It's a constant battle, the protection of a PC against malicious software. The second you think you have your machine clean, something else appears — no matter what piece of software you use to combat this plague. Even so, you still need to have some protection installed. So I thought I'd list the five tools I prefer for keeping Windows as malware-free as possible. They don't cost a dime, and they're about as reliable as a malware removal tool can be.
This is my go-to tool when there's a malware issue. It's fast, it's always reliable, and it's free. The only downfall is that there's no real-time component. For the free version of Malwarebytes to actually be active and scanning, the user must run the tool. Now, if the end user is too lazy (or forgetful), I would suggest purchasing the non-free version, which does contains a real-time component. But the free version is certainly solid. Note that here are instances where the removal of a piece of malware by this tool will require a reboot of the machine.
ComboFix is the Mac Daddy of removal tools. It's also not a standard anti-malware tool so much as it is a major problem-solver. When you have malware that simply won't go away (and you suspect something a bit uglier — like a rootkit or Trojan — that keeps re-infecting your machine), you want this tool. I recommend ComboFix, but with a warning: It's powerful. Very powerful. Do not leave the executable for this tool just lying around. Use it and remove it. And unlike most malware removal tools, you (or the end user) won't be using the PC while this tool is running.
3: Spybot Search and Destroy
Spybot Search and Destroy is one of the most popular anti-malware tools. If there's a piece of anti-malware software on a machine, it's probably going to be this one. Now, I will say that S&D is not the most powerful of the anti-malware tools, but it's by far not the worst. I would actually rank it right below Malwarebytes with regard to reliability. And since there is no harm in having two anti-malware tools on one machine (unlike antivirus, which is a big no-no), using Malwarebytes and S&D as a one-two punch will catch most every piece of malware. The one thing S&D has over the free version of Malwarebytes is that it has a real-time scanner.
4: Avast Free
I like Avast. I like it for antivirus. I like it for anti-malware. The best thing about this tool is that you can have them both, at the same time, for free! Not only is the anti-malware portion of the tool safe and reliable, the antivirus is one of the tops of the free suites. So this one is a win-win for sure. Yes, there are paid versions of the same software suite, offering anti-phishing, safe-shopping, SPAM protection, and the like. But if you're looking for solid anti-malware and antivirus, just download the free version of Avast.
5: AVG Free
For the longest time, I was a big advocate of AVG Free for antivirus protection. Now? Not so much. AVG Free's ability to keep viruses at bay is less than stellar. But it does a fairly good job of removing malware. What I like about AVG is that it's unobtrusive. When a scan is running, you will hardly notice. The big downfall of AVG is that, should you have to run ComboFix, you can't just turn it off. To run a tool like ComboFix, you actually have to completely remove AVG. That is a real pain.
The safe side
Here's my honest take: If your machine is a personal (home) machine, slap on AVG Free and Malwarebytes and be done with it. Or if you want an all-in-one tool, use Avast. But always keep a copy of ComboFix around just in case those tools miss out on some of the nastier uglies creeping around. Regardless of which way you go here, just make sure you have (and use) protection. Practice safe computing!
Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.