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Windows 8 : Conquering Viruses and Spyware with Windows Defender (part 1) - Removing malicious software from your computer

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12/24/2014 8:47:57 PM
There are many programs on the market that are designed to prevent and eliminate spyware (and adware), but you don’t have to spend any money or download any third-party programs to protect your system from these threats. You can use Windows Defender, which comes with Windows 8 for free. Despite its focus on spyware, Defender actually protects your computer from any potentially unwanted programs. That includes many types of adware, Trojan horses, and rootkits.

Windows Defender is designed to locate and eradicate viruses and spyware. There are basically two ways to deal with viruses and spyware. The best is to prevent them before they infect your system. The other is to detect and remove them after your computer has already been infected.

As you read earlier, viruses can cause a great deal of harm to your computer. Therefore, it’s best to always run an anti-virus program like Windows Defender.

Windows Defender was a popular download for Windows XP. It came free with Windows Vista, Windows 7, and now Windows 8, so there’s nothing to download.

Spyware (and its close cousin adware) isn’t specifically designed to cause your computer harm. But even without the direct intent to do harm, spyware can have serious consequences. Too much spyware can bog your system down, causing everything to run slower than it should. Spyware can make unwanted changes to your Internet settings, causing your web browser to act in unexpected ways. Spyware can lead to many annoying pop-up ads. In the worst cases, it can send personally identifiable information about you to identity thieves.

Most spyware comes from software that you can download for free, such as screen savers, custom toolbars, and file-sharing programs. However, it can also be installed automatically from scripts and programs embedded in web pages.

Opening Windows Defender

You don’t need to open Windows Defender to protect your computer. But you can do other things with Defender that do require opening the program. As with most programs, you have many ways to open Defender. Use whichever is most convenient for you at the moment:

  • From the desktop, press Windows+X, choose Control Panel, and choose Small Icons from the View By drop-down list. Click Windows Defender to launch it.
  • From the Windows Start screen, display the Charms and click Search. Type def in the Search box and click Windows Defender.

When Windows Defender opens, it looks something like Figure 1.

FIGURE 1 Windows Defender


Removing malicious software from your computer

Windows Defender offers many tools for fighting malicious software. One scans your system for any malicious program or file that you might have already acquired. On the Home tab of Windows Defender, you see three Scan Options (shown in Figure 1):

  • Quick scan: As its name implies, the Quick scan takes less time because it focuses on areas where malicious software is most likely hiding and because it checks only new files and the kinds of files commonly used by viruses, spyware, or other malicious software.
  • Full scan: This takes a while because it scans every file on your hard disk, but gives you the peace of mind of knowing that your system is free of malicious software. A full scan takes several minutes (or longer depending on the size of the storage drives you are scanning), so you need to be patient.

    After you’ve done a single full scan, quick scans are sufficient.

  • Custom scan: This lets you choose which drives you want to scan. More on this in the section “Performing a custom scan.”

To perform a scan, click the desired scan option and then click the Scan Now button (shown in Figure 1), and Defender starts scanning your system as shown in Figure 2.

FIGURE 2 Scan for spyware


When the scan is complete, you should see a clean bill of health. If not, suspicious items will be quarantined (disabled). You should be taken to the quarantined list automatically, although you can get there any time by choosing History image Quarantined Items image View Details. You can see details on quarantined items, allowed items (which are items you let run on your computer), or all detected items.

Each item in the quarantined list has an alert level associated with it. Here’s what each alert level means:

  • Severe or High: This item is known to compromise the security of your computer. Or this item may be too new to be well known. But all indications point to malicious intent, so the item should be removed immediately.
  • Medium: This item appears to collect personal information or change Internet settings. Review the item details. If you do not recognize or trust the publisher, block or remove the item.
  • Low: This is a potentially unwanted item that should be removed if you did not intentionally install it yourself.

To remove an item, click its name and click Remove. You can usually click Remove All, because valid, useful programs are rarely detected as viruses, spyware, or other potentially unwanted items. If in doubt, you can leave the item quarantined for a while. Use your computer normally to see whether some useful program no longer works. After you’ve determined that everything is okay, you can go back into Quarantined Items and remove anything you left behind.

Should you ever encounter a false positive (where an innocent program is quarantined), don’t remove it. Instead, click its name and then click Restore.

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