Technology in terms you understand. Sign up for the Confident Computing newsletter for weekly solutions to make your life easier. Click here and get The Ask Leo! Guide to Staying Safe on the Internet — FREE Edition as my thank you for subscribing!

My Computer Is Infected with Malware. Should I Just Throw It Out?

Some time ago, news broke that the U.S. government had plans to destroy up to $3 million worth of computers. In fact, they had already destroyed thousands of dollars of computers by the time the story came out.

Why were they doing it? Because of a malware infection.

I get the question, “Should I just throw it out?” due to malware more often than you think. It’s the knee-jerk reaction of someone who has an infected machine and feels utterly hopeless about getting it cleared up again.

But I want to be very clear about something. There is never, ever a reason to destroy hardware because of malware.

Become a Patron of Ask Leo! and go ad-free!

Malware is never that bad

Head in Hands over a Laptop Depending on the severity of the malware, junking the computer and getting a brand new one may seem like the best solution to some people.

But there’s never a reason to do that.1 The thing to realize is that malware, in all of its forms, is nothing more than software.

And by its very definition, software can be removed.

Now, the techniques to get rid of malware may be draconian, extreme, and a lot of work. The worst-case scenario is that you erase everything on your hard drive and reinstall Windows, all your applications, and your data.

But that scenario does not involve getting a new computer or destroying the old one. The computer itself is just fine. The computer is hardware. Malware is software, and you can erase and replace software.

Who should know better

In my opinion, junking government computers is the absolute pinnacle of idiocy when it comes to understanding technology. The IT department responsible for that should absolutely know better. We expect more from our government agencies.

You never need to destroy hardware because of a malware infection. You simply get rid of the malware.

And yes, the word “simply” in that is a misnomer. This process includes some time-consuming steps, like reformatting and reinstalling the operating system, but in the end, that’s all that it takes.

Do this

Subscribe to Confident Computing! Less frustration and more confidence, solutions, answers, and tips in your inbox every week.

I'll see you there!

Footnotes & References

1: OK, ok, for all the pedants: never say never. In theory, malware could do something to destroy hardware. Malware that targeted nuclear facilities, for example, would target a control system to physically destroy it. Even so, the PCs involved were unharmed. Unless your PC is exceptionally poorly designed, malware will not physically harm your computer.

25 comments on “My Computer Is Infected with Malware. Should I Just Throw It Out?”

  1. Well it could be that they were older computers and reformatting and reinstalling just wasn’t worth the time and money..

  2. Don’t throw it out! Pack it securely in a box and ship it to me. I’ll make sure that it is properly… umm… “disposed”. No charge. :-)

  3. And if there too much to send just to Ken, send the rest to me!

    Seriously, someone needs to talk to these people.
    If the IT department was involved in this, someone has got some explaining to do.
    This is right up there with buying a new car because the old one ran out of gas.

  4. There are several malware removal software on the market like the following: IOBit Anti-malware, MalwareBytes, Exterminate IT, and Sophos AntiVirus. One or two of those may do the job of getting your computer cleaned up..

  5. This may simply be some sort of cost/benefit analysis outcome. GIA purchases the lowest possible cost equipment, and then it’s determined – on a hourly salary rate basis – at two or three hours per each machine, it would cost more in salaried manpower to restore an existing machine from a backup than purchase a new one. That’s assuming, of course, the equipment was even, ah…, ahem…, backed up in the first place (Leo?).

  6. You don’t even need to lose any data. On a working Windows computer, use pendrivelinux to create a bootable flash drive with Linux Mint. Boot from it, and copy your data files to DVD or flash drive, or to a shared folder on your network. Then install Linux Mint, and say goodbye to malware.

    For details on the steps, Google is your friend.

  7. This story about our government attempting to destroy $3,000,000 worth of computer equipment is absolutely ridiculous. It only goes to show everyone in our country how intelligent our leaders are, especially with our tax money. It is also great to know that they have control of our nuclear weapons. Talk about stupidity at its worst…

  8. It’s definitely a cost/benefit senario. The taxpayer looks after the cost and the department looks after the benefit.

  9. The $3M computer throw out article can be read here:

    There may have been justification in a throw out. esp if the equipment was close to replacement age.
    Also the labor to change the Bios software if considered infected, wipe or replace hard drive, perhaps even replace firmware on DVD device was possibly not cost effective .
    Governments buy complete IT packages at large discounts and generally tax free, whereas labor costs can be quite high to perform all the necessary clean up work.

