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Published on 08.02.06 by Brent Trahan

The Complete Malware Prevention, Protection, and Removal Guide

This guide arms you with just about everything you need to prevent, protect, and remove viruses, spyware, adware, worms, and trojan horses.

This guide arms you with just about everything you need to prevent, protect, and remove viruses, spyware, adware, worms, and trojan horses.

What is Malware?

Malware is software that’s designed to infiltrate or damage a computer system without your consent.  Viruses, Spyware, Adware, Worms, and Trojan Horses are all considered Malware.

Below is a short explanation of each type of Malware.

Virus: A self-replicating computer program that spreads by inserting copies of itself into other executable code or documents.  A computer virus is very similar to a biological virus.  Once your computer is infected with a virus it runs within the file it was injected in and can cause damage to your computer in many ways.

True viruses are actually starting to become rare.  Spyware, adware, worms, and trojans are taking their place.

Spyware: Software designed to intercept or take partial control of a computer without informed consent from the computer user.  Spyware takes note of what you do on your computer, the websites you visit, your passwords, and reports that information to its maker.

Spyware it the type of Malware that slows your computer down and makes it unstable.  This happens because spyware takes a lot of computing power to run and monitor what you’re doing.

Adware: Simply shows popup ads on your computer.  It usually doesn’t hurt your computer much but its sure annoying.

Worm: Is similar to a virus.  The only difference is it doesn’t need to be injected into an executable file for it to run.  A worm is self-contained and will run on its own.  A worm takes up your internet bandwidth.  It takes up bandwidth because it sends copies of itself to other computers across a network or the internet.

Worms also use your computer to hurt other computers by using your computer to attack other computers with DOS attacks.

Trojan horse: A malicious program that is disguised as or embedded with legitimate software.  Trojans are usually spread with free software and peer-to-peer (file sharing software).  Trojans are used to get Malware in your computer.

Ransom Ware: This is a new but very devastating version of Malware.  Ransom Ware locks files like your digital photos, videos, and Word Documents.  It leaves you a message asking you to pay a specified amount of money for the key to unlock the files.

How can I tell if I have Malware on my computer?

Other than your antivirus software telling you your computer is infected there are a few obvious symptoms your computer will have.

Sluggish Computer: If your computer is very sluggish compared to when you first purchased it you might have Malware.

Popups: If you receive popups when you open Internet Explorer, when you’re not actively using your computer, or when you are not even online you probably have some sort of Malware.

Windows Is Unstable: Many people will tell your Windows is crap and doesn’t work very well.  Windows is actually the most stable and easy to use operating system out there.  Malware or serious errors will cause your computer to become unstable and crash often.

Odd Internet Explorer Changes: If Internet Explorer settings like your home page, security settings, privacy settings, and more are changed or doesn’t stay like you set them you have Malware.  Another sign is new toolbars you never installed appear out of nowhere in internet explorer.

How does Malware get on my computer?

Free Software: When you download “free” software in many cases you are getting a Trojan of some kind riding in that “free” software.  You don’t think they are going to give you that “free” software out of the goodness of their hearts right?

Please note that not all free software is bad.  Free software from reputable companies like Microsoft, Google, and Yahoo are OK.  There is also lots of free legitimate software from small less known companies out there.  Your best bet is to scan the free software for viruses and spyware before your install it to make sure it’s clean. You should also pay close attention when you’re installing free software.  Watch out for options to install toolbars and things like that along with the free software.  It’s also a great idea to take the time and read their license agreement. You might be surprised at what you read.

Websites: Many websites will have embedded code in them that installs malware on your computer without you knowing.  This is why it is very important to keep your computer up-to-date with Windows Updates.  Microsoft releases patches through Windows Update that fix security holes people use to get malware on your computer.

Popup Messages: Some malware will make it on your computer through a popup that looks like an error message when you visit a website.  The error message will say something like “Your computer has 246 critical registry errors!  Do you want to install Registry Brand X fixer to fix these critical errors?”

Most people click OK to install the software and everything goes down hill very fast.  Windows will never tell you it has errors and then ask if you want to install software to fix them.

Hear is a little advice for you: Don’t install anything that pops up and says “Hey, you need me!”  Only install software that you choose to install after you do your research about that software to make sure it’s OK.

Peer-to-Peer (File Sharing Software): All peer-to-peer software that enables you to download illegal copies of music, software, or other files will most likely be a malware magnet.  Many peer-top-peer software leaves a “back door” open on your computer for malware to get in.  Many of the files you download from peer-to-peer software will have malware imbedded in them.

E-mail: Don’t open e-mail from people you don’t know.  Be cautious of e-mail that comes from people you know that doesn’t seem right.  Malware on a friend’s computer will use your friend’s computer to send copies of itself to people on your friends contact list.

Instant Messaging Software: Malware can spread through IM software like AOL’s AIM or Yahoo’s instant messenger.  Most IM software has the ability to share files.  It’s not a good idea to accept files from just anyone.  Some malware can spread to computers that are simply connected to an IM service.  Make sure your computer is up-to-date with Windows Updates and your IM software is up-to-date as well.

