HOWTO: Deep Scan for Malware
A reader asks: 'My anti-virus software offers me the option to run a quick scan or a full scan. I've always run the quick scan, because that's the recommended setting. What does a full scan do, and how would I know if I need to do one?' Read on to learn about deep scanning, to check every nook and cranny of your computer for malware...
What is a Deep AntiVirus Scan?
As you've noticed, the "quick scan" option is the default in almost every anti-virus and anti-malware software. A quick scan examines only the most common spyware hiding places, such as the Windows system folders, your Documents and Settings folder, and the registry.
A deep scan, sometimes referred to as a "full scan", "complete system scan", or "whole computer scan" examines every bit of your computer's RAM memory, hard drives, and removable drives. A deep scan will also scan your startup programs and the Windows registry for any traces of malware.
Malware (viruses, spyware and other nasties) usually comes in the form of an EXE or DLL file, but it can also hide in a JPG file (graphics image), a DOC file (Microsoft Word), a PDF, and many other places you wouldn't expect. If a virus is lurking anywhere on your hard drive, external drive, flash drive, or on a CD/DVD disk, a deep scan should find it.
Because it must open and scan through every file on every drive, a full scan will take a lot longer than a quick scan. You should set aside at least two hours to allow a full system scan to complete. You can continue to work while the scan is in progress, but performance will probably take a significant hit due to the disk-intensive scanning operation.
How often should you run a full or deep scan? Most experts agree that a scheduled quick scan will do a good job of protecting you, if run on a daily basis, along with real-time malware detection. These are standard features for almost all anti-virus software, even the free versions. I would definitely recommend a full scan if you suspect that your system is infected. Beyond that, a full scan once a month seems more than sufficient. If you're paranoid, or just have CPU cycles to burn late at night, schedule a deep scan to run weekly.
How to Start a Full Scan
There are many different anti-virus programs available, so it's not always obvious how to initiate a full anti-virus scan, and which options are important. Below are step-by-step instructions for deep scanning with the most popular free anti-virus programs. Click the desktop icon or the mini-icon in the task bar to open your program's main menu, then jump to the appropriate set of instructions. If you don't have an anti-virus program yet, or you want to check into free alternatives to the paid security software you now have, see my related article on Free Anti-Virus Programs before continuing.
Avast Free - Full Scan
- On the Avast main menu: click "Scan"
- In the dropdown box, select "Full system scan"
- Click "Settings"
- Under "Scan Areas" select "All harddisks", "Rootkits (full scan)", and "Auto-start programs and modules loaded in memory".
- Check the box next to "Scan all files"
- Select the "content" option under "Recognize file types by"
- Click OK to save settings
- Click Start to run the scan.
- If desired, run the "Removable media scan" with the same settings.
AVG Free - Full Scan
- On the AVG main menu: next to "Scan Now", click the options icon (the three horizontal bars)
- Next to "Scan Whole Computer", click the options icon
- Check all boxes (except "Scan for tracking cookies")
- Click "Additional scan settings"
- Under File types for scanning, select "All file types"
- Check "Scan files without extensions", then click OK
- Click "Start Scan" button
- Click "Stop" to cancel a running scan. You won't hurt anything, just scan again later if desired.
Avira Free - Full Scan
- On the Avira main menu: click "System Scanner"
- RIGHT-click "Complete System Scan"
- Select "Start Scan (admin)"
- Click OK or YES on the security popup
- Right-click "Scan for Rootkits and active malware"
- Click OK on the security popup
- Select Start Scan (admin)
Microsoft Security Essentials - Full Scan
- On the MSE main menu: select the "Full" radio button
- Click "Settings" tab, click "Advanced", then select these options:
- Scan archive files
- Scan removable drives
- Create a system restore point
- Allow all users to view full History results
- Save changes, return to the Home tab, and click "Scan Now"
MalwareBytes Anti-Malware - Full Scan
In addition to the full scan option in your antivirus program, I recommend that you download the free MalwareBytes Anti-Malware (MBAM) program and run the full scan option in this program as well. MBAM scans for all types of malware (not just viruses) and sometimes finds things that are not detected by dedicated anti-virus scanners. MBAM makes it easy:
- At the top of the MBAM main menu: click the "Scan" icon
- Select the "Custom Scan" radio button and click the "Scan Now" button.
- Under "Custom Scanning Options" check all the boxes
- Select the disk drive(s) you want to scan.
- Click "Start Scan" to start the scan
Microsoft System Sweeper - Full Scan
If you are not able to start your computer due to a malware infection, the Windows Defender Offline (WDO) is a stand-alone deep scan utility that runs from a bootable CD or USB flash drive. You can also use WDO as an adjunct to the full scan option of your installed anti-virus software.
Too Much of a Good Thing
Let me repeat a caution here that I've mentioned before. It's okay to run a dedicated anti-virus program along with an on-demand scanner such as MBAM. But I strongly advise that you run only ONE dedicated anti-virus program at a time. If you run two or more, the real-time virus detection engines can actually fight with each other. Each will think the other is an attacking virus, and the ensuing battle for supremacy can bring your system to a crawl.
I actually just tested this on my Windows 7 laptop. After installing Microsoft Security Essential, Avira, and Avast, my system came to what seemed like a complete halt. I hit the power button to reboot, and 20 minutes later it was still cranking away. Try to open any program or navigate the web was like swimming in wet cement.
Do you have something to say about running a deep antivirus scan? Post your comment or question below...
Posted by Bob Rankin on 24 Apr 2014
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- HOWTO: Deep Scan for Malware (Posted: 24 Apr 2014)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved