Windows virus help

Windows is the favorite target of virus and malware creators so, if you use Windows, take basic steps to prevent viruses and malware from installing on your computer.

No personal computer is immune

All computers are susceptible to viruses and malicious software no matter what operating system is used. However, Windows machines are the primary target of these attacks, so we offer some tips to help you protect your computer from becoming infected. We will go a bit further than recommending staying offline, probably the most effective but still not completely secure. This article is meant to cover the basics of virus prevention while using simple terminology and generalized explanations.

A virus never looks like what you think it would.

Prevention is still the best cure

Well, how do you prevent your computer from getting infected in the first place when the Internet is just full of complex risks. Sadly, as long as you use the Internet, there is no way to prevent unwanted programs from silently installing themselves on your hard drive. Simply visiting a malicious or corrupted website can allow an attacker to take over your computer or make it a member of a botnet. If your computer is attacked, there may be no signs anything has happened or is wrong. You go about your business as usual, but in the background, your computer could be sending copies of files, recording your keystrokes, even watching you via a webcam.

The most basic prevention steps would be to update the operating system and use a current (meaning the latest version) anti-virus program with updated virus definitions. Combined, they can be very effective against many different types of attacks.

The first line of defense is to install anti-virus or anti-malware programs. Windows 8, Windows 10, and Windows 11 come with anti-virus installed, so installing a third-party anti-virus on these operating systems is not critical. However, Microsoft is not charging money for Windows Defender, so it would seem they don't try as hard, and they do tend to have lower detection and removal ratings than other companies that charge for their products. Yet, it is in Microsoft's best interest to provide a quality tool to help mitigate issues with their products. So, Windows Defenders' performance may improve over time.

Numerous viruses are created daily and have to be discovered for an anti-virus company to block and repair the damage or changes made to the computer system. Even though the end user is dependent on these companies protecting their computers, users are at their mercy for the most part, yet most companies are quick to respond with a fix. It is a lot easier waiting for a fix than repairing an infected computer. Basic protection is easy, and keeping a computer operating system up to date with an up-to-date anti-virus can go a long way to securing any PC.

Online surveillance

It is more important than ever to take your online privacy seriously. The Internet is constantly being scanned by somebody who wants to steal your money or profit off everything you do online. Knowledge is power, and limiting the amount of personal information you provide or post to websites can help tremendously. A simple example would be to use your dog's name as your password and post pictures with details of you and your dog. Your computer is constantly bombarded with pings (communication attempts via the Internet) from other computers trying to find weaknesses or open ports in your system. There are computers continually looking for a way in. Keep the door closed by installing a wireless router.

Take a proactive approach to computer security

A proactive approach to computer security using common sense helps tremendously with your computer's integrity. Keep yourself updated on current security risks and keep your preferred security program up to date. What do I mean by the preferred security program, you ask? At the minimum, an anti-virus program, either a free or paid version, will do. Many times people are unaware if they even have an anti-virus program installed. Others have expired subscriptions that are years out of date, which is like having no protection. Having an anti-virus program installed and monitoring the status of the anti-virus program can save you money, time, and who knows how many headaches. Be sure to remove any expired or unwanted anti-virus programs before installing a different branded one.

Out of date operating systems and anti-virus

Windows XP is no longer supported by Microsoft, making Windows XP a bit more vulnerable than it was, but that doesn't matter to many users. It was some time ago, but the example is a good one. We received a laptop for repair with an expired version of Norton 2002 installed. The year was 2014 that is 11 years or more of pop-ups stating Norton had expired, and no one cared, and just closed and ignored the pop-up. The laptop had some Windows updates installed, so someone took the time to keep Windows updating until Windows service pack 2. However, in 2008 Microsoft stopped supporting computers running Windows XP service pack 2. Even though the software was outdated, the laptop was free of viruses and malware. How is this possible? Presumably, this laptop spent little time online, and signs of normal wear and tear were not there, suggesting it was rarely used.

