How do I best restore my virus-infected laptop back to "as-new" condition?

Posted on 2009-04-18
Last Modified: 2013-12-04
My harddisk is infected with virus/sality and other viruses.

For the next 1-2 years, I really need a problemfree and safe laptop, so I can use it for my online language courses without interruption. Can anyone advice me if below steps would be a good solution?:

1. Copy Favorites, Desktop, My computer and important personal files to external harddrive.
     Download installation file for ZoneAlarm Extreme Security to external harddrive.
     Download the bundle Wipedrive+SecureClean+MediaWiper for USD 59.95 from
     and burn images on CD-ROM for these softwares (I'm willing to spend some money on buying these three softwares).
      Check internal harddisk for errors by pressing F8 (or F10?) when booting.
2. Use WipeDrive to wipe my internal harddrive (and later also use Secure Clean and MediaWiper bought together as bundle with WipeDrive to clean my external harddrives and USBs).
3. Install Windows XP SP2 American version with MUI-Pack, and install additional software and drivers from HP.
4. Create a Limited user account, and turn off Auto-run in Control Panel (how do I do that?)
5. Install ZoneAlarm Extreme Security.
6. Begin to install all software (search each folder for viruses before each installation).
7. Gradually check each folder on my external harddrives, using ZoneAlarm.
Question by:hermesalpha
    LVL 5

    Accepted Solution

    I would say 99% of the viruses/malware people get infected with is directly due to an action they take.  In other words, if your computer is just sitting there doing nothing it's not going to get a virus.  It's when you open up emails from people you don't know and click on links in them.  Or when you go to porn sites, or download illegally obtained software.  These are the primary ways that computers get infected and so the best defense is to pay attention to what you click on in your emails, what sites you go to, and what you download.

    I don't even use a virus scanner and the rate at which I get viruses is probably about once every couple of years.  Of course, that's too often if you're a business, but I prefer not having to have a virus scanner taking up memory and popping up messages all the time so I endure having to redo my system every 2 years for this luxury.

    There are free virus scanners that do a good job if you haven't already paid for one.  Two that come to mind are BitDefender and AVG.  And Spybot is a good spyware/malware/greyware/whateverware scanner.

    If you want to run from a limited account you should use Vista because it is designed so that you can only run from a limited user account, but you can 'elevate' yourself to use administrative priveledges when necessary via a popup window.  So if some harmful program is going to do something, you would have to click on the button to elevate your priveledges before it could do so... which you hopefuly wouldn't do.  However, I realize some people like my dad always click the ok boxes on everything without reading the messages.  Hope you're not like that though ;).

    The problem with running under a limited account in XP is that so many applications perform actions that require elevation (particularly during installation) and there is no way to conveniently elevate in XP.  So you have to constantly switch back and forth between your limited account and you administrator account every time you want to install a program, or delete one, or do other administrativy things.  This is ok in a corporate environment because if an employee needs a program, there is an administrator on staff that installs it.  It's very inconvenient for a personal computer though.
    LVL 91

    Assisted Solution

    if you wipe the drive, you don't have to scan it.
    what i do is copyoing the data, favorites, and mails (like you suggested)
    if you like to wipe the drive, now is the time
    then i install the os, and let it format the drive (you can even choose the quick format)
    i install a good Antivirus, like AVG or Avast (free)
    inever used ZoneAlarm, but i install Spybot, and malwarebytes

    in the case you ever need them, here the links, and a couple more :  
         Spybot :
         MBAM  :                                                               online scan for trojans                                   download                                check the logfile
    LVL 91

    Expert Comment

    and if you want to be able to restore the pc to this state(after installing your applications) later , you can use an imaging software, and make one . here a free one :
    LVL 1

    Expert Comment

    just backup your data and run a system recovery with inbuilt modules or with you OS installation disk, make sure to install a new copy rather than repair or upgrade. you'll get option to manage drives in between. simply format all disks simple way rather than quick format. enjoy your brand new fresh notebook.

    Author Comment

    Before I begin everything with wiping and installing, I wonder if anyone can give some advice on these things?:

    1. I will first do a fresh install of XP SP2 to get rid of the most accute infections, intall antivirus and turn off auto play. Then download the WipeDrive+SecureClean+MediaWiper and burn the ISO-images so I can run these softwares to wipe my HDD. Is there any free software to burn these ISO-images onto a CD-ROM?

    2. When I have auto play disabled (which I do in gpedit.msc, right?), will the virus only spread itself if I left-double-click on the folder where it is hiding? For instance, if I put an infected CD-ROM into my CD-drive, have auto play disabled and right-click/choose open on the folders on this CD-ROM, then won't any virus spread itself then?

    3. Even if a limited user account works better with Vista, do you think there's a point in having it also on XP SP2? Will it considerably increase the security? Whenever I must install programs and log on as Administrator, is this the critical point when the virus can activate itself, when I install a program? How can I protect my laptop when I install a software? Sometimes I can't have antivirus activated, but is it always necessary to have antivirus activated even when installing software?

    4. To check my harddisk before I install XP, should I press F10 when I start the laptop?
    LVL 91

    Expert Comment

    NO - wrong way install xp then clean.
    first  : backup data
    second : CLEAN disk (use free DBAN if you like) :      DBAN
    third install XP + apps, + AV
    LVL 1

    Expert Comment

    Backup your data in compressed format so that you can check that for infections before restoring it to a new OS. Format your Entire Disk. Install your Operating System and check your compressed data with multiple security programs before restoring. some antivirus may delete your entire compressed archive to remove infections so be cautious
    LVL 91

    Expert Comment

    why in compressed format ? to take more time to compress and decompress ?  everybody has lots of disk space now... VERY bad advice

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