    • So basically it is cost effective and justified to pay an agency to destroy $3,000,000 worth of printers, keyboards, mice, cameras, and desktops due to malicious software and/or old age? From what I have learned throughout my public school education, all of these items can be reused or recycled much cheaper than going overboard and ruining everything at a heftier price. From what I have read, keyboards, mice, cameras, and printers CAN NOT get infected with malware. It does not take a genius to know that computers manufactured within the last decade have plenty of power for our government to ignore issues affecting our country, cut education, fund weapons to our terrorists, you get the idea. If Obama is truly dedicated into making our country more Eco-Friendly, which I hear over our liberal controlled media 24/7, he should realize that he needs to take action, as changing a problem is more powerful than words and empty promises.

      • We have only one side of the story ..the printers might have been bubble jets :), the cameras might have been kodak brownies :), mice are mice and keyboards are worth a few dollars each.
        Also IT replacements are usually complete packages offered at big discounts. The $3 million mentioned should be less the repair costs and factoring the normal 3 to 4 year upgrade cycle.
        $3million is small change for large commercial/government IT ..out state government here has spent over $500 million on a payroll system for hospital staff that still does not work !

        • I think you are missing the main points that I could not have made more clear within my comment, which, based on your response, I think you should read again.

  10. USing system restore (in WIndows) to roll your configuration by a week or two can sometimes be a quick fix for malware and is often worth a try.

  11. Actually if it is firmware based, good luck removing it. lately we have identified firmware that updates firmware for video, network, and a plethora of flashable chips on the motherboard. The most troublesome is the malware release by an employee of intel as a proof of concept (and create a need for a new security product) that writes a rootkit to the north-south bridge on the motherboard. Intels guy has it all for download at his site and intel sponsored trips to black hat to release it. So yes, sometimes throwing out infected gear unfortunately makes sense if the malware is state sponsored or worse, manufacturer sponsored in the case of Intel and McAffee with the recent release of motherboard flashing firmware exploits they do not patch against themselves.

  12. How can I get the zoom percentage in the lower right side to keep changing and going back to 100% every time I
    go to a different page or website. I have to keep changing to 125% that I want, from the 100% that keeps coming

  13. Contrary to the article, there **IS** (or rather, WAS) some software around that could definitely ruin your hardware – but that was in the olden days when some people wrote software directly in Assembler and called directly upon functions of the hardware (instead of routines / interrupts in the OS, for instance). Not good practice, granted. A PowerPoint predecessor (I’ve forgotten the name) in the MSDOS days was made especially for systems with a CGA video adapter (640×480 no less, if I recall). Running it on my laptop with black&white screen and Hercules videoadapter (with a whopping 800×600 res.), made the screen briefly show dark green, (yes, green…) with a very bright horizontal line flashing on, in the middle of the screen, then all went black. And that was the end of my laptop display.
    More recently, we heard of the (in)famous Stuxnet virus.
    Bottom line: for a bright (but malicious) person, it is not entirely impossible to write hardware-damaging code.

    • From what I read about the Stuxnet malware is that the software caused the centrifuges to operate at a higher speed causing them to be damaged. This isn’t the same as the software directly damaging the hardware. That would be more like software in a car causing it to accelerate and cause an accident.

  14. My daughter paid almost $3,000 for the computer here, and I went and put by the curb for disposal because it said there was a virus. Was terrified it might be contagious. Too late now, they already took it away.

    • You should never have to do that. “Contagious” is the wrong word. It’s completely unrelated to human viruses. Computer viruses spread (to other computers) due to malicious software and poor security practices on the part of the computer owners.

  15. I’m afraid I can’t completely agree with you on this one, Leo. If you’re on the verge of getting a new and better computer anyway, why then, yes, I think that the advent of being inundated with malware is a perfectly fine reason to junk your present computer!


Leave a reply:

Before commenting please:

  • Read the article.
  • Comment on the article.
  • No personal information.
  • No spam.

Comments violating those rules will be removed. Comments that don't add value will be removed, including off-topic or content-free comments, or comments that look even a little bit like spam. All comments containing links and certain keywords will be moderated before publication.

I want comments to be valuable for everyone, including those who come later and take the time to read.