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How To Speed Up Your Computer, Remove Spyware, Viruses, and PUA (Potentially Unwanted Applications)

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Forget those services on TV trying to sell you software – that’s step one.  Almost all of the software you need should be available for free.  The tricky part is doing the work.  If you are not comfortable performing these steps yourself, contact a professional (Like us!) to do it for you.  We are not responsible for anything that happens to your computer by following or not following these directions.  This information is for educational purposes only.  Your mileage may vary.

Now that that is out of the way – where to start?  The first step is knowing what to look for.  A lot of software updates install what I call “JunkWare” with their standard updates, because they get some sort of financial incentive for doing so.  Java Updates are a classic example, shown here circled in red:

Taskbar Pic
When you click on it, and go to install the update, it generally tries to sneak a toolbar in to the installation, usually the Ask! toolbar.  In my case, it’s trying to install McAfee Security Scan:

Security Scan
Just uncheck it and choose next.  What happens though, is that the average home user has 2 or 3 years worth of these “free” applications on their computer.  Typically what we see are lots of extra toolbars, animated cursors, free coupon printers, and free computer tuneup and virus scanning applications.  What YOU see are lots of popups, ads for things, and clutter all over your web browser, and extreme slowness.

But there’s good news!  We’re going to show you how to clean a lot of that stuff up, and your PC will run as well as it can.  If your PC is 3 years old or more, its pushing the envelope of obsolete, but if it’s 3 years old and CLEAN, you’re a lot better off than 3 years and LOADED with JunkWare.

Here are my general personal rules when I clean up a PC:
•If neither myself, nor the end user knows what an application is used for, get rid of it!
•If it has the word “Toolbar” in it, get rid of it!
•Make sure you have a back up of ALL critical data.  Emails, pictures, documents, etc.

Now for the actual process.  Personally, I like to make sure all critical Windows Update patches have been installed first.  Your mileage may vary.  Once that is done, I generally download all of the below apps into the My Documents or “Downloads” folder, so I know where they are:

•Google Chrome – http://www.google.com/chrome
•Piriform CCleaner - http://download.cnet.com/CCleaner
•MalwareBytes Anti-Malware (MBAM) - http://download.cnet.com/Malwarebytes-Anti-Malware/3000-8022_4-10804572.html
•ComboFix: http://www.bleepingcomputer.com/download/combofix/
•AVG Antivirus Free Edition - http://download.cnet.com/AVG-AntiVirus-Free-2014/3000-2239_4-10320142.html

Note: Avast and some others are also popular.  For paid software, I personally use Sophos on my computer - www.sophos.com

Note: ComboFix is a great app.  Extremely disappointing is the fact that its download link is directly below a JunkWare link.  See the pic below and click the correct one!


Junkware
I suggest downloading the above and installing them in the order listed.  I listed Google Chrome because you always want to have at least 1 other web browser on your system besides Internet Explorer.  Many viruses and malware apps target only IE, so it’s good to have something to get you on the internet to be able to fix things.

After you have successfully installed Google Chrome, install and run CCleaner.  (Watch it, it tries to sneak a toolbar in!)  Click “Yes” when you first open the app when it asks if you want to intelligently scan for cookies.  The initial interface will bring up a window with the tabs “Windows” and “Applications” on it.  I generally leave the “Windows” tab with the defaults checked, minus the following: Recent Documents and Run.  I work with a lot of documents and command line options, so I don’t like to clear that stuff.  On the “Applications” tab I leave the defaults checked, minus the following: Any of the “Office 20XX” under Applications, RegEdit and Remote Desktop (again, because I’m a tech, I use those last two a lot, you can leave them checked if you’re not a tech), and then click Analyze.

Analyze will take a few minutes to run.  While it’s running, it’s important to understand what it actually does, so that you’re not just blindly clicking buttons.  Every time you open a web page, your computer is downloading all of the info from that web page.  Every popup ad and picture in a news article has a picture, JavaScript files, HTML files, all kinds of things.  Over time these things clutter up your hard drive.  After awhile your browser history looks like a computerized version of the show Hoarders.  Likewise with other applications and functions of Windows, there are things strewn about your hard drive that you don’t really need.  What we are doing in this phase of things is opening up the door, pulling up a dumpster, and getting a very large shovel and getting rid of the great majority of it.  It will be easier for your computer to “find things” without all of this lying around on your hard drive.  On my computer, this took about 5 minutes to run through, and I haven’t run it in years if at all.  After the Analyze portion finishes, it tells you what it found and how long it took.  My computer found about 13 GIGS of GARBAGE to get rid of.  That’s a lot.  A carpenter’s house is never finished… Anyway, after it finishes, click “Run Cleaner”.  It will give you a warning that it permanently deletes things, but that’s fine.  That’s what we’re trying to do.

While “Run Cleaner” is running, go grab a fresh cup of coffee, tea, water, or whatever it is you drink.  This part is going to take a little bit, depending on how much junk you have stored up.  The reason that I like to run this application first is that by getting rid of all the temp files etc. on the system, all of the subsequent steps of scanning for malware and removing it will go that much faster as there is less for the computer to sort through.  Mine took another 5 minutes to delete.

Run Analyze again!  Confirm it’s gotten everything.  Sometimes it finds some little file it has to re-delete.  If the same thing keeps coming up after running Analyze and Run Cleaner, just ignore it.

