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Dave Methvin
Dave Methvin
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Anti-Spyware Strategies, Part 1:
Clean Out Your System

Do you suspect that your system is infected with adware, spyware, or other malware? Here's how to get rid of it.

Step One: Back Up Your Data
Before trying to clean up a spyware infestation, you should always back up important data. Some spyware makes extremely invasive changes to system settings, and performing a cleanup may cause problems. The best course is to get a full backup of all the data on the drive, using a program like Norton Ghost or Acronis True Image. At a minimum, make copies of the files in your My Documents folder. Some programs like Spybot Search & Destroy will do some limited backups before starting, but making your own backup is a step you shouldn't skip.

Anti-Spyware Strategies, Part 1

•  Introduction

•  Step One: Back Up Your Data

•  Step Two: Look Around

•  Step Three: Choose An Anti-Spyware App

•  Step Four: If All Else Fails

•  Image Gallery: Clearing Restore Points

Don't depend on Windows XP's System Restore feature, which allows system recovery — it can be a double-edged sword. System Restore may allow you to jump back to a point before the spyware was installed. However, if you perform a spyware cleanup and then use System Restore, you could end up putting the spyware back onto the system.

If you believe that spyware has been on your system for several weeks, it is probably better to clear out any restore points because they will also be infected. Some virus and spyware scanners may detect these infected restore points, but most will be unable to clean them.

It's a simple process to clear all your restore points:

  • Right-click My Computer.
  • Click Properties, and select the System Restore tab.
  • Check the box that says "Turn off System Restore on all drives" and click Apply. It may take several seconds for Windows to remove all the restore points, so expect a delay and some disk activity.
  • Once you have finished cleaning up the system, go back to this dialog and clear the "Turn off System Restore" check box. That will enable System Restore but start with an empty slate of restore points.
  • To be sure that you have a good starting point should anything happen in the future, you should create a new restore point. Click Start, Help, and Support, and "Undo changes to your computer with System Restore." The System Restore utility will start and give you the option to create a new restore point.

(For a visual step-by-step explanation of how to clear your restore points, visit our Image Gallery.)

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