab.
When it’s time to transfer new programs to your old computer, a flash drive without any other files of value on it works best. A removable hard drive or an SD card can also do the trick.
5. Search for (and identify) the possible malware infections
Most malware infections that take place are specific in nature and require a certain procedure to be removed properly. Generic viruses tend to be much rarer. Do a basic search on your computer, incorporating every piece of information that you have about the malware. There are also a number of helpful forums that provide information about specific infections.
Gather as much information as possible so that you have a starting point for your search. In an ideal scenario, you will be able to find detailed instructions that show you how to remove the malware from start to finish. When you are completely lost for answers, turn to the internet or a computer care professional for additional help.
6. Use programs to scan for infections until they are eliminated
There will be instances where you cannot track any reliable information about the particular nature of your computer’s infection, but fear not, there is no shortage of tools that can be used in order to eliminate the issue. There are general malware blocking and removal programs, antivirus removers, root kit removers, as well as antiadware and antispyware programs.
HitmanPro and the Malwarebytes’ antimalware programs have both proven to be effective in the removal or infections. AdwCleaner is a reliable source for the removal of adware. Best of all, all of these programs are completely free. They can also be used simultaneously if necessary.
The programs that you end up deciding to use must be downloaded onto the clean secondary computer that you have procured previously, and once they are ready for use, they must be transferred onto the infected PC. Many of these programs require internet access to fully download, so you may need to return to Safe mode to run scans before reconnecting to the internet.
It is important to note that while you can use more than one anti malware program, the usage of multiple antivirus programs will cause them to conflict with one another.
7. Clean out useless programs and temporary files
After you’ve managed to remove the infection(s) from your computer, it is time to give your filing systems a serious overhaul. CCleaner works great for the cleanup process, although it is not known as a security program. DriveTidy and System Ninja are also available to aid you during the cleaning process.
Another helpful hint: using an uninstallation app such as GeekUninstaller will provide the help you need in identifying unwanted and unneeded programs. Once you are able to identify potentially harmful software that made its way onto your computer, the better your chances of removing it.
8. Get rid of your system restore points
While System Restore can certainly be helpful in a variety of instances and has gotten us all out of a jam or two, any system restore points that are used on your computer are susceptible to the presence of malware. Deleting your system restore points significantly cuts down on your personal computer’s vulnerability.
Unless you are absolutely certain about the location where you found the malware, it’s important to remove these points. For safety’s sake, it is recommended for you to get rid of each and every system restore point.
Follow these steps in order to remove the points (for users of Windows Vista 7): Click on your Start button, right click where it says Computer, then click on Properties.
On the left panel, click System Protection. From there, you may need to enter your administrator’s password for authentication. Once you’ve clicked the System Protection tab, click Configure, Delete and OK.
Windows 8 users who do not have a Start Menu tool should use the cursor of their mouse to pull up the Charms bar at the lower right hand corner. Click the magnifying glass that signifies Search, type in the word “recovery”, and then click on Settings. Once you have done this, you should see a Recovery option.
After clicking on this option, you are taken to a window that provides users with tools to use in the recovery process. A link will be shown that says Configure System Restore. Then you must follow the previous set of instructions. XP users are advised to use the instructions that Microsoft has helpfully provided to them.
9. Treating your post-removal issues
The problems do not cease once you’ve removed the harmful programs from your computer. Microsoft has a “Fix It” tool that is readily available to you, but for situations where this may not work, here are some common solutions to some common problems:
Computer won’t connect to internet
Select Real Security have provided a guide that is easy to use, one that should help you find the solution to any connectivity issues.
Search engine redirection
If your search engines continue to redirect to unwanted or unknown websites, this is usually the result of an uncleared Java cache. If you do not know how to clear your cache, Java provides a helpful tutorial.
Should this fail to fix the problem, go into the settings of your browser and make the necessary changes manually. These solutions also work in situations where a browser is being directed to a homepage that is unfamiliar.
Files and programs are unable to open
Select Real Security provides four very simple methods for remedying this issue:
- Creation of a new user account.
- Using Kaspersky’s CleanAutoRun program.
- Using INF files to repair file associations.
- Creating registry files.
Lost desktop icons
Simply click on the Unhide option to restore your desktop to normal state.
Windows firewall and update malfunctions
Tweaking.com offers a Windows Repair tool that can fix a variety of issues. It can do so much that it’s easier to list the options you should not be checking off. Leave repair WMI, Windows updates, and Windows firewall unchecked, as well as reset registry and file permissions.
Computer still running slow? Try the following options:
- Make sure your computer is only running one antivirus program.
- Type “sfc/scannow” in your Windows Run window, then press the restart button.
- Get rid of all temporary files.
10. Change all your passwords
Last, but certainly not least, change all your passwords so that any vulnerable information that was exposed during your infection cannot be used to harm you in any way.
Final step: preventing additional infections
With so many issues to worry about during your web browsing, every potential issue cannot always be addressed. That is why it is important to do as much research as possible, so that you are safeguarded against things like malware and adware.
Removing malware from your personal (or your loved one’s) computer can be a tremendously exhilarating experience. Providing yourself with the insight necessary allows you to stop making excuses and start telling success stories.