Security Tip: Offline Malware Scanners

Category: Anti-Virus

You almost certainly have an “always on” internet security tool already installed on your computer. It provides constant protection against viruses and other malware that may sneak into your computer. But no anti-malware program is foolproof; something may slip through its defenses and infect your hard drive. So what can you do if a really nasty virus disables your anti-malware protection, or fouls up your hard drive so Windows won't even start? Here's the answer...

When to Use an Offline Malware Scanner

If a virus is clever enough to disable your anti-virus program, render it ineffective, or foul up your hard drive's boot sector, you'll need something other than a standard anti-malware program to repair the damage. That’s when you need offline protection: a bootable CD or flash drive that bears an effective malware detection and removal program. I highly recommend that you make such an emergency kit and keep it handy. The alternative is to re-install Windows on the hard drive, possibly losing your personal files in the process. You may want to run an offline malware scanner even if you don't suspect a problem, as an extra security measure.

Microsoft's Windows Defender Offline is a free emergency anti-malware program for Windows 7, 8, 10 and 11 systems. Defender Offline restarts your computer outside of the Windows environment, in order to scan for and remove any malware that might be lurking. Read on for instructions on how to use Defender Offline, and be sure to see the links at the end of this article for other offline malware scanners you may want to try.

On a Windows 10 or 11 system, here's how to start Defender Offline. From the Start menu, select Settings, then click Update & Security > Windows Security > Virus & threat protection. Next, select "Scan options" under Current threats. Select the "Windows Defender Offline scan" option and then click the "Scan now" button.

Windows Defender Offline

Your PC will restart, then load Windows Defender Offline. After scanning and removing any malware that was found, your computer will restart Windows. Expect the process to take 10 to 15 minutes.

On a Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 system, the process is a little different. Scroll down the Windows Defender Offline support page and you'll find download links for the 32-bit or 64-bit version of Defender Offline. (If you're not sure which version you need, there's a link on the download page to help you determine if your PC is running the 32-bit or 64-bit version of Windows.)

When you run the installation program, it will prompt you for a blank CD, DVD, or flash drive with at least 250 MB of free space. I highly recommend using a flash drive as your Windows Defender Offline medium. Malware changes daily, and so does the malware signatures data file. A flash drive is re-writable, so Windows Defender Offline will download the latest signatures file if it is installed on a flash drive; not so with write-once optical media.

During installation, the latest database of malware signatures will be downloaded, so you will need an active Internet connection. Windows Defender Offline will be installed on the removable medium along with the signatures and files necessary to boot from the medium. Store the medium in a safe place until you need Windows Defender Offline.

To use Windows Defender Offline, restart your computer using the Windows Defender Offline medium instead of your hard drive. If Defender doesn't load when you restart, you will need to reconfigure your computer’s BIOS to get it to boot from removable media. That involves interrupting the startup process (usually by holding down the F2 or Ctrl key), entering the BIOS setup utility, and changing the order in which boot devices are tried during boot-up. The removable media device (CDROM or USB flash drive) that holds Windows Defender Offline should be checked before the hard drive. When the system boots from the correct device, Windows Defender Offline will load.

You can then run a scan of your hard drive to detect malware. If any is found, you will have the option to try to remove it.

No matter what real-time protection you use, Windows Defender Offline is a good, free backup in case your real-time protection is compromised or you cannot boot Windows because of a malware infection. Other options for offline malware scanning include the Avast Rescue Disk and Kaspersky Rescue Disk. I honestly can't say if one is better than the other, but it's nice to have options. And you can use more than one if you like.

Of course, a hard drive that doesn't boot up successfully doesn't necessarily indicate a virus. If your offline malware scanner doesn't detect any problems, and you're having trouble starting Windows, see my related article Hard Drive Data Recovery Services for other tools you can try to revive a non-booting hard drive.

Do you have an offline malware scanner on a CD or USB drive, in case of a virus emergency? Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "Security Tip: Offline Malware Scanners"

Posted by:

Craig T
01 Sep 2022

I tried downloading Windows Defender offline (several times) to a blank 8GB flash drive but all attempts were unsuccessful. Suggestions ?

Posted by:

Brian B
01 Sep 2022

The link given to Windows Defender Online in this article gives information on how to use, but no link to the download. After chasing around the internet for about 30 minutes, I am still no the wiser. I think I'll just stick with Eset Internet Security for real time protection, and Macrium Reflect for catastrophic repairs. At least I know from experience that Macrium Reflect works rapidly and flawlessly.

Posted by:

02 Sep 2022

What if you have a Mac?

Posted by:

02 Sep 2022

Bob, your link went to a page that tells you when and how to use "defender offline" but there's no link or instruction about how to download it.

Posted by:

Brian B
02 Sep 2022

Don't bother. The link is so well hidden that the app must be garbage. Get yourself a good quality anti malware program (not any free version, and white list preferred) along with a quality backup program.

Posted by:

03 Sep 2022

It appears that the program that Bob is talking about, is no longer supported by Microsoft. However, I did find it available here:

They offer an option to download it from them or Microsoft. It is an older version of the program, but once it updates to the new definitions, it should be good to go.

Thanks, Coco

Posted by:

17 Sep 2022

Bob - I found an extremely rare and elusive entity in this article: An error! Yes! A once-in-a-lifetime find!
You wrote: "From the Start menu, select Settings, then click Update & Security > Windows Security".
It's not Update & Security, but Privacy & Security.
Your article should read, "From the Start menu, select Settings, then click Privacy & Security > Windows Security".
At least that's how it is on My Win 11 PC.

Posted by:

12 Dec 2022

Herb, it's still "Update & Security" on Windows 10.

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