Click on the “Registry” tab on the left hand side.  This part is a little tricky, and I definitely recommend backing up.  Choose “Scan for Issues”.  After a minute or two it will come up with a list of issues to fix for you.  In my experience it’s usually a couple of hundred it finds.  It’s usually residue from old applications you’ve long since uninstalled, etc.  Click “Fix Selected Issues” when it finishes.  When it asks if you want to back up changes to the registry, choose YES!  I always save the file to the C:\ instead of the default folder, because if this step goes poorly, you’re going to be working from a DOS command prompt to fix it :-)   On my PC, it found 817 issues the first time through.  Choose “Fix All” after the backup.  After it finishes, run “Scan” again.  For some reason I have found it takes about 3 times through on most machines to get to zero.  As we saved the backup from the first time through, you probably don’t need to save the backup each time, but that’s up to you and your comfort level.  I know I have nothing on this PC I don’t have backed up, so I don’t worry.  Once it says “No Issues Found”, you’re done with CCleaner and can close this app.

Next up is standard “JunkWare” removal.  This will vary slightly with your version of windows.  I’m intentionally leaving this a little vague, as if finding the control panel is over your head, you probably shouldn’t be uninstalling things to be honest.  Go to Start->Control Panel and do either Add/Remove Programs or “Uninstall a Program”.  Go through the list and get rid of anything with “Toolbar” and “Coupon” and the like in its title.  Be careful as some of them will try and trick you into installing more JunkWare in the uninstall process.  Get rid of “McAfee Security Scan” if you see it in there too.

Give your PC a reboot at this point.  Just bookmark or print this page out first so you can find your way back :-)

Next up is MalwareBytes Anti-Malware (MBAM).  After installation, and any time you run it in general, you want to make sure it’s up to date.

MalwareBytes
Just click on “Check for Updates” and it will install them for you.  Then click on the “Scanner” tab.  For regular usage, when you’re not having any issues, I recommend the “Quick Scan” as it really is significantly quicker.  However, for our purposes here, I would like you to run a “Full Scan”.  This is going to take awhile.  Sometimes an hour or two.  It is rare for me to run this on a client’s machine and not find SOMETHING, so definitely let it run its course.  When it finishes, it will say whether or not it found anything.  If it did, it will give you the option to “Show Results” like the below: (I have blurred out directory names for some of my stuff for security reasons)

MalwareBytes
I have in the past used something called BitCoin which is an alternative electronic currency.  Some people install BitCoin miners in a trojan horse type situation.  Because it’s something I actually want on there, I have unchecked the “BitCoinMiner” ones.  I was also surprised to notice these other things on my PC.  Again, a carpenter’s house :-)   Depending on the type of threat, it may tell you that you have to reboot the system NOW to remove the threat properly.  Please do so!  Some files can only be removed before Windows has loaded.

Afterwards, go back into MBAM if necessary, and go to the “Quarantine” tab, and choose “Delete All”.  If like me, you need to whitelist some items, you can do so at this time as well.

Next is ComboFix.  If you already have any kind of antivirus software installed, you will need to disable it for this to run properly.  ComboFix you just download and run.  Sometimes it will ask you if it can download something from Microsoft it needs to be able to run.  Just click Yes if that is the case.  I’ve seen it take anywhere from 5 minutes to an hour to run, but it’s usually in the 15-30 minute range.  After it finishes it will have you reboot.  This one there isn’t much to say about it – it runs automatically and does a very good job at getting rid of a lot of different threats.

Last is installing some kind of Antivirus software!  As mentioned before, we use a paid piece of software by a company called Sophos.  It works very well, has few false positives, and is very lightweight.  We severely dislike any of the non-corporate versions of Symantec/Norton/McAfee.  They tend to be bloated, block things that you don’t want blocked, and miss the things you wish it would detect.  They basically take over your whole system.  For free software, we like AVG free.  It is reasonably lightweight, doesn’t interfere unnecessarily too often, and of course, the price is right… but it also detects most viruses.

Make sure you are downloading the free version, and not the trial version (unless you plan on buying it later).  During the installation, choose “Basic Protection” instead of “Full Protection”.  Hit next, and then choose “Customer Install” instead of “Express Install”.  Otherwise it installs extra JunkWare.  I know, this is sounding like a broken record… but as a rule of thumb, when you see “Free” in regards to computer software, you should always be thinking “It’s free because it’s going to install JunkWare”.  They count on a large amount of users not noticing this fact.  It’s the only way they can make a free software business model work.

Here are our Suggested Component selections:
•Uncheck “Gadget” from AVG Addons
•Uncheck “Identity Protection” under “Identity”
•Uncheck “Link Scanner Surf Shield” under “Web Browsing”

Then next your way through.  Once it’s done you’ll need to schedule regular scans.  I recommend opening AVG’s instructions for this portion at http://www.avg.com/us-en/faq.num-5188.

If you are a desktop user and/or someone who typically leaves their computer on 24/7 as I do, I recommend having it run it’s scans automatically in the middle of the night, or whenever it is you sleep :-) .  If you are a laptop user, or occasional user, you have to be a little more choosy.  Sometimes these programs if you have a schedule set up and your computer was off during that time, it will just run the scan when you first log in to your computer, which is awful because everything basically grinds to a halt.

And that is pretty much it!  Just be careful what links you click on, and what software you install or update.  If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to contact us through the link on the site!

by Chris Mai, President, Future Tech Systems, LLC
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Expert Comment

by:Thomas Zucker-Scharff
Great article.  I like all your suggestions and use most of them already.  I would include running Tigzy's Roguekiller, not rebooting then running MBAM.
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