Thursday, May 19, 2016

How to Clean Malware from Windows (Without Spending a Penny)

I've been using pretty much the same procedure to clean computers for years now, so I thought it might helpful to document it for other people to use. This process will likely take several hours, but it will clean all (or nearly all) of the spyware and malware from your computer if you have Windows. I'll also go over some other free software to prevent further infections once you have your computer clean.

In case you don't know me personally, I've been working in computer tech support for about 20 years. My professional website is The Computer Wizard. Cleaning and speeding up computers, including removing viruses and malware, have been specialties for me since the very beginning. I'm hoping others can benefit from that experience.

0. (Optional) Download and install CCleaner Free, then use it to remove temporary files. This will make all the scans below a lot faster, because they won't have to scan the (now-empty) temp folders where all those temp files used to be. Unless you really know what you're doing, don't use its registry cleaning feature.

1. Disable your current antivirus temporarily, or better yet, remove it. I especially suggest removing it if you have any version of Norton, Symantec, McAfee, Trend Micro, or Microsoft Security Essentials, as these antiviruses let far too many infections into most computers to be considered secure.

2. [ONLY IF YOU DON'T HAVE WINDOWS 8.1 OR WINDOWS 10] Download and run ComboFix . If you don't disable / remove your antivirus first, it will incorrectly detect ComboFix as a virus. And if you run ComboFix on a Windows 8.1 or Windows 10 computer, don't expect it to work afterwards. You've been warned.

4. Download and run HitManPro . It's normally safe to remove whatever it finds. You will only be able to use it for 30 days without buying it, so you can safely skip this step if you'd rather save it for a worse situation some other time. It will ask you for an email address, but it will work even if you give a fake one.

5. Download the Emsisoft Emergency Kit, install it, let it update, then run a full scan and remove whatever it finds. You can keep this software and use it for free indefinitely.

6. Download MalwareBytes Anti-Malware Free, install it, let it update, then run a full scan and remove whatever it finds (notice a pattern here?). Like the Emsisoft Emergency Kit, it is free to use as long as you like. However, you need to be careful to decline the free trial of the Pro version when you first open it, as that free trial will expire after 30 days.

7. If the Emergency Kit or MalwareBytes found anything, download and update SuperAntispyware Free Edition , then run a full scan and remove whatever it finds. You may want to set it not to run on Windows startup, because otherwise it can get a bit annoying. It's a great program, though, and a full scan with it will remove anything that's left over after all the other scans.

8. Use ADWCleaner to get rid of any junk software that technically isn't malware or spyware. You'll need to download a new version any time you use it, because it's usually updated several times a week.

9. Now that you've got all the malware off the computer, install Spybot and Spywareblaster , update them, and apply all their immunization. You'll need to close any web browser windows first or they'll complain at you.

10. Download and install HostsMan  and PeerBlock to prevent the computer from going to malicious websites in the future. In HostsMan, pick only the Malware Domain List. In PeerBlock, the built-in lists don't work anymore without a paid subscription to IBlockList, but you can still add the free lists manually. They won't block everything, but this is a step that most antiviruses leave out, and every little bit of protection helps with preventing new infections. The anti-spyware list ( is the one I recommend.

11. Install the best antivirus you can afford and do a full scan with it. In my experience, the only thing that really matters with antiviruses is their detection rate; if your antivirus doesn't detect at least 99 percent of viruses that pass through it, it's not worth much. At the time of this writing, my favorite free antivirus is BitDefender Free, which you'll have to set up a free account in order to use past 30 days (but I've never gotten a single email from them). If you want the absolute best virus detection rate and you're willing to pay yearly for it, go with either G-Data or Trustport. These two antiviruses consistently win the independent reviews of antiviruses conducted by the VB100 and AV Comparatives .

I've deliberately kept this guide as short and concise as possible as a safety measure. If you're able to follow it, more power to you. If not, you might want to have me (or someone a little more computer-savvy) do it for you.