Updated June 2008
From time to time I receive a note from someone asking me what I use to keep my PC safe from viruses/Trojans/bots/worms/spyware, malware, etc… and so I try my best to give information that has helped me to keep a clean running machine. I just recently spoke to my brother about serious problems he was experiencing with viruses on his PC. He had informed me that he accidentally had clicked yes to a link when he meant to click no and BOOM! His system picked up an enemy and it began re-writing his registry! However, he downloaded the programs I suggest below and was able to clean his pc and restore it to working order.
Your computer may not currently be infected but the programs Randy Stafford lists in the article below (the links are provided) will help you to keep your PC protected! There is also a recent article by Aston Crosby that is very good, and a couple by Bob Rankin that are worth the time to read (links provided below). The neat thing is that each program is ABSOLUTELY FREE!!! I will also state that I have been using many of these same programs for the better part of six years and have had no problems whatsoever… my computers are clean and protected!
NOTE: One important thing that I must mention concerns the new Windows Operating System called Vista. The programs spoken of below may not be available for this new system as yet so be sure to check compatibility before downloading and installing.
BTW, I have found that if you use Norton or McAfee Virus protection you will experience problems if you use both of them, or one with another anti-virus program, at the same time… which ultimately renders your PC unprotected. Believe it or not, having two virus protection programs working at the same time DOES NOT double your protection—they may actually cancel each other out (so to speak). It is my humble opinion that Norton and McAfee are inferior by a long shot to the Grisoft software (makers of AVG anti-virus). I have experienced all kinds of problems using either the Norton or McAfee anti-virus program in the past and had a terrible time getting them to uninstall so I stay away from their anti-virus software. Far, far away! Having said that, I do use Norton System Works w/o the virus software to help keep my PC system in good order. Norton System Works isn’t free, but it is worth the cost—in my opinion. I have been very happy with it for a number of years.
I have recently found another spyware program that has impressed me called A-Squared Free! It has found spyware that the others have not, and vice/versa. It is good to have a couple of these programs to use for ultimate protection.
I am also using a couple more new programs that are free: CCleaner is another good program that cleans out all temp files and cookies (both internet and windows temp files). This will speed up the cleaning process AND there are two places you usually get the bugs first before they spread, or activate. One is in email and the other is in your temp files. It is a good idea to go through your e-mail files and delete anything that you do not want to keep, and clean your temp files regularly. There is a feature that lets you keep certain cookies that you do not want removed, which is nice. ALWAYS MAKE A RESTORE POINT BEFORE USING THIS, AND SIMILAR, PROGRAMS.
The other tool is called SysRestorePoint though it is ONLY FOR WINDOWS XP AND VISTA operating systems. Restore points are automatically set at irregular intervals by Windows (if turned on). Sometimes I like to manually set my restore points, especially before installing a program or after cleaning an infected system. And especially after a successful virus scan that comes up clean! It can be a real pain to have to go to your Control panel every time you want to do this so SysRestorePoint takes care of the pain! Just download (v1.2) and unzip it to your Programs folder. Then create a shortcut on your desktop to it. The icon looks like a Swiss Army knife. When you want a restore point just double click on the icon. It pops up, sets a restore point right away and then closes in five seconds. Quick and easy. So far it works great! However, you may have to turn off system restore to run the programs below.
I made a folder on my desktop entitled PROTECTION PROGRAMS and keep all these program icons within it for easy access. Being on the desktop serves as a reminder to me to run the programs often! Also, I never have any of the programs (except AVG anti-virus) monitor my system because I like to run them manually. This saves memory and gives me more speed and cuts down on any compatibility issues that may occur.
