When you’re a PC, everything is out to get you. You need to learn how to shut the door on malicious software, and clean it out if it does take hold.
We already know that you don’t browse movie streaming sites, frequent dating services populated by young ladies from the former Soviet Union who occasionally use stock photos as profile pictures, or merrily execute every .exe attachment you discover in your email spam folder—but even though you’re a paragon of online virtue, there are still things you can do to protect your PC.
As a responsible Windows 10 user, you’re probably already doing them. You chose “Express Settings” at install or flicked the button marked “Help protect your PC,” and allowed Windows to download and install updates.
There are also third-party applications you can install to help protect against and remove malware should it somehow become resident on your PC. However, the old advice against having two antivirus apps installed at the same time still holds: They can clash, and report each other as potentially unwanted programs.
The best way to keep your PC clean is to be careful where you point your browser. In fact, never go on the Internet again, like your mother told you.
1 Switch on Windows Defender
If you used Express Settings when you installed Windows 10, or bought your PC with the OS already installed, then Windows Defender is probably already switched on. To check, click “Control Panel > Update & Security > Windows Defender,” and if it looks like, panic and switch all three options on. If you’ve got concerns about what Microsoft is doing with your data—maybe you have something terrible to hide—then only switch on the top option. The other two send data about malware threats on your PC to MS, and enroll you in the program now known as Microsoft Active Protection Service, which was renamed possibly because its previous name of Microsoft SpyNet was too terrifying.
2 Update Defender
Keeping Windows Defender updated is important. The malware definitions should update automatically, but if you open Windows Defender and it warns you it’s out of date, click the “Update” tab, and hit “Update Definitions” to start the process.
3 Scan your PC
Using Windows Defender to run a scan every now and then doesn’t hurt, and you have a choice of three kinds. Quick is the scan you should do most often. It only looks in places malware is likely to be found, and doesn’t take up too much time. A Full scan looks everywhere, and is most often used after an infestation has been taken care of, to mop up any stragglers. Custom enables you to specify which drives and folders are scanned. We struggle to think of a reason why you’d want to do this—maybe if you’ve got some files that are notorious for giving falsepositive results, or you have a lot of data that’s known to be clean, and you want to save time. Either way, the option is there if you need it.
4 Choose your browser
Even when Windows Defender is switched on, there’s still no excuse for not following a few bestpractice rules when killing time on the Internet. Use a modern browser that’s kept up to date—the Edge browser that ships with Windows 10 is actually very good in terms of security, justifying the break with Internet Explorer’s security-risk-riddled legacy. Google’s Chrome browser is a good choice, and has an offshoot—the Epic Privacy Browser (www.epicbrowser.com)—which blocks pretty much everything.
5 A secure alternative
Another option, and another Chrome-a-like, is online security company Comodo’s Dragon browser (there’s an Ice Dragon variant based on Firefox if you prefer). Comodo maintains its own DNS system, which you can choose to use either for just the browser or for your whole PC when you install Dragon. Comodo’s DNS filters out the addresses of known malware providers, but there’s another feature that makes Dragon even more secure: Virtual Mode. Entering this means installing Comodo’s Internet security package, which you may not want to do, but once it’s there, you can run a browser that’s isolated from the rest of your system—no matter where you choose to stick it, no harm can come to the rest of your PC.
6 Check quarantined files
If the worst does happen, and that beguiling email from a dating site you don’t remember signing up to turns out to be too good to be true, a Windows Defender scan will flag the attachment you downloaded as infected and quarantine it. Quarantined files are viewed from the History tab, from where you can choose to delete them or, if you’re sure they really contain the pictures they claim to, allow them to run.
7 Get a second opinion
Malwarebytes (www.malwarebytes.org) is a program that will run happily alongside Windows Defender, and is well worth having. There’s a free version, which will, of course, bug you to upgrade to the paid version, which offers real-time protection like Windows Defender. If Windows is acting up and Defender can’t find anything, a scan with a second application can sometimes turn up the culprit.
8 Run a malwarebytes scan
Once installed, Malwarebytes will update itself and then ask you to run a scan—this took less than four minutes on our test PC with 3TB of storage on board, but it may take a little longer if you have a lot of data for it to sort through.
9 Remove malicious software
There’s one more Microsoft solution if you’re sure your computer is infected and you need something to clean it out—the Malicious Software Removal Tool (http://bit.ly/1YuQBRE). MS sneakily attempts to add a script to change your default search engine to Bing with the download, but uncheck that and the 50MB file can be downloaded. In action, the tool looks a lot like Windows Defender, with options for Quick, Full, or Custom scans.
10 All Set
Rather than block malicious programs from running, the MSRT deletes them once they’re installed, so is a way of fighting back rather than a defense. If you follow the advice in Maximum PC, and don’t trust every link and email attachment you come across, you shouldn’t need to use it.
A false-positive result occurs when an anti-malware app thinks a file is malicious when it isn’t. A common trick to infect the unwary is to claim a download is innocuous but will trigger a false positive, and this is almost always a lie. The best advice is to not run a file unless you are completely sure of its origin and trust the source.
The detection of malicious files through their actions is known as “heuristics,” and Malwarebytes includes it in its scans. Heuristics is most useful for detecting unusual activity, say a supposed image file that contains executable code. If you’ve got a script that makes changes to your system that uses the same methods as a known virus, a heuristic analysis could flag it as malicious.