How do I remove a virus from my computer for free?
Firstly – What is a computer virus and how do I get rid of it?
If I had a pound for every time I have been asked "How do I get rid of a computer virus?" I would be living on a small desert island sipping a cold one!
I will tell you what you need to know and what you need to do to ensure you and your family are better protected from viruses. If your computer is already infected, the best tools to remove them.
If there are any technical words that you are unclear on, I have a created a small glossary at the bottom of this article to help you out.
What is a computer virus?
A computer virus is a piece of software installed on your machine without your consent and can possess a variety of behaviors from slowing your machines performance to potentially destroying all your data, including those treasured family photos. While the world has an infatuation with the word 'virus' other names you may hear include Trojans; Bots; Adware; Browser Hijackers and more frequently now, Ransomware. Viruses and the names I just listed are all members of the same nasty software family called 'Malware'. Confused? Check the glossary at the bottom of this post for a summary on each of the terms.
There are many software tools on the internet specially produced to detect and neutralise viruses and restore your system back to its pre-infection performance level – and the best bit is some of the good ones are FREE! You do not need to pay that £ 60 a year subscription for the software that comes preinstalled on many computers and expires after a year!
The companies that write these tools have a monumental task trying to produce a 'fix' for every virus. There is something like 85,000 new viruses released to the world each day, so there is no way they can keep up, and some tools can detect a virus that others may not identify. I always have two antivirus tools installed and up this to three if I am removing a virus for a friend or relative.
How do I know if my computer is infected?
Some clear signs that your computer is infected include:
Your system running much slower than usual
Lots of annoying pop-ups
Or the most likely – random websites opening
But sometimes there are no symptoms at all – these are the sneaky ones!
It is always recommended that you install a good antivirus tool and ensure it's 'signatures' are kept up to date. If you opt for the paid version of an antivirus tool you can set scheduled and allow the scans to run at your preferred times.
How did my computer become infected?
This can be very difficult to diagnose, but the common forms of infection are:
Clicking on a malicious 'advert' while browsing the internet
Opening a malicious email attachment
An infected USB stick – this is now so common.
Downloading music or films from dodgy sources
The best tips to keep yourself protected are:
Always keep your operating system ie Windows, up-to-date. The companies that developed the OS – short for the operating system spend a vast amount of time writing 'patches' to close vulnerabilities in their software. Always ensure you keep your system updated!
Always keep your wits about you when you are online and never click on an advert or pop-up if it is not from a trusted source. If in doubt – ignore it. Here are some examples of malicious adverts that if pressed, are a sure way to pick up an infection!
Unless you know the sender of an e-mail, never open the attachment! Many of the big email companies provide a certain level of protection but with an estimated 92% of all global mail being either Spam or virus-related, the companies have an uphill challenge. If in doubt – delete it!
Infected USB sticks are a nightmare. You carry them with you from machine to machine and happily plug them into a printer in the supermarket and then the computer at the internet café – they transfer viruses as quickly as head lice in a classroom! Always run a full scan of a USB stick when you have used this on another machine. Que? Not sure what I mean? Read my article here on how to do this.
Downloading music and films from the internet is in short, asking for trouble unless it is from one of the major players that charge a premium. Free films from a Torrent site may seem like a great idea, but you do run the risk of paying a quite hefty emotional price if you lose your files as a result.
How can I remove a virus?
To delete a virus, you are going to need some software. There are many antivirus tools out there, but some are quite frankly hopeless. I have spent many years trialing and testing a variety of products and return to a few time and time again – and they are free!
1) Malwarebytes – Free!
The best free product is Malwarebytes. The people behind Malwarebytes also offer a premium product that is chargeable but for now we will concentrate on the free version.
2) SuperAntiSpyware – Free!
This product is another lifesaver and has some excellent functionality and little extra features that make this product as a must. The team behind this software do have a premium version that is available for about £ 30.
3) FreeAVG – Free!
This is a fantastic product that offers so much more than just a tool to remove an infection. I recommend to my friends and family they keep this running as it also scans websites as you browse them to detect viruses embedded on the site.
A warning though before you go and run ANY antivirus tool …
Sometimes Malware, including viruses, can be so deeply rooted within your computer files that when the infections are cleaned, your computer may suffer adverse effects and data may be lost. I strongly suggest you backup and critical files you can access on a clean USB stick before you run any virus removal tool. I have used these tools many times but cannot be held responsible for any loss of files as a result of running them. You can purchase a good sized USB external drive to backup all your precious documents from online resellers like Amazon. Western Digital are an excellent brand that I recommend. Oh, and when you next plug this USB drive into a computer, make sure you scan it for viruses!
Useful Glossary (These may even impress your friends and family when you drop them in a conversation!)
Adware – Short for advertising-supported software. Adware in the context we are discussing here is pop-up advertisements that appear on your computer screen trying to sell you products. When you close one, you are usually greeted with many more!
Antivirus – A piece of software that scans your computer files to detect and remove infected files.
Bot – Derives from the word robot. A bot is a computer that has been infected and can be remotely controlled by the hacker to perform tasks on their behalf.
Browser – This is the program you use to browse the internet. The most common browsers are Safari if you are an Apple MAC user or Chrome, Firefox and even Internet Explorer if you are a Windows user. Read my article on browsers here – especially if you are using Internet Explorer!
Browser hijacking – So you now know what a browser is. A very common form of malware is Browser Hijackers. Hijackers change your internet search settings and redirect you to the pages they want you to see.
Embedded – Some websites have viruses hid within them which are copied or 'downloaded' to your computer while browsing – this is known as embedding. An excellent malware tool can detect these for you and prevent the infection from occurring.
Fix – A piece of software the remediates or neutralises an infection.
Full Scan – Within most antivirus tools, you have options to scan your entire files contents for infected files not just the most common locations.
Malware – Short for malicious software. Malware is a piece of software designed to disrupt the operation of a computer device. Malware comes in the forms of viruses; Trojans; worms; spyware; adware and ransomware.
Pop-ups – Small windows or adverts that appear 'on top' of your web browser.
Phishing – Pronounced fishing, is an illegal attempt to try and obtain sensitive data such as credit card details or passwords via emails and sites masquerading as legitimate companies. The fraudster then reuses the details captured for their gain.
Preinstalled – Software installed by the manufacturer and is present when you first switch on your device.
Ransomware – A piece of software that once installed, lock or 'encrypts' your files and will only provide you with access in return for a fee.
Patches – A small piece of computer code designed to address a specific issue identified within a piece of software.
Safe Mode – A very restricted version of Microsoft Windows that can be used to access a system encountering issues when starting in the usual manner.
Signatures – A small computer file that contains details of a specific computer virus to allow it to be detected on an infected machine.
Software – A program on a computer that allows a user to complete a set of actions or instructions.
Spam – Unsolicited emails are often containing advertisements. Want to see some spam? Check your email! More than 90% of the global emails are spam.
Tools – Not the DIY type! A piece of software that allows a task to be performed ie removal of a virus.
Torrent – A file sharing platform that allow files such as movies to be shared or downloaded.
Trojan – A piece of malware that has an alternative motive to what is advertised. Many 'trojans' allow for your computer to be remotely controlled or accessed by a hacker.
Virus – A form of malware which can replicate itself and cause significant data loss in the process.