Keeping your antivirus software up to date will ensure your PC is protected from new viruses as soon as they emerge, but there are other malicious programs to be aware of. For example, adware and spyware don't behave like viruses, and might escape detection.
That's why you need a malware removal tool. Here we've picked out the programs we trust to protect our PCs from all kinds of threats – both broad-spectrum security suites to replace your existing antivirus software, and smaller malware removal tools to supplement it. We've also looked at programs that will identify and eliminate malware infections on friends' and relatives' PCs – essential if you've become the family tech support.
The most effective free malware remover, with deep scans and daily updates
If you suspect a malware infection, Malwarebytes Anti-Malware should be your first port of call. It’s updated daily, so you can trust it to identify and remove new threats the minute they appear.
The first time you install Malwarebytes Anti-Malware, you’re given a 14-day trial of the premium edition, which includes preventative tools like real-time scanning and specific protection from ransomware. After two weeks, it reverts to the basic free version. This has to be activated manually, but is still a top-notch security tool. We recommend running it at least once a week to check or any nasties that you haven't noticed, or if you notice that your web browser has suddenly started acting strangely (likely a result of adware).
Last year, Malwarebytes bought Adwcleaner, which – as its name suggests – targets and removes annoying programs that hijack your browser by changing your homepage, resetting your default search engine, or adding unwanted toolbars. It’s also available free, and along with Anti-Malware, is a great addition to your security toolkit.
Prevention is better than cure, and Bitdefender delivers both
If you’re thinking about replacing your antivirus software, check out Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition. It has a dedicated anti-malware engine to help you avoid an infection in the first place, and mop up any existing problems.
One of BitDefender’s best features is the ability to scan files or folders that look a bit suspicious by simply dragging and dropping them onto its home screen (it might be a good idea to do this with your Downloads folder if you’ve noticed some funny business lately). Any unpleasantness detected by the malware removal engine will be swiftly quarantined, and can be disposed of at your leisure.
BitDefender is unobtrusive, but its Protection Shield will alert you to any malicious attempts to compromise your system. All in all, it’s an excellent foundation for your anti-malware arsenal.
Adaware can replace your antivirus or work an anti-malware supplement
Adaware Antivirus Free is another great option if you’re building an anti-malware toolkit from the ground up. It includes a virtual environment where suspicious programs can be analysed to see if they behave like malware (a technique known as heuristic analysis). This means you’re always protected from new malware – even if you’re the very first person to be affected and the malicious program isn’t yet in Adaware’s database of known threats. The malware can then be safely contained and removed.
All this happens quietly in the background, and can be suspended temporarily if you want your processor’s full power for a gaming session.
Adaware Antivirus Free can also scan downloads before you install them, helping prevent malware infestations in the first place by filtering their most common point of entry.
Best of all, if you're just looking for a way to boost your existing antivirus software, Adaware's installer lets you choose a version without real-time scanning that won't conflict with other antivirus tools.
A portable app that’s perfect if you’ve become the family tech support
If you’re called in to help a friend with a malware infestation, Emsisoft Emergency Kit is the tool for you. It’s a portable app, so you can keep it handy on a USB stick, or your cloud storage service of choice (it’s only 591MB, though it does generate log files, which will take up a little extra room).
Like any malware removal tool, Emsisoft Emergency Kit has a database of current threats, and the PC you’re cleaning needs an internet connection so the software can check for updates.
Once it’s updated itself, it scans the PC for threats and quarantines anything it finds to stop it doing further damage to your system. After a quick reboot, the files will be deleted.
All-round protection from malware that gives you full control over scans
The free edition of SUPERAntiSpyware detects all forms of malicious software – including adware and spyware – and removes every trace quickly and efficiently.
If you suspect that a particular file might contain malware, you can submit it to SUPERAntiSpyware’s threat labs, where its behavior will be analyzed. It’s not as fast or convenient as tools that scan files using a virtual machine, but is a good option if your system is low on resources.
You can also control which types of file are scanned, whether SUPERAntiSpyware should follow shortcuts, and whether it should check inside ZIP archives – very handy if you’ve downloaded a program in an archive and want to check it before extracting the contents.
Scans must be performed manually, but SUPERAntiSpyware’s granular control makes it a great choice for more confident users.