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> How to check your computer for viruses and spyware    
post Jan 25 2004, 06:44 PM

UA Admin + Auntie Virus
Posts: 2,671
Joined: 15-July 02
From: USA

If you have reason to suspect that...
  • your computer has been hacked;
  • your computer has been infected with a virus, trojan, or worm;
  • your Internet browser has been hijacked (e.g., home page has been changed, strange popups appear, search functions don't work as expected, etc.)
...try all the following steps to diagnose (and possibly repair) any problems:

Run a full scan on your computer with an antivirus program that has been recently updated with the most current virus definitions.

To update your antivirus program if you are running Norton Antivirus, use the LiveUpdate function within the program. If you are using McAfee, the Auto Update function should be set up to retrieve updates regularly. If Auto Update is not set up or if it hasn't retrieved updates in the past day or two, you can manually download updates from McAfee's web site. If you are using AVG Antivirus, you may double-click the AVG icon (the yellow, black, green and red square) in your system tray, click the Update Manager tab, and and click the "Update Now" button to get the latest virus definitions, or you may manually update by visiting the AVG web site. If you are using another antivirus product, search the help documentation within your product for how to update.

It is of utmost importance to have recent updates before running a scan of your system. Antivirus programs use internal lists of known viruses to check against you system in order to detect problems. Virus authors are always writing new viruses, and if you don't have the most recent updates for your product, it will be unable to detect the newer threats.

If you do not have an antivirus program installed, you may want to consider installing one of the free antivirus software packages outlined by roxz72 here. Be sure to check their license agreements, as most of the free editions of these products are good only for personal use and not for use on servers.

If your antivirus program doesn't seem to be functioning properly, you should try one or two of the free online scanners that are available. Some types of malware can actually disable or damage many of the popular antivirus programs.

It is also a good idea to use an online scanner in addition to your own antivirus program if you feel your own program is not detecting a problem that you believe is virus-related. No one antivirus program will detect all viruses all the time. And to be truly sure you are free of infection, one product is not enough. Once you get a clean scan from your installed antivirus program, run one of the online scanners to make sure nothing was missed.

If a scan reveals a malware problem, write down the names of the infections found on your computer and allow the antivirus program to fix them if it can. If it cannot, you may post the virus names in our Virus + Security forum for help. There are some viruses that are difficult or impossible to remove with a regular antivirus scanner. You may want to make use of some of the free virus removal tools available for some of the most popular viruses if your antivirus program is not successful in removal and repair.

Run a full scan of your computer with a spyware detection program that has been recently updated with the most current spyware definitions.

If you do not already have a spyware detection program, download and install one of the free ones. We recommend Spybot Search & Destroy or Ad-Aware. Spybot S&D has a better record for detection and removal of spyware; Ad-Aware is easier to use for novice computer users. There is a detailed tutorial for using Spybot S&D here. Ad-Aware states for new us
When you install your spyware detection program, be sure to update it after installing and before you run it for the first time. There should be instructions and/or prompts when you first run it to help you get updates. Be sure you read through any tutorial materials. Also, it is best to restart your computer in Safe Mode before running a full spyware scan. This will enable the spyware program to perform better repairs in many cases.

If your system is infected with a particular spyware called "CoolWebSearch," you will find The CoolWebSearch Chronicles to be of particular interest to you. Merijn has written a program especially designed to eradicate this spyware from your computer, since it is too insidious and unpredictable to be fully repaired by some spyware scanners. Also, TrendMicro introduced a new online CWShredder to remove CoolWebSearch.

HAs with antivirus programs, no one spyware detection program will catch everything. To truly clean your system, run one antispyware program and then another.

As for prevention, SpywareBlaster is recommended to help keep spyware from being installed in the first place. The same developer also offers SpywareGuard that can be used in addition to SpywareBlaster. SpywareGuard runs in real time to constantly protect your system.

There is an excellent spyware primer article at PC Magazine that is a must-read for all Internet surfers. Details about what is included in the article, as well as a link, can be found in this post.

To prevent reinfection and to protect your system, familiarize yourself with basic security practices and implement them on your system.

Many of the worst viruses and spyware take advantage of vulnerabilities in popular software (like Internet Explorer) in order to spread and install themselves. Software manufacturers typically stay on top of these vulnerabilies and release patches for them. However, virus and spyware authors are also up-to-date on these vulnerabilities and are constantly writing new malware to take advantage of them. Some viruses are able to reinfect a system even while the user is busy attempting to remove the problem.

To protect your system and your personal information, you should follow the basic security practices outlined by Microsoft here. A current antivirus program will protect you from viruses, trojans, and worms. Getting computer updates regularly by using Windows Update (i.e., getting the patches mentioned previously) will keep malware from being able to exploit software vulnerabilities. And using an Internet firewall will alert you whenever programs or hackers are attempting to get into or out of your system without your permission. Two firewalls that have been used and recommended by our users are ZoneAlarm and Kerio Personal Firewall. Both are free for home use.

The only thing we would add to Microsoft's three security basics is the need for a reliable spyware scanner. Spyware scanners pick up threats that antivirus products do not. Running one on your system periodically will help keep spyware problems at bay.

Another helpful little utility is Mike Lin's Startup Monitor (thanks to UA Member, DB2ME for linking us to it originally). You can install this small utility on your computer and always be alerted when anything attempts to register itself as something that runs automatically whenever Windows starts up, which most spyware and virus programs do attempt to do. (I use it myself and like it enough that I didn't mind at all donating to his tip jar.)

If your problems persist, you may want to use a diagnostic utility and seek more help.

See the post about using HijackThis for diagnosis here. And please feel free to use our Virus + Security Discussion forum for any questions you may have. Please let us know the details of the above methods you've tried, like which antivirus programs or spyware scanners you've used, what the results of the scans were, the names of any viruses found, etc.

Happy and safe computing to all! o!

1/11/2006 -- Edit: Refresh and update Links
Edited by: DougY on Wed Jan 11 23:11:09 EST 2006.
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