Tech Talker digs deep into recovering your system from a catastrophic virus.
In the past few months, I’ve received a large number of virus and malware related questions. So I’ve decided to do a more advanced episode on computer recovery and virus management. Some of the strategies I mention in this episode may be above your tech comfort level, but it is always good to have a working knowledge of what to do in case your computer is infected with a nasty piece of malware.
If you haven’t yet read or listened to my episodes on the Anatomy of a Virus and How to Easily Delete Computer Viruses, please go check out the links to these episodes on the Quick and Dirty Tips website. They’re episodes 11 and 12 respectively.>
Just to refresh, what is malware? Malware is a nasty man-made computer bug that either takes over your computer to use for nefarious purposes, or it takes over your computer and holds it hostage until you “pay” the creators of the malware to take it off for you. In both of these situations, you lose the control of your computer.
Malware infections can range from the merely annoying spammy program, to a full blown lockdown on every control of your computer. I’ve already discussed some easy ways one would remove simple infections in an earlier episode. However, the topic of today’s episode is the full blown infection. A full blown infection is when your computer is completely inoperable because the malware has locked the keyboard or prevented you from running any applications. These viruses generally aren’t cured by a single antivirus software, and they could actually be caused by more than one infection. This is the sort of infection you will be keenly aware of because you will not be able to use your computer.
The first thing you will want to do is to sever the connection this computer has with the network. That means physically unplugging it from your network, or turning off the wireless (WiFi) to your computer. This will prevent the infection from sharing or receiving any information from its creator. This will also prevent your computer from spreading the infection to any other devices in your network.
Now that you’ve separated your computer from the network, it’s time to get a few tools to help you diagnose your problem. First, you will need an uninfected machine that has internet access. This will allow you to search the web for specific topics related to your issue. It is also extremely helpful if you have another computer that can accept another hard drive, although this is not mandatory.
With your tools in hand you can now begin diagnosing your computer. Log into the affected computer and write down any symptoms, error messages, alerts, or suspicious looking activity such as programs you did not install. Use your clean computer to search for these specific items. This may take some time, but you will eventually find information relating to your problem. Odds are if you’re experiencing this problem, many other people have experienced it as well (a computer virus never goes after just one machine). Google searches will often yield a wealth of information. I would stress finding two separate websites with matching descriptions and resolutions just as a double check.
Many of your results will be in forums, where people will often list which antiviruses were effective for the specific problem and which ones weren’t. Some may tell you to delete specific files as well as running multiple antiviruses to totally cleanse your machine. This advice may sound vague, but there are tons of viruses out there, and covering the diagnostic process is far more valuable than covering the removal of any specific virus.
Describing all of the different types of infections that could be at fault would be next to useless because malware changes and evolves constantly. Just like when you yourself get a cold, there is never one type of medication that will cure all your symptoms. So it’s better to take a holistic approach and clean your computer of as many bugs as possible all at once.
What’s that quote about if you teach a man to fish…?
After researching and corroborating information from many sources, then comes the moment of truth. That is to act upon your research. My favorite way to clean an infected computer is to remove the hard drive altogether. I then move this hard drive to an empty slot on my desktop. My desktop will then open the drive as a data drive (similar to if you had plugged in a USB thumb drive). I can then use my computer to scan the contents of that drive. Now you may be worried that plugging an infected drive into a clean computer could run the risk of infecting your clean machine.
Thankfully, you are almost always safe from that because no programs are run when you do this. The files on the infected drive can’t execute any code unless it is manually executed by you. If this sounds too dicey, there is another option – it comes in the form of a bootable USB or CD. This is an operating system that’s installed on a CD or USB and is used to scan your system, even if you don’t have another non-infected computer at your disposal.
After following the instructions for creating a bootable CD or USB drive which I’ve posted links to in the shownotes for Kaspersky, Hiren’s Boot DIsk, and Bit Defender , you will turn off the infected computer, insert the device you just created and turn your computer back on. You will then follow the prompts which should guide you through the process. If however, this doesn’t happen, you may need to press a button as your computer turns on to help initiate this process. This may be F8, ESC, Delete, or a similar key which should be specified in the user manual of your computer. A quick Google search should clear this up pretty fast too.
I’ve mentioned Kaspersky in a previous episode and have received complaints that it didn’t always work. Well like with any cure to a disease, there is no such thing as one pill to cure it all! Your research should uncover programs and steps that are applicable to your specific problem. If you’re looking for some good places to start I would check out Kaspersky, Hiren’s Boot Disk, and Bit Defender.
If you’re lucky, you are listening to or reading this episode before you have a problem. But if you aren’t that lucky, don’t worry, next week I will be going over how to recover data and hard drives lost from heavy malware infections.
With that, here are your 5 Quick and Dirty Tips for removing the nastiest computer viruses:
Write down specific symptoms and errors caused by the virus for later research.
Quarantine the afflicted computer.
Get a set of tech tools together to help you troubleshoot.
Do research and check multiple websites to confirm a diagnosis.
Use a bootable CD or USB to clean the viruses off your hard drive.
Well, that’s it for today! Be sure to check out all my earlier episodes at techtalker.quickanddirtytips.com. And if you have further questions about this podcast or want to make a suggestion for a future episode, post them on Facebook.com/QDTtechtalker.
Until next time, I’m the Tech Talker, keeping technology simple!