I am noticing an increasing number of my friends falling for blatantly obvious Facebook scams, or otherwise becoming infected with viruses and malware. A ton of acquaintances with project studios also seem to be regularly getting nailed – I don’t know why this is. Since it becomes boring explaining this over and over, herewith my handy guide to cleaning up your system. If you’re a buddy of mine, and you get your system gummed up with crap, I’ll be referring you here. Hello.

This isn’t a strictly audio related guide, but it covers the general basics and I truly believe that everyone should know how to do this stuff. It isn’t difficult, but may require some time.

Why has this happened to me?

Don't mind me, love. Just carry on, you won't even know I'm here.

First, you need to understand that in 99.9% of cases, you have not been personally targeted (although your gullibility has been exploited for the initial infection). And unlike in the 1990s, most infections these days will not actively harm your computer, except by accident.

There are two main reasons that attackers try to infect you.

  • A blanket attempt to harvest as much personal information as possible. Once an attacker has amassed a database of information, they may either use it themselves, or sell it on the black market. Regular customers include employment agencies, labour dispute firms, market researchers, and criminals who will use the data to compromise PayPal and Internet banking accounts. If you use the same password on more than one site, you’re a prime candidate for this.
  • An attempt to use your computer without your consent. Common purposes include quietly sending out truckloads of spam, or using your system as part of a wider network to attack other computers.

Neither of these works if they break your system. So don’t panic – you’re unlikely to lose data. However, in future, you need to apply the same street smarts to computers that you would if a shady guy in a suit came up to you on the street. If it even smells vaguely like a scam, it is. Don’t click it.

4 Easy Steps

Dude, that's like the second most common password ever.

So, you’re pretty sure you’re infected. You’re posting things on your Facebook wall that you don’t remember putting there, or your computer feels sluggish and constantly seems to be doing something in the background, even when you’re not using it. Time to clean house.

  1. Many viruses will attempt to interfere with your antivirus software, to prevent themselves from being detected. Step one is to make sure your antivirus software is actually running, and to update it to the latest definitions. To do this, visit your Control Panel, and launch the Security Center. If you cannot, skip down to the OMG IT’S EATING ME section.
  2. Security Center will show you the status of your Antivirus software. If it’s not up to date, update it now. Then manually run a Full system scan, removing any bugs it finds.
  3. Some versions of Windows (notably Vista) come with Windows Defender, a great anti-malware app. If you cannot launch it, skip down to the OMG IT’S EATING ME section. If you don’t have Windows Defender, instead grab a copy of MalwareBytes free AntiMalware program, and run a full scan, removing anything it finds.
  4. Once you are certain your computer is clean, change all of your passwords. I cannot stress this enough. This means your system login password, your Facebook password, your Gmail password, your Internet Banking password, your Skype password, the works.
    • Write each password down in a notebook that you keep in a drawer. As in, actual pen and paper. DO NOT write them in a spreadsheet that you store on your computer. If someone gains access to your system, you’re handing them everything on a plate. Go oldschool. Writing them down means you don’t have to remember them.
    • Make each password unique. Most attacks rely on the fact that people are lazy and use the same damned password everywhere. That means I only need to compromise one thing in order to have access to your entire life. Stop making it easy for them.

There, you’re done. Stop falling for scams, ok?

OMG IT’S EATING ME!

Popup blocker! Quick!

In the event that you are so thoroughly infested with crapware that Security Center will not launch, or your antivirus software will not update itself, or crashes on start, a different approach is required. Again, do not panic. What has happened is this.

In an effort to conceal their presence, malwares adopt some quite cunning strategies. A common one is to modify Windows’ Firewall to prevent your antivirus from ever getting the updates that would enable it to detect them, and to disable Windows’ Security Center to prevent you getting messages about your antivirus not being up to date. This effectively neuters your antivirus, and you remain blissfully unaware since you can still see it running in the taskbar.

But some malwares will also replace genuine system components with modified versions of themselves. By doing this, they ensure that at least one instance of themselves will always be started as part of the general day-to-day operation of the computer. Quite clever, really: just turning on the computer causes the malware to run.

If you are this infected, we need to remove the viruses without starting the computer. But how?

Avira to the rescue! Download the latest copy of Avira AntiVir Rescue System.

It’s a 75mb file, updated 3 times a day with the latest threats. It is a special kind of file called an ISO, which means it’s a disk image. You must burn it onto a CD, but you need to use your CD burning software’s option for burning ISO files or disk images.

If you do it right, you’ll wind up with a CD that your computer can boot from. Put the CD in the disk drive, and restart the computer. Instead of starting Windows, it will launch the Avira system straight from the CD, and you’ll be able to scan and clean your computer.

The beauty of using Avira is that because Windows never starts, neither do the viruses – you could think of it as creeping up on them while they’re asleep and blowing their heads off with a shotgun. They just never see it coming. That done, rewind to step 4 above.

Note that because Avira Rescue System burns to CD and does not update itself, you can basically throw it away afterwards, because it becomes obsolete in hours. If this ever occurs again, you’ll always need to download and burn the latest version.

Have a nice day. Play safe out there.