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A Definitive Guide on Free Apps for Malware Removal

Mar 10, 2009 Ben Pfeiffer, Columnist | 0 Comments

You’re computer’s working fine one day. The next you’re seeing pop-ups all over your screen. Surprise—you’ve got Virtumonde, a malware program that not only plasters annoying pop-up ads all over your screen, but effectively hijacks your browser.


If your car or airplane were hijacked, you’d notice. But when it comes to your computer, you could be completely unaware of a takeover—sometimes for months. Your computer could be used to mine personal data about you and infect other networks and computers—and you would have no idea.

That’s malware.

Malware is malicious software created to surreptitiously infect your computer and do damage. Malware can take the form of viruses, adware or spyware. It can destroy your files, slow your computer, and track your every move and report it to identity thieves—and that’s just the start.

People who study online and network security combat many forms of Malware every day—and taking an online class in cyber-security or getting an online degree in information security can prepare you to fight Malware in all its guises. But you don’t need an advanced degree or a lot of money to get rid of what’s infecting your computer.

Get paranoid

No computer system is perfectly safe. Internet Explorer tends to be the most targeted browser for malware, but not even Mac users are 100% safe from viruses and other malicious programs. Never download anything from a non-trusted source. Be wary of free downloads from the Internet—these are often vehicles for adware and malware installation. Read user agreements carefully—watch for any clause that says the manufacturer can install any other program on your computer. Don’t open email attachments from addresses you don’t recognize. If you get sent an attachment from someone you know, check with that person to make sure they know they sent it—some programs will hijack victims’ email programs and send malware to everyone in their address book. For the paranoid sort of person, these utilities are some of the must have free apps and addons to protect your computer and your information:

WOT – Firefox add-on that warns you about risky websites that try to scam visitors, deliver malware or send spam. WOT uses an easy to understand color-coded system to help alert you about the site you are visiting.

NoScript – Very effective firefox security addon that only allows active content like JavaScript, Java and other executable content to run only from sites you trust. Prevents clickjacking attempts and other malware attacks from starting. If you're super paranoid, you’ll love this. It also blocks some ads and videos unless you allow them.

Adblock Plus – Not exactly preventing malware, but worthy of a mention because of its effectiveness to block ads and banners that slow down surfing.

IE-SPYAD – For those using Internet Explorer, this tool is for you. IE-SpyAd is a frequently-updated Registry patch that adds a long list of known advertisers, marketers, and spyware pushers to the Restricted sites zone of Internet Explorer

Update Your HOSTS File – The hosts file contains the mappings of IP addresses to host names, updating the list with common ad servers and hijackers will allow Windows to block connections to them. This list will block ads, banners, 3rd party Cookies, 3rd party page counters, web bugs, and most hijackers.

Keep up with updates

Computer manufacturers are constantly releasing software that’s flawed, then releasing updates and fixes later—those updates your computer keeps pestering with are often plugs to holes in your computer’s security. Malicious coders will write programs that exploit those flaws—so if you delay in downloading the fixes, you could be putting your system at risk. We recommend making sure all your Windows Updates are installed and having the latest version of Java (older versions can be exploited).

Windows Update – Be sure to use Internet Explorer to visit site. Or download this firefox addon that will add Windows Update to the firefox menu and load the updater for you.

Java – Update to latest version of Java.

Finally, be sure to update which ever Internet browser you are using to ensure you not susceptible to any existing exploits.


Be wary of Malware-removal programs

When you go looking for a program to remove Malware, you have to search through a jungle of fake removal programs that can actually make the infection worse. Malicious coders sometimes create programs that trick users into thinking they have a virus—and then selling them fake removal software.

Image of fake antivirus software
Avoid this! This screenshot of a fake antivirus program alerting that your computer might be infected. These are false warnings and should not be taken seriously.


If you think you have a virus, your first step should be to use the free program HijackThis to generate a report on your system, or use a free virus scanner such as this one. Many malware programs have specific fixes you can download, but be sure your download is from a trusted source. Virtumonde can be removed with Combofix; click here for a comprehensive list of programs that target other malware.

