Ughhhh! If your PC has ever been infected - or worse, if it's infected right now - you're probably groaning. Yes it's a pain, but the good news is: you can remove viruses yourself, for free.
STEP 1: Back Up Documents, Photos and Videos.
Save your important data to an external drive. Be sure to scan this drive and its contents after you remove the virus; you don't want to re-infect your computer after the clean-up.
STEP 2: Reboot in Safe Mode
You have to prevent the virus from running when you try to remove it. To do this, reboot in safe mode. Safe mode runs only the Windows operating system and a few key programs. It's a way to limit any malware from launching. Restart your computer and hit the F8 key on the keyboard repeatedly until you get to a black screen with the option of restarting in Safe Mode. Choose "Safe Mode with Networking" so that you can still get on the Internet.
STEP 3: Download Virus Scanner/Removal Tools
I recommend downloading two to three different programs to find and remove the malware. One may do the job, but three will almost certainly do the job. These three have worked for me and come highly recommended by PC Magazine and CNET:
STEP 4: Run Virus Scanners
Download, double-click to install, accept all the defaults they recommend, and then run each. This will take a while. When the programs locate a virus or any suspicious items, allow the programs to delete the files.
STEP 5: Reboot Normally
Reboot your computer normally; no need for safe mode. You should be back to normal now. If you have files backed up on an external drive, plug it in and use the security programs you downloaded to scan that drive before you open or transfer any files. If the virus is gone, go to step 6.
**IF YOU STILL HAVE THE VIRUS**
Many people will recommend you reinstall Windows or try system restore or download a registry cleaner. I say that at this point, most people should take the computer to a local PC repair shop. Where I live, it costs about $120 to get the virus removed and a clean version of Windows installed. It is a personal decision how you proceed from here, but take into account the value of your time.
STEP 6: Add Security
How did you get that virus in the first place? Even if you don't know, it's clear you need more protection. PC Tools is a real-time virus scanner that you can use as your ongoing protection, or install something like Avast or AVG. All three are very good, free, anti-virus programs. Also Microsoft's Security Essentials comes well recommended.
You should also go to the Control Panel of your computer, and in the security section click Windows Update. Make sure that it's set up to regularly update. And if you think someone else accidentally installed malware on your computer, it's a good idea to give other members of the family their own sign-on accounts that don't have admin privileges. This way, if the kids try to download software that could harbor viruses, they won't be allowed to. And yes, this means you should keep your admin password private. (Also, if they've installed any file-sharing programs, now would be a good time to remove them. P-2-P music and movie sites do expose you to a lot of junk.
STEP 7- Damage Control
Viruses are a gateway to identity theft and spam. So after you disinfect your computer it's a good idea to check your credit (annualcreditreport.com is the credit report site that the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act forced the credit unions to create for consumers to access yearly free reports). You should also change all your passwords, especially your email password and any passwords for your financial institutions. Here's my method for creating easy-to-remember rock-solid passwords.
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