Often times, the problems with your PC have got nothing to do with Windows. Instead, it usually comes down to badly behaving applications that put files all over the place, or even malicious software that slow things down.
And that’s not even talking about pushy programs that take over your PC and insist that they get to run things their way all the time. Many of these programs circumvent your security settings. In cases like these, it becomes all the more important to detox your computer and prevent these intrusive programs from getting a foothold on your device again.
If you suspect your PC is acting up due to an application, or even malware, then this short guide helps you get rid of junkware to keep your system speedy and free of infections.
Check for malware
First things first. Step one of the decluttering process is checking your PC for malware and ensuring that it is free of viruses and other infections that slow down performance. For this, open your antivirus, make sure that its definitions are up to date, and then perform a full scan.
This will take time depending on the size and speed of your hard drive. But if infections are found, then follow the instructions to either quarantine or remove the malware. You will most likely be required to restart your device. Reboot when prompted and then run a scan again to verify the infection is gone.
Some infections can be stubborn, and if these types of threats are not removed after two or three attempts, then start your PC in Safe Mode to cripple them and completely remove this pesky variety of malware.
Even if your main antivirus tool comes up clean, it maybe worth getting a second opinion with other tools, just to be sure. A favorite is Malwarebytes Anti-Malware, which searches for a wider range of threats than most antimalware programs. It is also perfectly capable of handling potentially unwanted programs, even those that come with spyware or other privacy issues.
The free version is totally up to the task, while the premium version of Malwarebytes gets you real-time protection, which never hurts.
Ransomware is an exceptionally nasty type of virus that locks your PC or encrypts your files, demanding a ransom to get the unlock key. If you encounter ransomware, the most important thing to do is to not panic. An ideal scenario is you having an up to date backup of your files, in which case you can wipe the storage drive of your PC, reinstall Windows and live with a small data loss.
However, if you are locked out, the first thing to do is to make note of any demands like the Bitcoin wallet address, any contact details and the list of files that have been encrypted.
With that done, you should perform scans with the antimalware tools that you have installed on your device to get an idea of the underlying infection. Many vendors have special decryption tools available on their websites for certain types of ransomware threats — including Kaspersky and AVG. Trend Micro also has its Ransomware Screen Unlocker Tool that can be run in safe mode or prepared on another PC if your main one is not able to.
Get rid of PUPs
Most folks are blissfully unaware that they are running PUPs on their machines. Think of these Potentially Unwanted Programs as software, addons and files that inhabit a grey area. Most of these are installed alongside legit software, often for financial reasons where the developers bundle them up during installation of other free programs.
PUPs fall into a number of categories, ranging from software that attempt to install other applications, to programs that off your browser toolbars. Once installed, these cause issues by either changing your browser settings or homepage. If you install a lot of software, and are not particularly careful during the process, you may find your device riddled with a variety of applications and your browser sagging under the weight of multiple toolbars and search engines.
So, how to remove these annoying intruders?
If you have installed Malwarebytes Anti-Malware as suggested above, you are in good hands. Unlike your regular security software, Malwarebytes does a solid job of detecting programs with dubious reputation. It even goes ahead to clearly mark them as PUPs in the scan results.
Malwarebytes also offers AdwCleaner, which laser targets browser related items like toolbars, addons and search hijackers. It is a simple app that does not require you to install it before running, and is well worth a download to reclaim control of your browser.
One neat little program worth installing is Unchecky. It works silently in the background and if it recognizes that a dodgy program installer is deploying PUPs, it automatically unticks and deselects the options. Unchecky also popups up a warning message if you roll your mouse over any of these dangerous options during installation.
Most major manufacturers cram their PCs with an array of preloaded software — some of which is useful, most of it junk. Trial software, in particular, falls into this category. And worse yet, all this bloatware makes a return the moment you restore Windows on your device by following the instructions provided by your manufacturer.
While it is possible to manually wade through all this and remove these programs one by one, a better option is using a tool to root it all for you. The appropriately named The PC Decrapifier is what you need to uninstall a bunch of these bundled programs at once with minimum intervention. It filters the results into three categories, Recommended, Questionable and Everything Else. You can also see what software other users have chosen to remove, then remove what you feel has no place on your computer.
Uninstall the right way
One of the biggest causes of clutter are programs that leave traces of themselves behind — even when you uninstall them. These usually are in the form of leftover files and registry entries. The best way to avoid them is to try and source portable apps when you can. These applications are self-contained within their own folder, and you are done by simply deleting their folder.
Obviously, not every software is available in portable form, and a tool like IOBit Uninstaller comes really handy to scrub programs from your PC.
It will also work its magic on Microsoft Store apps, including those annoying ones that come preinstalled with Windows 10 these days like Candy Crush and Fallout Shelter. The program is neatly designed and does an excellent job of removing all traces of programs from your computer when you want to get rid of them. Definitely a better choice than the built-in uninstaller in the operating system — more powerful and one of the best ways to prevent the buildup of leftover files and other detritus on your PC.
Stay infection free
You have disinfected your computer and cleared off a load of junk that was installed over the years. Now is the perfect time to strengthen your security and keep the clutter from coming back, so you can keep enjoying your computing experience without being bogged down by unwanted software and useless files.
Threats to computers come in many shapes and forms — malware is a constantly evolving beast. The payloads have changed too. The key is how you protect against them.
While Windows Defender and the built-in firewall have come a long way in recent versions, splashing out on a feature-packed security suite is never a bad idea. Or you can mix and match your way around with free antimalware tools that do a decent enough job of keeping you and your machine safe.
Fact is, most threats are behavioral in nature and make their way onto your PC through trickery and deceit. Whether via fake emails that dupe you into clicking a link, or potentially unwanted programs bundled with genuine applications during installation. Scareware is also a menace, where websites and applications make false claims about security to con people into paying for the full version.
Identifying and removing these rogue offenders is not all that hard these days, what with free and powerful security applications. But the easier route is developing safe browsing and usage habits to prevent these unwanted installations from taking root on your PC.
A little care goes a long way in ensuring a streamlined and secure user experience.