Jeff Atwood describes how his PC was overwhelmed by spyware and adware after visiting two reputable gaming sites to download some patches. He had recently reinstalled XP and decided to download the game updates without patching the browser and OS. Just two quick sites would be OK right? Well, one of them nailed him and he decided to find out who (he did) and then he decided to clean his up. He cleaned it up manually and it is a good explanation for those who are inclined to do that sort of thing. I’m sure it took a few hours. It’s a great post but the average computer user wouldn’t have the slightest clue though when it comes to his instructions.
So how best to clean up a malware infested PC? Well, there is always the manual way, which Jeff did. Check out the comments on his article and you can see that they fall into a couple of different camps.
- Use Mac or Linux and kiss your spyware problems goodbye
- This actually works pretty good. Really good. There are tons of added bonuses in terms of programs, usability, and features when you go this route too. Of course, this might not be sustainable if they start writing malware for OS X and Linux, but let's cross that bridge when we get there. Maybe we will experience a paradigm shift in terms of a browser security model before that time comes.
- Use automated tools like "Rootkit Unhooker", "Hacker Defender" or a bunch of others
- This requires some know-how and initiative to find, install and use the various programs. Even after you run them, you can't be sure they found everything. Some readers noted that the nastiest malware hides completely from the OS itself, so you can't clean up the OS from within. This doesn't seem like an option that converges to a state of zero malware to me. It would be much faster to reformat and reinstall the OS.
- Reformat and reinstall Windows
- Major pain in the neck for most users, but this is a skill worth learning. You could use a program like Norton Ghost to make this easier.
I personally recommend buying a Mac if you are in the market for a new computer. You could also pop in a LiveCD of Ubuntu on your PC and install it as dual-boot or, if you are brave, just wipe your Windows off and install it single-boot. These are the best options for those that don’t want to tinker with their computers. Who has the time? Especially if you use primarily web and email this option especially makes sense, because you can do so without spending time and money on all of the malware prevention and removal. If you are a gamer, then use Windows for games - not for the internet. It’s not the ideal OS right now to be surfing the internet.
If you want to keep Windows, well, then, umm, it will be a pain to keep it fresh and clean. You need to install all the updates to your OS and browser promptly when released. You will of course need some sort of “security suite” to prevent most malware and viruses. You need to run a safer browser, like Firefox. If you want to be more safe, search the Firefox site for some security add-ons like NoScript and install them. This takes lots of tinkering, which I dislike. You might want to check out Green Border. Green Border keeps any code that your browser runs from accessing the resources on your PC. Google bought Green Border since they have a vested interest in making browsers safer and they aren’t taking on new customers until they can rework it into their family of products. Using this stuff can help keep your PC clean, but you will have to follow a program religiously to keep it that way. Reinstall Windows once a month or something.
Seriously, the best thing to do right now is just use something else besides Windows if you are sick of spyware and adware.