Know Your Malware

Malware is a term that comprises all of the bad stuff that can affect your Windows computer - spyware, adware, browser hijackers, ransomware, et al. While non-Windows operating systems can also be subject to infections of various kinds, Windows is still "king" by a large margin - and not in a good way.

While a working, up-to-date antivirus program will keep you mostly free of viruses (also a type of malware), other things can sneak past at times.

One of the problems is knowing what is malware and what are legitimate installed applications in the first place. The malware writers and crafty and generally provide legitimate-sounding names for their babies (see some of the guides linked at the end of the article), and indeed it can be tough separating the wheat from the chaff. This issue is made all the worse by the prevalence of preinstalled bloatware when you purchase a new computer these days.

Bloatware comprises those myriad "helpful" trial programs that PC makers load up on your system, rather that just give you a pristine installation. Unless you are familiar with this sort of software, it can be hard to know which ones may actually be useful to you and which are just taking up space and other resources. There are applications available to help identify and remove this kind of stuff, such as "PC Decrapifier", which is free for personal use.

Assuming you have a relatively "crap-free" computer system, it should be a bit easier to determine if malware has suddenly appeared. Of course, malware will also produce symptoms like slower performance, an increase in pop-up messages and weird search results pointing to dubious web sites.

Most malware guides will encourage you to use Add/Remove Programs ("Programs and Features" in Windows 7, or "Apps and Features" in Windows 8 and above) to attempt to uninstall the malware first, before running some kind of cleaner.

As a quick and dirty guide, if you find unexpected software on your PC and you DON'T find that software listed on, I would take a good hard look at it with an eye to removal. is a very useful site that provides a selection of freeware (no cost) software for download.

It also has the benefit that it provides a custom installer which installs the latest version of the program(s) without allowing things like toolbars and the like to be installed. The software on the site, therefore, can be considered "legit" for the purposes of this article. There are many exceptions, of course, but I suggest this is a good rule of thumb to start with.

Once you have removed those programs you have identified, you can install and run something like Malwarebytes anti-malware - also available via - to scan and clean up any remaining malware. Malware will be identified as such, and you may also see references to "PUPs" (Potentially Unwanted Programs), which are almost always recommended to be removed.

Programs like Malwarebytes usually need to reboot your PC to complete cleanup, and you may need or want to run it again for some stubborn issues.

While not an exhaustive guide, this should help with the basics of identifying and removing bad stuff from your Windows PC.

Some useful links and guides:

Wilders Security Forums (browser hijack and spyware problems)

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