A few days ago, a friend of mine came to me looking quite sullen with her Windows XP notebook in-hand. In a lapse of judgment, she had downloaded an illegal copy of a well-known software product to try it out and, upon trying to run its installer, discovered that what she had downloaded was actually malware—software designed to hijack your computer and make your life miserable. Her desktop was littered with links to pornography sites, trying to visit web sites like Google or Windows Update took her to other, shady-looking places on the web that were clearly incorrect, and the system wouldn’t even boot half the time. Things were looking grim.

It has been a while since I have had to deal with a malware issue. In the past, I have used a trifecta of software that is free for personal use: Microsoft Windows Defender (Windows XP and Vista only), Lavasoft Ad-Aware, and Spybot Search & Destroy. Running these tools on my friend’s computer seemed to work and they identified and removed quite a few pieces of unsavory software. The porn icons disappeared from the desktop, the system started booting consistently, and things seemed a lot better . . . but something was still wrong. Trying to run Windows Update resulted in errors, and trying to visit the Windows Update web site didn’t work. Google searches seemed to work, but actually clicking the search result links seemed to take me to mismatched and incorrect web sites.

Nothing obvious was wrong. I didn’t see anything suspicious in the list of running processes, the ‘hosts’ file (which could have been modified to send certain web requests to the wrong places) looked clean, and clearing out and recreating the TCP/IP settings (and flushing cached DNS information) all accomplished nothing. I was stumped.

Then, on a sojourn into various message boards (on my Mac, of course ;-)), I heard about Malwarebytes’ Anti-Malware.

Malwarebytes’ web site doesn’t provide a whole lot of detail about what the product actually does (though, in all fairness, neither do most of its competitors). According to the company:

“Malwarebytes’ Anti-Malware is considered to be the next step in the detection and removal of malware. We compiled a number of new technologies that are designed to quickly detect, destroy, and prevent malware. Malwarebytes’ Anti-Malware can detect and remove malware that even the most well-known Anti-Virus and Anti-Malware applications on the market today cannot.”

Obviously, that’s marketing speak . . . but it’s accurate. Running Anti-Malware’s ‘full scan’ on my friend’s infected computer discovered about 15 bits if malware—executables and registry entries—that Windows Defender, Ad-Aware, and Search & Destroy all missed. After running the software and rebooting the computer, all traces of weirdness were gone. Google worked, and Windows Update ran perfectly. It was as-if the malware attack had never happened.

If you are a daily Windows user, you should have Malwarebytes’ Anti-Malware installed and run it periodically. If you are a Windows user that engages in risky behavior like pirating software or using Internet Explorer to browse the web, you should buy the ‘pro’ version to get Anti-Malware’s active protection features. If you make IT purchasing decisions for a business that runs Windows, you should contact Malwarebytes and get a corporate license and install it on all your company machines. This is the tool that can save you from a time-consuming ground-up re-installation of Windows when malware attacks.

The Anti-Malware software is a free download, though a pro version with additional features is available for an extremely-reasonable $24.95. Corporate and volume discounts are available (contact Malwarebytes for a quote).

Scott Bradford has been building web sites and using them to say what he thinks since 1995, which tended to get him in trouble with power-tripping assistant principals at the time. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Public Administration from George Mason University, but has spent most of his career (so far) working on public- and private-sector web sites. He is not a member of any political party, and brands himself an ‘independent constitutional conservative.’ In addition to holding down a day job and blogging about challenging subjects like politics, religion, and technology, Scott is also a devout Catholic, gun-owner, bike rider, and music lover with a wife, two cats, and a dog.