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How to Remove Malware From Your PC


How to Remove Malware From Your PC

If you suspect or know you're already infected with a computer virus on your Windows PC, what do you do? Take these steps and you may be back in working order in no time.

It should be drilled into you by now: Use antivirus software! These programs—from the best free tools to the paid antivirus software—keep tabs on your Windows PC with scans, real-time monitoring, even heuristic analysis of files and processes so new threats can be identified. It's imperative, especially with Windows, that you have antivirus installed.

However, even the best antivirus isn't 100 percent foolproof. A device already compromised by malware could get on your network, people can personally place malware on a system, and some malware lays dormant waiting to attack until just the right time. No one can protect entirely against social engineering or phishing schemes that trick people into clicking on or downloading an infected link or attachment. Hell, there are even rogue scareware programs out there that look like antivirus or antispyware, but when you install them, you get infected! Always download from the source—avoid the third-party download sites.

Best Antivirus Software

Sometimes, it's hard to tell when you're initially infested with a computer virus. There are plenty of signs you should keep an eye out for—incredibly slow performance where once the PC zipped along, browser pop-ups when no browser is even open, scary warnings from security programs you didn't install, even ransom demands.

If you suspect, or know with absolute certainty, that you've got a malware infection, here are the steps to take, immediately, to remove the malware.

(Note that if you do get a ransom demand, the ransomware involved may have already encrypted your files. The solutions below may eradicate the ransomware, but may not give you access back to the data. So make sure you've got a constant backup of your files as you change them, to the cloud or otherwise.)

Update Your Antivirus

First, make sure your existing antivirus software is fully updated with the latest virus definitions—that's how the software identifies existing malware, based on what has come before. Antivirus vendors are constantly updating these lists as they encounter new viruses and Trojans in the wild and in the lab. If your software is even a day out of date, you run the risk of an infection.

If you don't have any antivirus installed, re-read the first paragraph above and immediately download any of our top-rated Best Free Antivirus Protection including software from Kaspersky, Avast, and AVG.

Kaspersky Free Main Window

If you need to fix an infected PC for a business you or the boss should spend some money to get a full security suite. Our Editors' Choice options today are BitDefender Internet Security, Kaspersky Internet Security, Bitdefender Total Security (which includes anti-theft and tune up), and Symantec Norton Security Premium. All of the above earned 4.5 stars in reviews this year.

With the software on board, perform a deep, thorough scan. Let it run for as long as it takes, and hope that it finds and fixes the problem. That's your best-case scenario.

The problem is, if the malware is good at its job, then it probably deactivated your antivirus to get there in the first place.

Revert, Reboot, Scan, and Re-scan

If you've got System Restore points set in Windows, when malware attacks and can't be fixed, use this opportunity to reset the system. It could do the trick…but probably will not. The malware may be too smart.

You can reboot directly to Windows Defender Antivirus, the built-in antimalware tool that comes with Windows 10. To do that, go to Windows () > Settings () > Update & Security > Windows Security > Virus & threat protection. (If you are running a third-party antivirus, you'll see it here, plus an option to activate Windows Defender for "periodic scans" that won't interfere with the real-time work of your installed antivirus, so why not?)

Once Windows Defender is activated even for just periodic scans, look under Threat History for "Run a new advanced scan." On the next screen pick Windows Defender Offline Scan. After a reboot, it'll do about a 15-minute scan to look for "rootkits and other highly persistent malware," according to Microsoft.

Windows Defender Advanced Scans

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Still feeling infected? If you've got a remote access trojan (aka a RAT) aboard your PC, potentially someone is remotely accessing your PC. That's bad news. Likewise, if you've caught some ransomware, you don't want it encrypting files you back up to the cloud automatically. Take a deep breath and get off the internet. Pull the Ethernet on the PC, turn off the Wi-Fi, unplug the router if you must. Guarantee the PC is disconnected. Make sure it's not using Wi-Fi from a neighbor or nearby business to stay online on the side. Then, attempt some antivirus scans.

Didn't work? Reboot Windows again, but in a way that won't let the malware get restarted as well. Try going into the minimalized Windows interface called Safe Mode (here's how). Run a scan in there and it may work.

While you're in Safe Mode, be sure to delete any temporary files—they permeate Windows even after a short time using the operating system and could be hiding malware. At the Start menu, type in Disk Cleanup; it'll check the C: drive for what you can safely delete among all the temps.

If Windows is compromised beyond usability—it might not even let you in—get around the OS by booting directly into the antivirus software. Use a bootable CD program, sometimes called a "Live CD" or "rescue CD"–though these days, you'll probably boot from a USB flash drive. AVG and Kaspersky both have bootable antivirus programs.

What, you're still viral? Run an on-demand antivirus scanner: Malwarebytes Free is always highly recommended at this point. Norton Power Eraser (also free) is another option.

Malwarebytes Anti-Malware

Malwarebytes and NPE are sometimes called a "second opinion malware scanner," because they are a second line of attack against the bad guys if your initial antivirus can't take care of the problem. They don't do real-time protection—you run them manually as a cleanup. Have one handy on a USB drive for the day you need it. NPE, for example, comes in a "portable" version that doesn't require a full Windows 10 installation procedure. It will, however, reboot your system as it roots out rootkits.

In addition to Norton Power Eraser, there are many portable security apps you can put on a USB drive that don't require direct installation.

Want to be thorough? Try a mix! Hopefully they do the trick and your PC is back to normal after the Safe Mode scans (reboot the PC in between). Second-opinion scanners won't conflict like real-time antivirus sometimes can if you install more than once, since you run each portable program's scan individually.

The Nuclear Option

You might be a little nervous about using Norton Power Eraser, with good reason. It comes with a warning that it's as aggressive as hell when it goes after a problem, and therefore the risk of collateral damage is high. The warning says specifically, "there is a risk that it can select some legitimate programs for removal." Yipe.

Norton Power Eraser

Risking a few programs is worth it compared to the true "nuclear" option: reformatting your hard drive and reinstalling the operating system and all programs (you do have an image of your clean OS install backed up that you can use for restoration, right?). That's less and less of a necessity compared to the days prior to Windows 7; but it remains a viable method of resetting the system, sans malware.


Windows 10's Recovery options make it easy to reset a PC so the operating system gets a reinstall without you losing any data (you'll have to reinstall programs), or do a full Fresh Start back to a pristine state. And to be honest, a fresh start is a good idea every few years or so anyway.

Dealing successfully with a viral PC infection is like being at home after you've been burglarized; it takes a while to feel safe again. Take steps like you would after being robbed: enhance your security. Get the best, highest rated security suite you can afford, read up on how to avoid getting scammed/phished, and then go on a purge: uninstall any programs you're not using on a regular basis or don't trust. Be ruthless. And be careful out there.

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