If you’ve never had a computer virus, adware, spyware or any of the various social network beasties, you’re either very good, very lucky, you don’t get out much or you’re running Linux or a Mac. If you have had any of the aforementioned nasties, and you tried to remove it yourself, you know how hard and how time-consuming it can be. On a machine with seriously entrenched spyware, it can easily take 6 or 7 hours to peel away the layers of pile-on infections to even reach the backdoor that let them all in.
Luckily, most of this is repetitive runs of removal software that take hours to do a scan, and then you do it again. Since we hate to bill you for all that time just sitting around, here are some steps you may be able to take to get it out of the way up front. It’s altogether possible they can fix your machine, as well. Here is a list of resources we’ve used at various times.
Many anti-malware companies have online scanners that you can use if you can still get online. With spyware, adware and botware, this should be a given, since they need you to be online to do their business, but that doesn’t mean they are going to just stand back and let you remove them. Some of them have built-in lists of all of the security companies’ URLs, so if you try to go to the Symantec or McAfee site, for instance, your browser will refuse to load them, or even crash. Assuming you can get to them, here are links to sites with online scanners starting with the lesser known ones, which are less likely to be blocked.
- HouseCall Free Online Virus Scan - Trend Micro USA
- F-Secure – Free Online Scanner
- Kaspersky Lab – Free Virus Scan
- Panda Activescan – Online Antivirus
- Norton Security Scan – Free Virus Scan
- McAfee Security Scan – Free Virus Scan
They all require Windows to run, but then, if you’re not running Windows you probably don’t need it.
Browser Hijacks and Toolbars
Sophisticated malware intercepts all internet traffic and routes it through its own internal server for total control, but the most common adware and spyware system entry points are through browser hijacks or “feature” toolbars, so the first step is to try an uncompromised browser.
Micro$oft Internet Explorer seems to be the most easily compromised, but a simple browser hijack affects whatever the browser you were using, and often only that one, so here are download links for the others:
Chrome would be our first recommendation unless you’re already using it, because its internal compartmentalization seems exceptionally good.
Usually, when you see that your anti-virus has been uninstalled, or you find that you can’t access it however you try, your AV software itself has been infected and is often working against you. Since AV software is one of the first things loaded by the operating system, infecting it gives the malware all of the system privileges it needs, because your “anti-spyware” watchdog says it’s OK.
Usually, the first thing they do is remove all of the tools you need to try to remove them, such as the command prompt, the task manager, the add/remove programs app, and the network manager. One way to get beyond that is with an external tools disc.
- Ultimate Boot CD - This is a DOS based, bootable CD with some serious tech tools on it, including a distribution called Parted Magic which is a full, mini-Linux which you can use to mount and recover a Windows NTFS partition, like your Windows C: drive. This will let you recover your data to a flash or USB drive.
- Hiren’s Bootcd 14.0 – Basically the same as the above, except that it contains both mini-Windows 98 and mini-Windows XP installations, so you can recover your files in the “comfort” of a Windows environment. Because these distributions are not freeware, you’ll have to find the Hiren’s disk yourself if you want it. The link just takes you to his site so you can see what’s on it.
- BootDisk.com - Just what it says. Straight-ahead boot disks for all Microsoft systems, in case yours crashed and you never made a startup disk.
- Ubuntu Linux – One of the easiest ways to recover your data files from a crashed Windows system is to boot to a live CD of Linux, which can read Windows files and folders, even if Windows doesn’t return the favor. In fact, on any new computer, we instantly install an Ubuntu partition, so when (not if) Windows gets compromised, you can still boot into Linux and do virtually everything you could before, including accessing your files, which Windows will no longer do.
- System Rescue CD - If you know Linux (or any *nix system) this CD is much smaller, and contains a fully functional Linux distro you can use to recover your files, but you do have to understand enough linux to manually mount a drive as a recovery location.
Those are some of the tools we use. If you have even basic skills on the computer, we can talk you through most of this process on the phone at a reduced service rate. We’re not in it to break you, just get you up and running again as quickly as possible. That’s what works best for us, too.