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 a machine that is fairly infected 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.

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How Do I Remove Malware?

One question that shows up almost every day in the Ask Leo! inbox is how to remove malware.

Every day.

The scenarios differ, but the problem is the same: a machine has been infected with spyware, a virus, or some other form of malware, and that machine’s owner is having a tough time getting rid of it.

And often there is anti-malware software installed that “should” have taken care of it before it got to this stage.

Hopefully, that’ll never be you. If it is, let’s review the steps I recommend for removing malware and reducing the chances it’ll happen again.

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Can I Really Get Malware by Just Looking at Email?

New malware appears every day, and it seems like hackers constantly get smarter and craftier.

In the past, asking if your machine could become infected with malware by just reading your email would get laughs from the geeks in the crowd. “Of course not!” they would giggle.

Then came Outlook. Not only could opening an email infect your machine, but for a while, you didn’t even have to be around to have it happen.

And the geeks stopped giggling.

For a while.

Fortunately, today things are different.

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How Do I Remove a Virus If It Prevents Me from Downloading or Installing Anything?

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I am trying to fix a computer that has malware preventing me from getting into regedit and task manager. It will not let me boot into safe mode. It will not let me install any anti-spyware or anti-virus software. I’m not sure where to go from here. It has stopped me from doing much of anything to get the malware off the computer. Any suggestions?

Sadly, this is all too common. Malware can be pretty sophisticated, and it can work hard to prevent you from removing it. That means you may be blocked from downloading or running anti-malware software, or be prevented from running tools already on your machine that might help.

I’ll save the “prevention is so much easier than the cure” missive for a moment. We just want this fixed.

There are things that we can try, but unfortunately, there are no guarantees.

Read moreHow Do I Remove a Virus If It Prevents Me from Downloading or Installing Anything?

Should I Worry about Heartbleed Affecting My Router?

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Leo, plenty of us obviously know about Heartbleed by now and possibly the fact that this glitch is all about SSL. So, as an advanced and highly experienced computer user, something occurred to me: our router’s use of SSL. In my example, AT&T Uverse is my ISP, and the model of ISP provided router is an AT&T two-wire, HGV 3801. On the router’s acknowledgements page, there is an entire section about OpenSSL. Basically, do you think that it’s important that SSL on a router be up to date whether they allow you to update it or not?

That’s a really great observation and a very good question.

My take is that it really depends on a number of factors, and I’ll try to review what I think are the relevant ones. I don’t think it’s something that poses an imminent threat.

Read moreShould I Worry about Heartbleed Affecting My Router?

How do I check a website for malware without infecting my own machine?

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Can I check a site for viruses without infecting my own machine? Can that really be done for totally free? Yes, some sites do say “McAfee/Norton or some other brand trusted and tested” but that’s their word against mine.

You’re right to be suspicious about those seals that say a site has been tested and is secure. There’s absolutely nothing that prevents a malicious site from simply putting that little graphic on their page.

That said, what you’re looking for isn’t available. There’s no 100% certain way to test a site before you visit it to determine if it is malicious or contains malware that will infect your machine. That’s one of the reasons why I recommend sticking with trusted sites and making sure that your anti-malware tools are in place and up-to-date.

So, let me throw out some ideas that, while not guaranteed, can at least help protect you even if you’re visiting a potentially questionable site.

Read moreHow do I check a website for malware without infecting my own machine?

Can my PC get a virus from my smartphone?

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I wondered if a smartphone is infected with a virus. Is there a chance that the system (a PC or a laptop) could also get infected if a Windows-based malware/virus is present on the smartphone? Secondly, if a USB port is disabled in the system (PC or laptop), can there still be a virus attack on the system?

There are two questions here. Let me address the first one.

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