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How to Scan Your PC for Malware for Free

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Are you suspicious that your computer is infected with malware? Microsoft has a built-in program that runs a malware scan on your PC for free. It’s incredibly simple, and it keeps your computer safe.

In the past, Windows Security had a reputation for being useless, but now it’s on par with Avast and Kaspersky. In fact, it has been shown to block 99.7% of threats in independent tests. When it comes to Microsoft’s anti-malware software, you can have peace of mind about the safety of your computer.

What is malware vs. virus? 

Malware is a broader term that encompasses all malicious software. A virus is a specific type of malware that replicates itself by getting its code into other programs. Windows Security is able to detect both malware and viruses.

Stay updated and protected

The best way to keep your computer safe is to keep it updated. If you have Windows 11, your PC should be updating itself regularly. To double-check you haven’t missed an update, you can do a manual search for available updates in your settings.

First, go to Settings > Windows update > Check for updates. This will show you whether there are any software updates for your computer. It’s best to always update your computer because updates often include antivirus patches as well as new features you’ll want to take advantage of.

Detecting malware on your own

Even with the most up-to-date computers, there is still a chance that malware can infiltrate your system. But you don’t have to constantly wonder whether your computer is infected. Malware usually leaves footprints you can track if you know what to look for. Here are some issues that may signify the presence of malware:

1. Strange pop-up windows

If you see uninvited pop-ups with inappropriate images or bright colors, you may be a victim of malware. You may also find that a webpage you are trying to visit is blocked.

2. Slower computer

Due to the influence of malware, your computer may slow down or crash. You might notice that your web browser loads slowly or stops working altogether.

3. Unrequested changes to your browser

Does your homepage suddenly look different or have you been given a completely new homepage? This could point to malware. Another possible sign is that you’re unable to set your homepage or default search engine in your browser.

How to run a free malware scan on Windows 11

Once you’re ready to scan your PC for malware, navigate to Windows Security. Next, click on Virus & threat protection. Find the Quick scan button if you’d like to perform a rapid scan, or go to Scan options > Full scan for a more comprehensive scan that checks all of your files and programs.

If there are no threats found during the scan, no further action is needed. If, however, there are threats uncovered during the scan, you will have the opportunity to remove the viruses from your computer by clicking Start actions.   

Still have Windows 10? Running a scan should be similar to the process described for Windows 11. In some cases, you may need to use the Windows Defender Security Center application, which is the older version of Windows Security.

The best way to protect yourself against malware attacks is to keep Windows Security running in the background. You can do this by going to Windows Security > Virus & threat protection > Virus & threat protection settings. Then, click on Manage settings and turn on Real-time protection. By allowing Windows Security to constantly scan for viruses in the background, you won’t need to do manual scans for malware.

What to do if you get infected

Have you discovered your computer is infected with malware? Don’t panic. Windows Security will offer you details about the threat as well as recommended next steps for removing the virus. In some cases, the problem will have already been dealt with by the time you receive the notification from Windows Security, and no further action is needed.

It is important to know what notifications from Windows Security look like so you’re not fooled by malware posing as an antivirus notification. Whenever you receive a notification about malware, compare it with pictures online to make sure it’s an authentic notification from Windows Security.

As you’re battling the malware on your computer, you may notice that the malware is fighting back. When that happens, it’s wise to take advantage of Windows Security’s extra-strength malware scan. Go to Windows Security > Virus & threat protection > Scan options. From there, click on Microsoft Defender Offline scan and then Scan now. Once this scan is complete, your computer will restart.

Other antimalware options

Sometimes, Windows Security doesn’t have the tools to get rid of malware. The free version of Malwarebytes is a great program to have on hand for fighting pesky malware. Since some malware can prevent you from downloading new security apps, it’s best to install Malwarebytes before you have a malware issue.

When it comes to phishing scams and scam ads in your browser, Microsoft doesn’t have a great defense arsenal. To protect your computer against these scams, you can install an antimalware suite such as Norton 360, Bitdefender, McAfee, or Kaspersky.

It doesn’t take long for malware to infect your computer and alter your settings. Protect yourself by making sure Windows Security is constantly scanning for threats in the background. It’s much easier to prevent malware from accessing your computer in the first place than to pick up the pieces once the damage is done.

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