The expression "malware"—a blend of the words "malicious" and "software"—is a comprehensive term used to describe viruses, trojans, adware, spyware, popups, worms, rootkits, and all the myriad subclasses therein. I didn't get my first computer until I was headed to college and rarely used one beforehand. While malware isn't as easy to contract as our paranoid society believes, as a novice (or noob) I had to learn how to get rid of malware and learn the hard way how to avoid the common pitfalls and more sophisticated traps lurking online.
Certainly there are more tools and programs to get rid of malware (and prevent it) than ever before; however, the presence of malware on the Web is also burgeoning. Freeware programs like Avast, as well as the popular payware options like Norton and Kaspersky, are constantly updating their products in an effort to stay ahead of the ever-mutating enemy. One thing to keep in mind is that getting rid of malware is mostly about prevention. Experienced users don't really need defensive programs, not to mention malware removal tools. This article is an overview of the different types of malware we've covered at How to Get Rid of Things and how to avoid them and of course, rid yourself of them. If you want to know more about a certain species of malware, follow the link.
How to Avoid and Remove Malware
Learning how to get rid of trojans—an extremely pernicious form of malware—isn't nearly as easy avoiding them, as by their very definition they require user assistance to contaminate. Trojans have to be installed by the user, so do not click to install anything that pops up without your summoning, such as a free virus scan or a warning that your computer is infected. Also, avoiding P2P file sharing sites is a must; that game patch or gangsta rap song just may drop a payload of despair. Once contracted, you need to find the trojan, and delete it.
There are many things you can do to get rid of malware in the form of a virus. If you lack antivirus software, use a free online scanner like TrendMicro's Housecall or McAfee's Virus Scan (never use a scanner that pops up on its own). They will usually get rid of the malware or provide instructions for manual malware removal. If you already have a virus program, chances are you'll need to change your host's file or manually download updates from your antivirus vendor. If you've tried these things to no avail, try switching to another antivirus program. AV programs have strengths and weaknesses, and perhaps a different program will be more able to get rid of your specific breed of malware.
Getting rid of malware in the form of spyware is also mostly about prevention. Though it is becoming more of a rarity, I've visited relatives with machines loaded down by spyware, mostly because they felt the need for no less than thirty toolbars. These toolbars – as well as other supposed freeware programs – install a separate program that spies on your search habits, either creating popup ads or, when you're surfing, redirects your searches to banal advertising. Ad-Aware is a great, free program to get rid of this type of malware.
Getting rid of malware in the form of adware is very similar to that of spyware. In the idyllic past, legitimate software could be used for free, and in return the user had to view advertisements in the form of popups or spam. Those days are gone. Adware is now considered malicious as the advertisements, spam, and other goodies won't go away nicely, and sometimes these come packing other malware. To get rid of adware, first run your anti-virus programs, as many of these come with anti-adware components. Again, Ad-Aware is a great, free program to get rid of this kind of malware.
While "spam" isn't technically malware (or software), it is one of the most common avenues to contracting malware. You may be tempted by a free iPod or exotic treatments to enhance your sexuality, but resist that temptation. First of all, just opening them sends a message to the spammer, and they then spam relentlessly. Instead of wasting your time on a spam filter, create a separate email account for online services and registrations. Let the spammers dump away into this much-neglected account. Keeping spam out of your life may not get rid of malware, but it will surely reduce the chances of having to do so.
Reformatting: The Nuclear Option
If your PC has contracted the electronic equivalent of the bubonic plague, you may not be able to get rid of the malware without risking severe mental trauma. This is when most people resort to desperate measures; however, reformatting your machines is only as painful as you make it. If you have important files on your computer—and surely everyone has files they deem important—then it would be a good idea to back them up from time to time. Most external hard drives are completely user friendly and they are much less expensive than they once were. Jump drives are another, less expensive option.
Most PCs come with a backup disk or at least a Windows recovery disk. The process will bring your machine back to the state it was in the day it came into your life, which means you'll need to get out other hardware disks (drivers) as well as any programs you use. It's also a good idea to print out your favorites as well as any directions you'll need to reformat. Organization is paramount. Without it, you'll end up like me, spending countless hours searching for disks and interrogating anyone who's ever come within a ten-foot radius of your workstation.