Yeah, you read the title right. It’s based on an article I read the other day titled “Scrub Your PC Clean: Remove Malware in 4 Easy Steps” on Gizmodo. The article mostly focused on Windows-based malware caught through web browsing. I’d also say it was probably more than four steps – yeah maybe four major steps … but then each of the major steps have like eight minor steps. And even if you follow everything they recommended, it won’t guarantee a clean machine. But I understood what they’re trying to say based on their target audience, who probably aren’t as paranoid as most of us.
The Internet contains plenty of other articles, mailing lists, and forums dedicated to this very topic but I think trying to carve malware out from a system is often too time consuming and in most cases impossible. The only sure fire way to guarantee you have a clean machine is to reinstall the OS or reimage to a known good baseline.
For those of us that are paranoid, here are the four steps I recommend YOU need to know when restarting from scratch.
- Copy Needed Data to Secure Device: By “secure device” I usually recommend a write-once data DVD. This limits what files can do on subsequent systems assuming you’ve temporarily disabled autorun or autoplay. Alternatives could include thumb drives with a read-only switch or external drives mounted only for data access.
- Wipe the System’s Drive: Use whatever the appropriate command is for your system. Although not its intended purpose, I also like using DBAN just in case a normal wipe leaves any traces of the old OS (and possibly a piece of malware) behind.
- Reinstall OS & Applications: Next, start the long and arduous process of reinstalling your OS and any applications you use. Alternatively if you have a baseline image, you can simply reimage to that baseline here as well.
- Copy Data Back onto New System: Be sure to disable any autorun or autoplay features. Windows makes this setup quite complex but on Macs all settings are under System Preferences > CDs & DVDs. Next, insert your data DVD and manually scan it for malicious files. Finally, copy all clean data back onto your system.
Beyond getting rid of malware, starting from scratch offers several other benefits as well. Some of these advantages include:
- Forcing you to do some general data housekeeping,
- Helping you remove applications you know longer use, and
- Clearing out all the OS gunk that’s been accumulating over the years.
Advanced malware on an infected machine is a very tricky beast to conquer. Rein these infestations in using a not-so-easy four step process to start from scratch. Additionally, periodically restarting like this can help keep your system running healthy.