Best Free Anti-Virus & Anti-Malware Solutions and How to Disinfect a Virus Infected Computer

Keyboard photo by by Petr Kratochvil

A few weeks ago, I haplessly picked up a nasty trojan horse virus on my laptop running Windows XP. Because I had AVG Anti-Virus (Free Edition) installed, one of the most highly lauded free anti-virus programs out there, I thought that I was safe from the evils of the cyberworld, but I was wrong.

As soon as the computer was infected, I ran AVG’s full computer scan twice. The first time, it detected and removed 4 trojans, but it couldn’t remove the root of the problem. This trojan horse virus either tampered with AVG and prevented it from removing it, or AVG was simply not effective enough to deal with it in the first place.

This nasty bug did the following to my computer:

  • When I tried to perform an internet search, regardless of search engine — Google, Yahoo, MSN — every link I clicked on opened a new window to a questionable site.
  • Internet Explorer wouldn’t start at all so I couldn’t run a Windows OneCare online scan.
  • System Restore wouldn’t work.
  • I ran a program called Ad-Aware but it froze the scan after it started detecting threats so that the scanner couldn’t remove the malware. When the scan started, I could see that it had detected 12 threats, then the scanner froze and finished showing 0 threats.
  • It wouldn’t allow me to access any anti-virus or malware sites to download removal programs or to run online scans. When I tried to access those sites, I received a “Server is Unavailable” message.

How to Disinfect a Virus Infected Computer

After hours of searching and working around this virus to try to get rid of it, I succeeded with the help of the following sites/programs, in the following order and run multiple times.

  1. Download.com
    Because this site is not strictly an anti-virus/malware site, I was able to access it to search for and download anti-malware programs.
  2. Malwarebytes Anti Malware
    This program was able to detect and remove the virus where other programs failed.
  3. Windows Malicious Software Removal Tool
    If you have Internet Explorer 7, this program may have come installed with it and run once a month. Download the tool from the site and run it as often as you need or want to.
  4. Avast Anti-virus
    This program can run a virus scan when booting the computer so the trojan horse virus can’t start. It has automatic update so it can keep your virus database up to date.
  5. Repeat steps 2-4 until you’re sure the computer is clean. It wouldn’t hurt to run a couple of other free online scans to make sure.

Over the course of 12 hours, I ran about 16 different scans, after which I could finally declare my computer a malware-free zone. It was a harrowing experience and taught me an important lesson — that there is no such thing as too much security these days when it comes to computer health. And as with human health, prevention is the best medicine. Here is a list of anti-virus,  malware and security tools available for free that I have used in the past or heard good things about.

Free Online Virus Scanners

Free Anti-Virus, Malware and Firewall Software

Free Web Safety Advisors

These safety browser plug-ins warn you when you are about to enter a known bad site – spam, viruses, scams, etc.

There are many other free internet security programs out there, but these are ones I have had personal experience with (except for Comodo, but it seems to have a good reputation).

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4 thoughts on “Best Free Anti-Virus & Anti-Malware Solutions and How to Disinfect a Virus Infected Computer”

  1. What a HORRIBLE waste of your time, and what a lot of stress, grief, and frustration you must have felt!

    This kind of thing is the specific reason I switched to the Mac. Windows programs are better in some ways, but so far I haven’t had to jump through these crazy-making hoops again, or be put through the anguish of watching my system collapse before my eyes. Again. I’m sure that won’t last forever, but several years of freedom from that sort of harassment have been totally worth it.

  2. I hate to say it, but the best anti-virus strategy I’ve employed has been to switch to a Mac. I own PCs, work on one and have worked in IT for over a decade. I’ve used all the AV/Spyware/Malware apps you mentioned and you did the right thing.

    But being on a Mac, I’m 99% immune to any of these time-wasting issues. And I’m not limited to the “Mac Only” or “Macs don’t run the software I need” arguments. I run Windows through Parallels and can access Windows apps whenever I need to. That is the best strategy that I could offer to completely side-step the time sink that Windows users suffer at the hand of viruses, spyware and malware.

  3. Thank you both for your comments .I agree, getting a Mac would probably be the best thing to do; my cousin who works in networking has told me that, too.

    Only problem was that the last time I needed to buy a new computer when our old one completely died, was right after paying taxes so I could only afford a Dell PC with Windows.

    I will definitely be considering a Mac the next time I purchase a new computer, though.

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