Unless you’ve been living under a particularly large rock for the past 25 years, you already know how important it is to protect your Windows PC from malware. But what if, despite your best efforts, your PC gets infected anyway? It happens to the best of us; new threats emerge daily, after all.

When your PC gets infected with malware, you’ll need to put it into safe mode and run an antimalware scanner. You may need to take some additional steps to backup your files and drivers and fix your web browser to prevent re-infection. Then, you’ll need to make sure you have appropriate antivirus and antimalware protection in place to keep your PC from getting infected again.

Put Your PC in Safe Mode

If you think your PC has been infected with malware, disconnect it from the internet and turn it off until you’re ready to address the issue. Doing this will mitigate the damage and keep hackers from accessing your personal information.

Once you’re ready to clean your computer, the first thing you need to do is put it in safe mode. This should prevent the malicious software from loading. The process of entering safe mode is a little different, depending on whether you’re running Windows 7 or 8 or Windows 10. If you want to use or download online scanners — and you might — choose safe mode with networking.

Clean It up

Now that you’re in safe mode, it’s time to get to work. First, use the disk cleanup utility to delete temporary files. Then, run your antivirus scanner. For Windows 10, you’ll want to run Windows Defender, unless you have another antivirus program installed.

But that’s not the end of the story. Hopefully, you chose safe mode with networking because now you can download a malware scanner like MalwareBytes, BitDefender Free Edition or Microsoft’s Malicious Software Removal Tool. Of course, if you can’t access the internet on your infected PC, it’s not the end of the world; you can download MalwareBytes or another malware scanner program onto a USB drive and use that to install it on your computer.

You’re using one of these programs to run a second malware check because your previous scan may not have caught the malware responsible for your computer’s woes. You can even download and run multiple malware scanners if you want. Once your malware scan is complete, the scanner should show you where the infections are and allow you to remove them. If the scanner program shuts down after it begins scanning and won’t reopen, that’s a sign you’ve been infected with a malicious program that kills scanners. You’ll need to backup your files and reinstall Windows.

Reset Your Web Browser

Malicious programs often adjust your browser settings to direct you to a homepage that will re-infect your computer. Malware can also cause lots of advertisements to display, or even keep you from using your browser. Before you start your browser, check your homepage settings, and make sure your homepage hasn’t been reset to something weird.

Recover Your Files

What if malware and antivirus scans don’t fix the problem? You’ll have to reinstall Windows, but before you do that, backup your files. If you can access Windows in Safe Mode, you should be able to copy your important files to a USB, flash drive or external hard drive. If Windows is so damaged that you can’t backup your files this way, you may be able to use a Live CD tool like Hiren’s BootCD to access them. You may be able to use a tool like Double Driver to back up your device drivers. You’ll have to re-download any installed programs or re-install them from discs after reinstalling Windows.

You can reinstall Windows using your program CD, or by downloading the program image from Microsoft. Alternatively, you could use your PC’s factory reset option. Your screen should display which key to press for a few seconds after turning on your PC.

Protect Your PC

Once you’ve fixed your PC’s malware infection, it’s time to protect it with the best PC protection for the future. There’s a lot of debate as to what’s the best way to protect your PC from malware and viruses. Some people even say you don’t need antivirus protection anymore, but by now, you should know that’s not true!

In this day and age, you need PC protection that can cover all your devices, not just your laptop or desktop computer. You also need protection against phishing scams, social media privacy protection and other features that can protect you from the evolving strategies hackers and scammers are using to gain access to your personal data. Look for a comprehensive solution that can be used on multiple devices.

Malware is no joke; cleaning it off your PC can be a nightmare, especially when the infection is severe. But your PC can be brought back from the brink — and protected from re-infection. Don’t let hackers get the upper hand. Take action to stop them today.