For most computer users, the idea of having malware or adware creeping onto your machine has become an accepted fate that comes with being online. More-tech-savvy users can manage to stay clean for a while but, like the flu, everybody gets it eventually. Whether it was through a questionable e-mail sent by a friend or from a moment of weakness when you clicked on that video link promising playful kittens, suddenly you find your beloved computer starting to behave strangely. It might be a quick process; it might not happen right away, but you will know right away something is up.
Removing adware and malware has become a sort of art or pseudo-science to many netizens and techies. The skill requires a mix of creativity, common sense, and a whole lot of patience. It's a cat-and-mouse game that is not meant for everyone; only a select few can emerge from the ordeal without lasting emotional damage. Here at Download.com we try to make the whole trial-by-fire a little less traumatic.
Editors' note: We take no responsibility for usage of any of the mentioned software. Inappropriate or incorrect use can result in system instability or failure. If at any moment you don't understand what you are doing, please stop, exercise some Google-Fu, or, like Mom said, take your problem to a professional.
Here are some pretty great lesser-known programs that can probably save you some headaches and help you find peace of mind. Great to stick in a USB and keep in your toolkit for future troubleshooting.
Hitman Pro (32-bit | 64-bit)
A deceptively simple antivirus scanner that can be deployed quickly (no installation required, just launch to scan). Hitman Pro actually uses complex algorithms to scan through your files flagging malicious files and suspicious processes. The software then sends the signatures onto the cloud where it is compared with virus/malware databases of some pretty well-known AV companies (Avira, ESET NOD32, Prevx etc.). Instead of entrusting your security to one company, Hitman Pro gives you a second opinion, and a third, and so on.
We like Hitman Pro as an after-cleanup program to check if you've cleaned up everything. The scanning is spot on, and the removal and cleanup does a decent job, although not completely thorough. Hitman Pro should be used in conjunction with another dedicated antivirus app to ensure maximum effectiveness. The software isn't free but features a 30-day trial for those tough-to-get-out stains.
Ease of use: Easy.
A relatively newer program that came on the anti-adware scene early last year, AdwCleaner was developed by French developer Xplode. The software specifically targets all sorts of adware (any advertising software), PUP (potentially unwanted program), toolbars, and browser hijackers. We were impressed with how thorough AdwCleaner was able to scan our test machine as it caught some well-known ad programs and toolbars. Even after we removed said toolbars and adware manually via certain tutorials, AdwCleaner was kind enough to point out what we had missed and finished the job for us.
The software is light and easy to use (launch to scan and clean up, no installation), which is a huge plus, as this makes it USB stick friendly. AdwCleaner was able to pick up some browser hijackers and removed them without problems. We noticed that when it comes to toolbars, AdwCleaner is quite merciless. As our (purposefully installed) AVG toolbar was flagged and removed even though the malicious ranking is nowhere near the other software we had on there. Use it before and/or after cleanup, but keep an eye on what it picks up.
Ease of use: Average
Developed by the folks at BleepingComputer, RKill was designed as an aid in virus removal. Right away, the Dev's name should be a good indication of what it specializes in. This is a sweet little program that will terminate known malicious processes, specifically ones that prevents running antivirus or anti-malware removers such as MBAM. It will only scan and end running processes, but does not delete any files, leaving you to manually remove the malicious software.
RKill can come in handy when you find yourself hitting a wall with malware that locks up your computer and prevents any AV software from running. Just download the RKill file, launch it, and follow the onscreen instructions. After it finishes, you should be able to run your regular security toolkit to remove whatever infection you have come across. It requires a secondary program to be effective, so we felt it necessary to elevate the ease of use.
Ease of use:Average
RogueKiller (32-bit, 64-bit)
Another software from a French developer on this list. RogueKiller is a removal tool that goes after a specific class of malware, referred to as rogueware (rogue security software). These malicious programs pretend to be antivirus software and will falsely scan (without prompt) and return fake reports of infection when there is none; they then demand payment to remove. Some especially vicious ones can lock your machine and hold it hostage before asking for money to unlock.
RogueKiller will check your system for malicious processes, Registry entries, rootkits, shortcuts problems, DNS, drivers and the master boot record (MBR) for issues. Just download the executable, launch it with all programs closed, and hit scan. It will automatically scan your system and tally up possible offenders.
To use RogueKiller, you should have a pretty clear understanding of your computer. We recommend using it when you are trying to fix a specific problem after exhausting all other options. Needless to say, randomly pushing buttons, deleting Registry value, and changing the MBR will result in system instability. Although if you have MBR issues already and the "Fix MBR" option is available, then it is worth a shot to let RogueKiller fix it for you.
Ease of use:Hard
What is your secret weapon for getting rid of pesky infection? Let us know in the comments and spare others hours of agonizing troubleshooting.