Many swear you don't need to use anti-virus. We prefer to use them and recommend everyone does too. The cleaner everyone's personal computers are, the better it is for everyone.

Anti-virus bloatware

One of the problems with Windows security is that most new computers come with a trial version of some anti-virus preinstalled, so the user doesn't know or remember the product's name. They turn on their new personal computer, answer some questions, check a few boxes, fill out a registration form, and Windows starts up. They are usually a bit hurried to play with their new toy to care about what anti-virus program they are running. They know or assume it comes with the new computer, and therefore they are protected.

Microsoft Windows 8 tried to address this problem with preinstalled Microsoft Security Essentials. The version that comes with Windows 8 is Windows Defender, and it runs hidden in the background, only showing pop-ups for activity. Offering no regular information to the end-user could lead them to believe they have no anti-virus installed, and that seems to be a bit of a step backward. The version of Windows Defender that comes with Windows 8 cannot be uninstalled, so it does not need to be removed when installing an anti-virus.

With Windows 10, Microsoft has changed the behavior of Windows Defender, and it now has pop-ups, and it behaves more like a traditional anti-virus program. Windows 10 users do not need to spend extra money or suffer the performance hit that comes with using third-party anti-virus tools unless they want to or are offered free from their internet service provider.

Keep your anti-virus up to date and scan your PC

Anti-virus programs are worthless if you do not keep them up to date and run them often. So, regularly update and scan your computer for viruses and spyware with the product of your choice. If you have an older PC, this can be a nuisance since it can slow it down and take a very long time to complete a full scan. This is why many people uninstall anti-virus programs or choose to forget them. Modern anti-virus programs were not written for older hardware, so the only way to speed up the scan is to get a faster computer.

Again, having an outdated program such as a 2011 version when the current version is 2013 is no different than having no anti-virus installed. Most people like to pay a yearly subscription fee and let their anti-virus get out of date. It would seem manufacturers want users to purchase any version of their program and install it regardless of whether it is out of date. That is not that bad since most manufacturers allow upgrades to the current version, but they do nothing to let the end-user know that they must download a new version every year. Version changes come yearly around the fourth quarter. This is up to the manufacturer. However, they all follow a general yearly version change.

Remembering to scan can be a problem for some, so it is recommended that you set your anti-virus program to scan your computer at least weekly automatically. To keep things simple, leave the program set to defaults, offering sufficient protection for most users. Defaults mean to use the standard settings the program or device comes pre-set with. There is no one product with 100% coverage against all of the risks out there. You still need to be wise when surfing the web, and if you install the malware yourself, your anti-virus program may not be able to catch it until it is too late. Being smart and using common sense can help prevent the user from infecting your PC. The Internet is full of FREE items, and it is best to remember there is always a catch, and when is anything truly free.

Potentially unwanted programs (PUPS)

It is more demanding than ever to download a product safely from the Internet. Companies trying to make money off of installations include many unwanted programs. These programs are known as potentially unwanted programs or (PUPS). These products are often legitimate and need to be uninstalled using the program's built-in uninstaller. Some of the more considerate program packages have small checkboxes that need to be unchecked to prevent the installation of additional programs. However, this leaves the inexperienced to do nothing and install everything.

Truly malicious potentially unwanted programs (PUPS) are another thing entirely and should not be taken lightly. There are tools designed especially for malware removal of this type. Malware or malicious software attacks computers in various ways, way too many to cover here, so we will concentrate on stopping them before they get installed. PUPS with harmful intent can cause system crashes and possibly the classic Windows XP Blue Screen of Death. Malware is changing faster than viruses these days, so they are the ones to be on the lookout for. To protect against malware, be sure to install a malware scanner along with your anti-virus of choice. Always check for compatibility issues between the anti-virus and malware tools you use. The easiest way to test this without searching the web is to install your anti-virus after installing the malware program. If there is an issue, a quality program will alert you to the incompatibility.

Drive by's

An unpatched operating system and no virus protection leave you exposed to drive-by malware installers. Simply going to the wrong website can wreak havoc in no time. Though not guaranteed to have an anti-virus, updating Windows is a simple form of protection that is better than nothing.