It is recommended that these programs be done in safe mode but I have never done it that way and have had no issues. I suppose it is a good idea though for safer results and protection. Here is what I do now (if you do this in safe mode make sure you check for updates for each program before going into safe mode and running them):
AVG anti-virus is scheduled to update and scan for viruses automatically so I don’t usually run it manually. I will check the log from time to time to see if all is well. I start scanning my PC by running CWShredder, then I run Ad-Aware, Spyware Doctor, then Spy-bot. Then I run A-Squared Free 3.5 and CCleaner. Then I use Norton System Works (check ebay for cheap price if you want this software) to run a check of my Windows system and make any repairs if needed. Then I defrag my PC. I am amazed at the increase in speed/production that is experienced after I am finished. I do this once/twice a week. I have also purchased an external 200 GB hard drive that backs up my systems. ALWAYS BACK-UP YOUR FILES!
Similar procedures are covered in the articles below. I share all this with you because I do not wish anyone to go through the problems that I have experienced in the past. I lost 3 years worth of work one time and it taught me a tremendous lesson! Heartaches usually do! For those who lean towards the technical side, I have run across a neat program that will help test your hard drives called HDTune. This is a great program to test the condition of your hard drive(s). I found two hard drives going bad using this program and replaced them before full failure.
I hope this helps you as it has helped me!
Article: Infected Computer--How to Clean It? By Ashton Crosby, January 27, 2008
Article: Make Windows XP Run Faster by Bob Rankin
Article: Do I Need a Registry Cleaner? by Bob Rankin
How To Clean An Infected
by Randy D. Stafford
November 26, 2004
Cleaning an infected computer today has become harder than ever. To effectively clean your system you must first learn a little about what you are trying to get rid of and what tools you need to get the job done. I'm going to try to give you some of the background, followed by the basics of getting rid of these pests.
Today there are a variety of things that can infect your computer such as viruses, worms, trojans and spyware. I refer to all of them as parasites since that word seems to best describe them. I find it best to use a multi-pronged approach to fighting parasites, so I use several software programs to find and get rid of them. Hopefully, by giving you a little of the background, you will be able to learn what tools to use and when to use them so that you may clean your computer of these parasites.
Viruses were the first computer bugs, and anti-virus (AV) software was made specifically to detect and get rid of these. Worms are a little different than viruses, which is one reason why AV software has a harder time catching them. Finally came trojan horses, usually just called trojans. These are very different than both viruses and worms. They actually take advantage of the weaknesses that are inherent in AV software. For one, most trojans actually try to hide from being detected by AV software. They also work "smarter" by creating hidden copies of themselves so that when they do get detected and cleaned, they can re-infect the computer with the hidden copy right after the AV software cleans the original infection. Basically, trojans are AV software's worst nightmare simply because AV software wasn't designed to specifically go after this type of threat. Today, AV software is much better at detecting all types of parasites than before but they will need to be redesigned and start using multiple methods if they are ever going to be effective against all parasites.
Spyware isn't a new bread of parasite. It is simply a combination of various computer exploits and they utilize various combinations of scripts, trojans and worms. Currently they take advantage of trojans the most since they are harder to detect and clean properly. Anti-spyware (AS) software was created specifically for detecting and cleaning this type of parasite, so when it comes to trojans and some worms, AS software is much better equipped to fight these than the AV software is.
First, you will need to get some software programs to help you. The following programs are what I use personally. Not only do I trust them, but they are also free for personal use. The companies that provide the free software, also provide software that they sell for use in a commercial environment. Usually, the free versions are just as good but simply don't have as many of the extra features which make the commercial versions even more attractive to use.
• CWShredder - You can find it at [http://us.trendmicro.com/us/products/personal/CWShredder/index.html] Latest version is v2.19
• Lavasoft's Ad-Aware - You can find it at [www.lavasoftusa.com] Latest version is v1.06SE
• Spybot S&D - You can find it at [www.spybot.info] Latest version is v1.4
For Windows 2000 and Windows XP ( not the 64bit version ) only
• AVG AntiSpyware - You can find it at [www.ewido.net] Latest version is v18.104.22.168
• Grisoft AVG Free - You can find it at [free.grisoft.com] Latest version is v7.5.463
First you will want to download each of the above programs and then install them. After you install them, you MUST update them so you will have the latest protection. There is one small exception: CWShredder is a stand-alone program that doesn't need to be installed, but you do need to have it check for an update to ensure that you have the latest version. If you don't update these programs and you are infected with the latest parasites, you will not be able to effectively detect and clean them from your computer, so remember to update, update, update.
