Top five free tools to clean your computer of viruses and malware

It’s natural to want to start the new year with a clean slate – so why not do the same for your computer and ease its burden by removing viruses, spyware, malware, adware, and any other nasty computer-hating items?

2008 will likely be remembered as the year of economic meltdown, bankruptcies, and big bailouts.

But don’t get the wrong idea – these free tools aren’t complete replacements for an installed anti-virus program. None of them offer real-time protection.

But they do add another layer of protection on top of your installed software. Or if you’re in a pinch, these tools are easy to access and can be put to work rapidly.

In general, these work best when using Internet Explorer (IE). Web browser security settings should be set to default, or at least have Java and ActiveX plug-ins enabled.

Trend Micro Housecall – click here

From the makers of PC-Cillin comes an online tool that will scan your PC for viruses, worms, Trojans, spyware, and detect system vulnerabilities. When it finds any nasty stuff, an auto-clean function will attempt to remove it. If vulnerabilities are found, it provides advice and links on how to fix them.

Version 6.6 will run on IE v6 or later and Mozilla Firefox 2.0 or later. This is the only online scanner that is Mac compatible – if you’re running Tiger (OS X 10.4) or later.

Using the scanner is a breeze. After a disclaimer agreement, you’ll download a 1.5 meg browser plug-in and the installation is automatically completed in the background.

Users can customize their scan to look for specific threats, and choose specific places on the PC to scan.

As you scan, a results window shows you what is found on your hard drive in real time. You can look up anything you’re unfamiliar with in the Encyclopedia tab.

BitDefender Online Scanner – click here

Version 8 of the online version of BitDefender’s anti-virus software will clean infections and remove spyware from your PC. It scours even your boot sector to make sure your computer is clean.

You must use IE 6 or 7 to access this tool.

After agreeing to the terms of use, and installing an ActiveX plug-in, you’ll be given options to scan specific folders or change the way the scan will handle infected files. The default settings will be a full system scan and deletion of infected files.

Pressing the start scan button will download the latest virus signatures before the scan actually begins. This will take just a couple minutes.

The full system scan will take about half an hour.

Panda ActiveScan click here

This free online anti-virus from Panda Security scans and eliminates viruses, worms, Trojans and spyware too. It also finds unwanted software including dialers, hacking tools, rootkits, jokes, and identifies security vulnerabilities.

You can detect all of this with the free online scan. But you must complete a free registration to access the tool that will allow you to clean most of the files detected – to clean spyware, you’ll have to pay.

This tool will scan modern Windows PCs. Use IE 6 or 7, or Firefox 1.5 or later to access the tool.

After agreeing to the terms of use, you’ll be taken to the plug-in installation. I had one problem here, with an update of the detection database failing on my first install attempt. A second attempt succeeded. After that, installation was completed quickly.

The unregistered scan is a full scan that can take longer than one hour to complete. Registering gives you access to a quick scan that will take just a few minutes to scan the critical areas of your PC, or you can choose what areas to target.

A report generated by both the unregistered and registered versions alike allow you to click through to learn more about each virus from Panda’s encyclopedia.

F-Secure Online Scanner – click here

Version 3.3 of this software from F-Secure will detect viruses and disinfect your computer.

You’ll need to use IE 6 or 7 to use this scanner. After agreeing to the usual terms of service page, you’ll download a 35 meg file and install it via ActiveX plug-in.

You’ll be either to choose a full scan or custom scan options. If you want to scan archived items, be sure to click the custom option. Then check the appropriate box.

You can also target specific areas on your hard drive with the custom option.

Reports produced by the scanner will allow you to click on the link and then find out more about the virus. It will also give directions about manual disinfection steps if needed.

Windows Live OneCare Protection Scanclick here

Windows Vista users may want to try the beta version specifically designed for that OS.

This is one of several scans that Microsoft offers up through its Live service. OneCare is the follow-up to Windows Defender, and this online scan will check your computer and remove viruses, spyware, malware and common vulnerabilities.

Not surprisingly, you’ll need to use IE to access this tool.

After agreeing to the disclaimer, you’ll install the plug-in and a new window will pop-up. The scanning tools will be downloaded in about a minute or so and then a scan will commence.

At the end of the scan you’ll be presented with an ad for OneCare – a product that Microsoft plans to discontinue. Clicking “next” will bring up your scan results page.

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