Violence is never the answer.
Some years ago, news broke that the U.S. government planned to destroy up to $3 million worth of computers. In fact, they had already destroyed thousands of dollars of computers when 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 hopeless about getting it cleared up.
But I want to be very clear that there is never, ever a reason to destroy hardware because of malware.
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Junking your computer because of malware is unnecessary and wasteful. Malware is just software and can be removed, even if it means wiping your hard drive and reinstalling your operating system. It’s time-consuming, but it’s cheaper and more efficient than getting a new computer.
Malware is never that bad
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 you don’t need 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. The best-case scenario is that you have a full-image backup from before the malware arrived, in which case you just restore the backup and move on with your life.
But neither scenario involves 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 it takes.
Remember that malware is just software, and software can be erased.
The next time you’re faced with malware, remember you don’t have to replace your computer. At worst, you need to wipe and reinstall the operating system. Although this is time-consuming, it takes less time than getting a new machine and starting over, is less costly, and is better for the planet as well.
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Footnotes & References
1: OK, ok, for all the pedants: never say never. In theory, malware could do something to destroy hardware. Malware that targets nuclear facilities, for example, could target a control system to physically destroy it. Even so, the PCs involved would be unharmed. Unless your PC is exceptionally poorly designed, malware will not physically harm your computer.