Network: Some malware will spread through a network.  Let’s say you have a few computers on a home network and one computer gets a worm that is capable of spreading through your network.  Computers that are simply on your home network can catch the worm if it’s not properly protected with a firewall and/or antivirus software.


Use common sense when surfing the Internet.

The creators of Malware go through a lot of trouble to make sure Malware makes it on your computer.  Malware creators know the average computer user doesn’t know much about their computers and take advantage of that to get their malware on your computer.  Usually Malware is disguised as something else like a fun free game or cool emoticons for your e-mail or even software to remove Malware or fix errors it claims your computer has.

I read an articled that stated 90% of all software that claimed to remove Malware were viruses themselves!

An IT Pro like myself can quickly and easily point out most Malware from a mile away.  Regular computer users are not as keen in distinguishing Malware from legitimate stuff.  Below are a few general tips on spotting Malware and some general common sense advice.

Most Malware hides out in places you should not be in the first place, very popular but loosely regulated places (myspace.com), immoral or illegal websites, places where they give away things that are too good to be true, free software like games and malware removal tools, and peer-to-peer software.

Know what you’re installing

Most people with a Malware problem install software from the internet like there is no tomorrow.  What I mean by that is if they see something that remotely looks fun or useful in some way they install it on there computer without giving it a second thought that what they are installing might not be what it seams.

There are many great free software applications out there.  There are many more free applications that are not so great.  Before you install software off the internet on your computer take a few seconds to scan the installation file and pay attention to what the installer is telling you when you’re installing that software.  You would be very surprised by what you read in some free software licenses if you read them.


How can I protect my computer from Malware?

Use antivirus software that is up-to-date and regularly scans your computer for viruses.  My top pick is Trend Micro’s but there are also others like Symantec, and McAfee.  Many malware creators will disguise their malware in software that claims to be antivirus or antispyware software.  Don’t fall for this trap.  Only use trusted antivirus and antispyware software.  Microsoft has a great trusted list of software for you.

I can’t stress enough how important it is for your antivirus software to always be up-to-date on its virus definitions and regularly scanning your computer.  Antivirus software with out of date virus definitions is almost as bad as not having antivirus software on your computer at all.  Make sure your license has not run out on your antivirus or antispyware software.  Most antivirus and antispyware software has a one year license that must be renewed on a yearly basis for your computer to stay fully protected.

Use antispyware software that is up-to-date and regularly scans your computer.  Most antivirus software is starting to have some spyware protection included.  There are a few antispyware software packages out there like Spybot, and Ad-Aware.  Microsoft has a very good antispyware software package called Windows Defender that’s free for anyone with a valid copy of Windows.

Stay up-to-date with your Windows Updates.  Those Windows Updates most people don’t bother to install are updates to protect your from flaws in Windows that Malware uses to get in.

Use a firewall.  Windows XP comes with a good firewall.  It’s turned on by default if you have SP2.  Many antivirus software packages come with a firewall also.  Zone Labs makes an amazing free firewall called Zone Alarm.


Any of the antivirus or antispyware software packages I talked about in this guide are great for removing Malware and protecting your PC. Make sure your antivirus and antispyware software is up-to-date on its virus definitions when you are trying to remove malware.  Old virus definitions are no good if you have malware that is not listed in the virus definitions.

Most antivirus companies also provide free tools on their web pages to scan your computer online. These tools work great to remove malware that’s already on your computer for the most part.  Many times they wont work properly because of internet explorer settings or damage caused by malware. Your computer must have an internet connection to use the online version of their virus scanners.

Please note: Online malware scanners do not protect your computer in real time like purchased antivirus or antispyware that’s installed on your computer does.  The free online tools only scan and remove malware that it finds.

I’ve used a few free tools to create a downloadable virus scanner that is great for removing viruses.  I use this tool almost every day on computers I work on.  Check out my guide on Trend Micro’s Sysclean package.


The first line of defense for your computer against Malware is YOU!  If you use common sense and stay away from places where Malware thrives you won’t have many problems.

Occasionally Malware will make it on your computer no matter how cautious you are.  Having good antivirus and antispyware software that’s updated regularly and scans your computer regularly should catch the few instances of Malware that makes it through.

Use common sense when you surf the internet.  If it’s too good to be true, IT PROBABLY IS.

Still need help? Ask your computer question now.

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4 Responses to “The Complete Malware Prevention, Protection, and Removal Guide”

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  1. […] If you want to learn how to protect your computer from this stuff check out my Complete Malware Prevention, Protection, and Removal Guide. […]

  2. c.ashok says:

    hi sir
    it is very useful for me to get better ideas for malware
    and it is very very useful for my presentation about malware
    thank you very much sir

  3. renee says:

    In teaching students about the harm/cost of viruses, spywear, prevention … this site is perfect.

    I can’t thank you enough for your clear explanations and examples.

  4. Ettie Courtwright says:

    I’m curious about if you located any no cost antivirus software that works really well with Windows Vista. The application that I have used in the past is AVG free antivirus and it doesn’t work well with Vista any longer. What are your thoughts on Avast anti-spyware?

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