How to shop for an anti-virus program

When selecting an anti-virus product, it is best to give the program of choice a test run by using a trial version. It may seem like work, but it's better than having your PC come to a screeching halt every time a scan runs or increasing the boot time by minutes. Paying around sixty dollars for a program that does nothing but irritate you really should be avoided. Almost year-round, anti-virus manufacturers offer rebates on their programs, and it is possible to buy last year's version at a lower price and get a free upgrade to the current version. Not all manufacturers allow this, so check their website before purchasing.

Some internet service providers provide free anti-virus and software-based firewalls with their service. We recommend that if your internet service provider offers a product, choose it. Before installing a new anti-virus, uninstall any other installed anti-virus programs. Having two different anti-viruses installed can be as bad, if not worse, than a virus.

Anti-virus scanner types

There are generally two types of virus scanners, always on and on-access scanners. An on-access or real-time scanning program is a good idea if you have a fast computer. On access means that every time you open a file or do just about anything, the file is scanned for viruses. Scanning everything you run does slow down access times, especially with large files or opening big programs. However, it would seem to have more potential to catch a virus before it runs, yet this has not been proven true.

The constant or always-on scanner scans for activity but does not scan every file accessed. Usually, the anti-virus programs scanner will run a quick scan, a daily scan, or a weekly scan, depending on settings. This has been proven effective yet potentially leaves the computer exposed. Like on-access scanners, scanners have not proven to be more effective than the others.

There is a lot of debate on which scanner type is better, and we leave that up to the end-user to decide what's best for them. Any anti-virus is better than nothing if it does not cause performance issues.

Use common sense online

Having an anti-virus program up to date and running is essential, but common sense is most important for the Internet. Don't just click on every link, especially in email and internet forums. Before you click, take a moment to think about who's site you are on and why you need to access the link directly? It may be better to Google the link and see what results come back. Then select the appropriate link.

Since the results can have phony links, very popular or politically charged topics should not be searched. These links are designed to get you onto sites that install malware when you click the link. A really slow loading site could be loading something before the page. There is money to be made by controlling your computer or monitoring what you do with it, so be wary.

Pre-install anti-virus programs

Installing commonly used spyware tools before having troubles can make virus repair straightforward. Many free tools are available, and some good malware programs are Malwarebytes, Spybot, and AD-Aware. These programs can be helpful. However, they must be kept up to date, or they will be ineffective against new threats. No one program will protect against all threats, so it is better to have options. However, you can only have one anti-virus program installed at a time. At most, anti-virus will prevent you from installing more than one, but that is not always the case, so be sure to check that all anti-virus are removed before installing one.

Windows restore points

Microsoft Windows has a handy feature built-in called System Restore. It allows the user or Windows to create restore points that can be used to repair the computer file system in crisis. This is good and bad; if a virus infects the restore point, that would be bad. However, if you get a virus and use a restore point to repair your PC and it works, that would be good. Whenever a PC gets infected, there is always a corrupted or infected restore point(s). If the restore points are used to repair a PC or are not working, it is best to fix the computer and delete all current restore points. Accidently going back to an infected time by choice would be bad. A better way is to use programs like Acronis True Image, which is an excellent way to protect from data loss due to viruses and drive failure. Why repair the damage of a virus when you can restore your computer to when it was clean.

Perform maintenance

Personal computers are like anything. They run much smoother if appropriately maintained. PCMD recommends that routine maintenance on your computer be done monthly, if not weekly. Clear out your internet cache and temp files, and check if any new programs were installed without your knowledge. Every once in a while, manually run Windows update to ensure it operates correctly. Windows update is working correctly if it is downloading and installing updates. Pay attention to any increase in noise, and dust the interior yearly.

People often say they have nothing on their computer worth worrying about, or they say something like they don't have anything worth stealing. To put it simply, repairing the damage of a virus infestation will cost you time and possibly money; both are worth protecting.