Since spyware is a bigger problem today than viruses, and spyware is typically harder to find and get rid of, I suggest to start looking for spyware first. I also use the different AS software packages in a specific order so that I go after the tougher problems first and the easiest ones last.
Turn off System Restore
• WinME and WinXP have a cool feature called System Restore. It is used to restore your computer to an earlier configuration in case of a problem. The only problem is that it wasn't made with parasites in mind, and often it can't tell the difference between an infected file and a good file, so it might automatically restore an infected file also if it had been in a protected area, effectively re-infecting your computer. Because of this, it is recommended to turn off System Restore before you test, and when you're done, turn it back on so you are still protected from standard computer problems.
• For WindowsME
Click Start, Settings, and then click Control Panel.
Double-click the System icon. The System Properties dialog box appears.
NOTE: If the System icon is not visible, click "View all Control Panel options" to display it.
Click the Performance tab, and then click File System.
Click the Troubleshooting tab, and then check Disable System Restore.
Click OK. Click Yes, when you are prompted to restart Windows.
• For WindowsXP
Right-click the My Computer icon, and then click Properties.
Click the System Restore tab.
Check "Turn off System Restore" or "Turn off System Restore on all drives."
When turning off System Restore, the existing restore points will be deleted. Click Yes to do this.
Carefully Look at Windows Add/Remove programs for suspicious programs
• Many of the spyware threats actually install into your system like a program. Many appear to be utilities that you may think are helpful but in reality aren't. Look for add-an toolbars, while toolbars like those provided by Google, MSN, Yahoo and other are great utils, there are many more that aren't and if in doubt check it out to see if ones you have are parasitic. Another common exploit are the Search helpers, WinTools, Gator products, IE Helper, Comet Cursor and many others just to name a very few. Peer-to-Peer (P2P) programs are another common source for these and even the ones that doen't come with spyware themselves are a security risk that may lead to your system being infected or to spread infections like these. Remove all suspicious programs, if you are wrong, you may always re-install them later.
Run Disk Clean-Up
• This actually comes with Windows and has been installed by default since Windows 98. You can find it by clicking the Start Button and then going to Programs / Accessories / System Tools / Disk Clean-up. I recommend selecting all of its options except the ones for Office Setup Files and Compress Old Files if you have them. While you may select those if you wish, they aren't as important. This will clean up all of the temporary files so your testing will go faster, and may also delete any spyware that may hiding there if the spyware isn't already running. To clear systems that have System Restore you will need to select the second tab and click the button for clearing this.
• This is made for detecting and cleaning of the infamous CoolWebSearch exploits. Currently there are about 40 types of these, each with up to 4 variants and growing. These are some of the toughest ones to get rid of.
Run Ad-Aware Next
• This handles the next toughest types the best. When it finally presents you with the list of parasites it has found, put a check mark in the box next to the ones you want to get rid of, I suggest checking them all. If you want to select all, just right-click your mouse on the boxes to get the options menu, and left-click on Select All. If it says it can't get rid of a problem right now, it will ask if you want to run it again after you restart your computer, answer yes and restart your computer so it may test again.
Run Spybot Next
• When you run it, it will automatically select all the spyware that it finds, if there is something you don't want to get rid of for some reason, deselect it and then let Spybot fix all of the rest of the problems that it finds. This program also will ask to restart your computer so it can test again if it has problems removing something, so let it.
If you had Windows 2000 or Windows XP ( not the 64bit version ) you also have this option...
Run AVG AntiSpyware Next
• This is a part of a new bread of antispyware utils and probably one of the best I've worked with. The only down side is that only certain versions of Windows can run it at this time. When you run it, it will prompt you to select to remove or keep each item or you can select to have it remove all that it finds.