Forums are your friend

You can use the forums at sites such as,, and to learn more about Malware and its removal. If you’re mystified by your infection, post your HijackThis logs to one of the trusted forums mentioned above for advice. These forums often have experienced tech support professionals and online security experts as members. They can help you remove your malware infection properly. Always read posting instructions before starting a new thread. If directions are not followed sometimes the experts will ignore your posts. These forums are busy places, so ensuring you post your HijackThis logfile as requested will help them get to your post faster.

Be sure to download some of these utilities before visiting the forums.

HijackThis – A cornerstone for malware removal, HijackThis scans your computer to find settings that may have been changed by malware. It will generate a logfile that you can then post in the forums to be reviewed.

SysRestorePoint - SysRestorePoint is a small VB/VB.NET utility that will allow you to create a System Restore Point in Windows, with no user intervention. This is recommended before attempting to remove malware.

ERUNT – ERUNT is a registry backup and restore for Windows NT/2000//XP/Vista. This program allows you to restore registry files should something go wrong with removal.

ATF Cleaner – ATF is a useful temp file cleaner that will safety clean all temp files and will not remove any files that are crucial to windows.

ComboFix – ComboFix is a very powerful tool used to get rid of even the most malicious malware infections. It is highly recommended only to use with a forum helper or until you properly understand how to run it. The utility will install Windows Recovery Console on your computer and attempt to clean infections automatically.

Install firewalls and malware blockers

A firewall is a crucial part of your defense against malware. It prevents your computer from accessing computer networks without your permission—something spyware and adware programs do constantly. It also encrypts your information and guards against contact by unapproved systems on other computers. It is recommend that you have one firewall and only one spyware removal utility running at the same time. If you install more than one anti-malware program you could reduce the effectiveness of the programs. Many of these utilities use the same files to search for malware. Check out Comodo for a free firewall and antivirus software suite, or Ad-Aware for an anti-malware program for the home and office.

Comodo Personal Firewall – Highly recommended free firewall utility that works just as well or better than most paid options.

Ad-Aware - Long running spyware and malware detector and removal utility. Download free version.

Spyware Terminator – Another great free spyware detector and removal utility.

Malwarebytes’ Anti-Malware – Effective malware tool that can detect and remove these malicious programs from your computer.

Be careful what you agree to

Creators of adware and malware are aware that most people never read the EULA (End-License User Agreements) before downloading something on the internet. Because of this oversight, some distributers will slip into their licensing agreements lines like “in addition, we get to install any software we feel like putting on your computer.” Often times they don’t spell it out so plainly in their EULA’s. It’s recommended that you only download from trusted websites and avoid any temptations to download free backgrounds or similar scams that wish to bundle malware along with what you're downloading.

Search engines aren't safe either

A search engine malicious software warning message
This is an example of a MSN/ warning message against a harmful site that was detected in their search index.

Malware peddlers have relied for years on free and abundant search traffic to spread their Trojans, worms, viruses and malware applications. Search engines themselves have stepped up to start scanning the websites they list in their indexes and alert searchers when a site is malicious. One of the most common mistakes people make when trying to get rid of Malware is to go to Google or another search engine and search for a removal application. Often they end up finding a fake anti-virus or spyware removal program that creates false alerts to trick you into thinking that you have many more infections than you do. This causes users to panic--and they're much more likely to buy a fake anti-virus program, which usually just makes the infestation worse.

Even advanced users are not immune from getting infected via the search engines. Those who are more familiar with their computers and who attempt to clean up infections on their own often search for specific infected running processes or .dll files to help determine what type of infection they might have. Malware creators and those they are affiliated with create websites optimized to target these driver file names and running processes. They are not just limited to these terms, but a wide variety of common search phrases. Once you click on one of these malicious websites, you can become infected without even downloading anything. So be careful when you search and heed any warnings the search engines give you.

Malware is everywhere. While no system is completely impregnable—including Mac systems—you can increase your safety by being wary of free downloads and email attachments, updating your software regularly, and installing firewall and virus scan software that can protect your computer. Take these steps, and your computer will be much more secure.




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