One day last week, as I was minding my own business searching the web at home, all a sudden new browser tabs and windows started popping up. One contained a message that kept asking me to submit a survey and would not let me close the page. That was when I knew that my system had been infected with malware.
My system has an antivirus program, a very good one; but none of them are perfect. I noticed that it had not been updating. This is a tell-tale sign of infection: a lot of malware shuts off your antivirus. Sneaky.
I went searched online for malware detection/removal tools. Many of my searches would not complete. I finally got to the site for the Malicious Software Removal Tool. The malware prevented me from downloading the tool. At this point, I knew that I had some pretty nasty stuff.
On another computer, I copied the program onto a thumb drive and moved it onto the infected machine. I did a full scan that took something like three hours. At the end, guess how many infected items were found on my computer. Yep: zero.
How could that be? The behaviors indicated a severely infected machine, so how could it be clean? Well, it wasn't clean. I downloaded another tool, MalwareBytes, moved it onto the infected computer. I ran a short scan which took a few minutes. It found five...count 'em...five infected items. Four were DNS changers. The Domain Name System links content to website domain names. The DNS changers were probably monitoring my computer and preventing me from downloading malware tools. Many IT professionals recommend using several anti-malware programs.
I did a full scan, and found two more items. Unfortunately, nothing about it gave a hint where I picked it up.
After running the tool and removing the malware, the computer is perfectly fun to use, right? Not so fast! This stuff can get rooted very deep inside the operating system. So, my next step is to remove all important files: my music, personal documents, etc.
I do backup my system rather frequently, so this won't be too painful. You should backup your system regularly to an external hard drive to prevent the suffering associated with massive data loss. It may not be malware, but a hard drive crash, or some other critical failure that could wipe everything out.
Once I'm sure I have everything that I need off the machine, I will reformat the hard drive and reinstall Windows. This will wipe everything out. Next, I will reload my personal files. Then I will manually install the drivers for my printer, etc., and the other software programs that I use.
My brother, who is a Mac user, really rubbed it in when he learned of my problem. Mac users have far less risk of getting malware. However, Mac users should still take appropriate precautions. As for my brother, I told him the malware ate his Christmas wish list! ;-)