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How to Recover From a Virus Attack [Windows]

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How to Recover From a Virus Attack [Windows]

Post by Vans on Thu Feb 04, 2016 12:16 pm

If you’re using a Windows-based PC, you’ve had to recover your computer from a virus attack at some point since using it. They’re never fun, you often lose data and can even have your personal information compromised. If your computer has been hit by a nasty virus, don’t worry – you can recover from a virus attack easily.

1. Disconnect
The moment you realize something’s amiss or you have a virus, disconnect your PC from the Internet. If you’re on a home network connected to other computers, get off it. By isolating your PC, you can not only keep the virus from spreading to other computers but also keep any information being transmitted by the virus from getting to its destination.

2. Scan, Scan, Scan
After you’ve disconnected, you’ll need to scan for your computer with anti-virus software (I hope you had one installed), anti-malware and potentially anti-spyware. It all depends on the virus. Utilize your anti-virus software first. If you can’t initiate a scan directly, you may need to reboot your PC and run the anti-virus from the CD or DVD itself. When you have a bad virus infection, this is the safest way to begin eliminating the threat.

After you have pinpointed the cause of the virus and eliminated it with your anti-virus software, you’ll want to restart your PC and run another scan just to be sure. Viruses can hide in folders and areas of the computers you’d never think to look, so by scanning a second time, you can ensure you eliminated the virus entirely.

If for some reason, your computer fails to find the virus, you may need to run anti-malware and anti-spyware software. If you can pinpoint the type of virus, or perhaps where it came from, you can search the Web for more directions on how to properly eliminate it from your PC. Following those steps will eliminate the virus from your PC permanently.

You can also try to eliminate Windows viruses with Linux, following the steps in our guide, if all else fail.

Viruses. They happen to almost everyone. If they don’t happen to you, it’ll be your cousin Stan who get joins the malware-of-the-month club, and you’re the only person he knows who can fix a computer. The problem is, things are so screwed up that Windows won’t even start properly. And if it does, the virus has embedded itself so deeply that you can’t access the files and tools you’d need to remove it. Enter Linux. By booting from a Linux Live CD or USB, you can remove the offending programs manually or with a Linux-based anti-virus program. This guide will cover creation of a bootable USB Linux system as well as a comparison of the antivirus software options.

Choosing a Linux Distro

There are a few criteria to look at when deciding exactly which to go with. We’ll want something fairly small, runs well from USB, auto-detects local hard drives, and able to work with a persistence file so we can save our new programs and updates directly to the USB stick.

I’d recommend Crunchbang Linux. It meets all of the above criteria, it’s Ubuntu-based, and it’s just a very slick distro that would work well for this purpose. Also, whichever distro you decide, choose the 32 bit option. Your computer may be 64-bit ready but Cousin Stan’s might not, and we need this software to be as portable as possible.

Installing Linux to USB
This is a topic I’ve covered before at MakeTechEasier, both for Windows with Lili USB Creator and Linux with UNetbootin.

Of the two, I’d actually recommend Lili, the Windows software, to create your USB stick. Lili makes it easy to create a persistence file so your changes can be saved on the USB stick so you won’t have to reinstall and update your AV every time you use it.

Linux Antivirus Software
A number of commercial and independent AV vendors make Linux versions, with various amounts of hassle and levels of functionality. A few of the more well known ones include…

Name License Registration Required Scan Repair
AVG Closed No Yes No
Avast Closed Yes Yes Yes
Panda Closed Yes Yes Yes
ClamAV Open No Yes Yes

We’ll be using Clam Antivirus because it’s the simplest install, requires no registration, and does an excellent job of detecting and removing infected files. It should be available for download for just about any Linux system from the Clam website or your distro’s online repositories. Ubuntu users can also install it by clicking here.

Running the Scan
For starters, you’ll want to run an update once Clam is installed so that our scan will have the newest virus definitions. To do this, open a command prompt and run

sudo freshclam
While there is a GUI called Clamtk available for download, we’ll be using the command line interface. This is because Clamtk lacks some of the configuration options that we’ll be passing to the antivirus.

To run the scan we’ll need to know a few things. First is the location that you intend to scan. If you’re scanning a Windows drive from a live Linux system as intended, you can find this by clicking that drive from the left pane of your file browser and looking at the path shown in the address bar.

Then I’ve got a few options I may want to pass to Clam regarding how to perform the scan. Some options worth considering are:

-r #perform recursive scan - good for a whole drive
--exclude=.mp3 #set exclusion pattern to skip things like music and videos
--scan-mail=yes/no #include mail files in system scan
--remove=yes/no #delete infected files, yes or no. Careful with this.
So when you’re ready, your full command will look something like this:

clamscan -r --exclude=.avi --remove=yes /media/disk
When all’s said and done, you’ll get a fairly detailed report.

If all went well, you’re set until next time Stan clicks a popup.

3. Re-install, Restore and Clean Up
If you’re confident you’ve found and eliminated the cause of the virus, your next step is to begin recovering what you lost. Viruses have a nasty habit of installing software, uninstalling programs and even deleting or corrupting files. If this is the case, you may need to re-install software and recover files or folders from backups you’ve made.

Keep in mind that the restore process isn’t always smooth. If you’re not quite sure what was affected, you’ll need to go through your computer and see what’s missing. While you could use a Windows System Restore, it’s not always a wise idea after a virus attack, since you don’t know where the virus came from or when it first appeared.

If the virus was saved in an area of the System Restore point, you could potentially re-introduce it after getting rid of it. If it’s at all possible, avoid using a Windows System Restore point. This can cause more harm than good.

4. Back Up Your Data
If you had a bad experience trying to clean up your PC after the virus attack, you’ll want to focus on backing up your data so that in the future you don’t have to worry about the clean up as much.

You can back up your data in a variety of ways, such as using removable media or the cloud. It all depends on what you feel comfortable with and what you want to spend. Many cloud-based services are free up to a certain point.

No matter how you backup your data after a virus attack, just make sure to do it. This will help you avoid figuring out what was lost, recovering it and regaining use of your computer.

5. Prevent Future Attacks

Once you’ve been hit by a bad virus on a Windows PC, you may need to increase the security on your computer. This means potentially changing anti-virus software, adding more protection and ensuring they’re up to date. You can set up most software to automatically update itself; this is the best way to make sure you’re on top of the latest virus definitions and protection.

Another thing to consider is what you did to get the virus in the first place. Did you visit a bad web site? Did you open an e-mail from an untrusted source? If you can figure out how the virus infected your PC, you will not want to make the same mistake again.

Just because Windows computers are vulnerable to viruses doesn’t mean they have to be. There are thousands of users who have used a Windows computer for years without issues. Taking precautionary steps as well as knowing how to handle a virus attack will keep you safe from the maximum amount of damage a virus can do.


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