Now Run The AVG Program
• All antivirus programs, including AVG, by default have their settings to only scan executable files in an attempt to speed up looking for infections. While most of the time this is just fine, the newest threats that can infect your computer have started getting sneaky on how they hide their files making it easier for them to reinfect your system if your antivirus program detected and removed their executable file. To help also detect these "backup" files that the infection leaves on your system, you should in my opinion, make a couple of changes to what your AVG scans from just executable files to all files.
• To change AVG's settings, open AVG's Test Center.
Click the Tests menu then in both of the tests labeled Complete Test Settings and Selected Area Test Settings select Scan all Files and click the Ok button.
• Now AVG will scan all of the files when you scan your computer. This will take longer to complete, but I feel it is a small price to pay for the added security it provides.
• Have it scan for the remaining parasites that the others may have missed. If you found any parasites, you need to restart your computer so you can test everything again. There are times that after cleaning certain parasites, you will need to test again because something may have been hidden earlier by the infection. So repeat this process of testing and restarting until you find no more parasites.
• Run the scans again in Safe Mode. This will keep many of the parasites from loading and being able to hide from your protection software. To access Safe Mode on most versions of Windows, start tapping the [F8] key after you first start or restart your system, start tapping it before you ever see a Windows Splash Screen and continue until you get the Menu where you may select it from the list. On WinNT, this is called VGA mode and on Win2k you actually start tapping just after the first splash screen shows. For Detailed instructions see Restarting Your Computer in Safe Mode
These procedures should have cleaned most cases of infection that you will find. Yes I said MOST because there are some infections that are very hard to detect and remove. Generally, if you have one of these, you will need the assistance of an expert to help you get rid of it.
When you believe you are finished, remember to turn System Restore back on if you had turned it off.
I recommend testing for parasites as often as you can, probably at least once a month if not more. The sooner you catch them, the less damage they can do to your computer, and the less chance of a hacker finding your sensitive information such as checking account info, passwords, etc.
Windows itself, by default, hides certain files, system folders or file extentions from the user to make it easier to navigate. If you are having to find an infected file or just one you are looking for, this can cause you to not find it. If you wish you may change this to show all of the files on your computer.
Open your My Computer icon (Either from your desktop or the Start Menu)
Click the Tools menu and select Folder Options(on older systems it may be in the View menu)
Select the View tab and scroll through the Advanced settings
Enable or disable the following (using a checkmark to enable)
enable - Show hidden files and folders
disable - Hide extentions for known file types
disable - Hide protected operating system files (WinME and WinXP only)
Now click Apply and Ok
How to find an embedded infection
AVG 7 Free now detects infections in areas that it was unable to before. The most notable are ones embedded inside of archives. Since AVG can't determine if you created the archive or if it was a parasite that created it, they leave these alone so you may have a chance to recover uninfected files from the archive and then you simply delete the archive when done. Infections that are inside of an archive aren't a direct threat to your system unless the file gets extracted to allow it to run. Grisoft has chose this method because it is safer for your data that the archive may contain.
For someone that is new to looking for these embedded infections, it can be a little confusing with the way that AVG will list the file because it also must include the archive file name that contains it in the full path/filename. The following is an example that I made up to highlight the info so you will know which filename to look for so you may either extract files and or delete the correct file. I will color code these for you, but AVG will not.
AVG will give you a name like...
The location of the file is in C:\Windows\Temp
The archive that contains the infection is InfectedArchive.cab
And the actual infected file inside of the archive is InfectedFile.exe
Note the ":\" that seperates the archive from the file it contains.
After you have recovered any files inside of the archive that you may want to keep (other than the infected one that is) just simple delete the whole archive.. in this example the file to delete would be InfectedArchive.cab
It looks harder than it really is.. just remember the file you want to look for is named just before the last ":\"
Most of the time, you won't have any files to recover inside of the archives. The only time this isn't true is if it is an archive that you had created yourself. If you didn't create it.. just delete and move on.
Edited 25 times. Last edit at 04/20/07 04:21PM.