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Help! What can I do to ensure my data is clean before moving it to my new PC?

by Lee Koo (ADMIN) CNET staff/forum admin / November 14, 2014 9:13 AM PST
Question:

Help! What can I do to ensure my data is clean before moving it to my new PC?


When I buy a new desktop computer and transfer all of my files, photos, and music from my old computer that is infected with malware don't I take the risk of also transferring malware to the new computer? What are the necessary steps I must take to ensure that the data I'm moving over to my new PC is cleaned and safe? Thanks for any advice you can give me.

-- Submitted by: William H.
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Data clean before moving?

Do a complete scan with Malware Bytes and Avast anti virus software, on all the drives of your PC before transferring.
Personal stuff, like photos, and documents are probably free of any virus etc.

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Do use Malware Bytes and Avast....
by btljooz / November 15, 2014 7:57 AM PST

Do NOT think that "personal stuff" can not possibly be infested with something.

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Replay to bitjooz...
by pauly1651 / November 21, 2014 11:25 AM PST

You put words in my mouth pal, try reading my reply again more carefully this time. I did NOT say that it can not POSSIBLY be infested...I said..."...are probably free of any virus etc." That has been my experience in working with and on personal computers for many years now. So get down off the high, self righteous horse you have put yourself on and concentrate on answering this guys question, and not trying to "correct" me or anyone else on this page.
Thank you.

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@pauly1651
by btljooz / November 23, 2014 6:38 AM PST
In reply to: Replay to bitjooz...
Blush My apologies, sir. Blush It appears that for some odd reason I was probably replying to someone else and somehow managed to get that reply in the WRONG place.

In reality, I do feel that you are absolutely correct about Malwarebytes and Avast as you can see by my other replies here. Again, please accept my apologies. Blush
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It really is too bad...
by JCitizen / November 23, 2014 11:09 AM PST
In reply to: @pauly1651

That MBAM doesn't have at least a crippled real time version that is free, but at least the scans are pretty effective. I was pretty bummed when they dropped the lifetime real time license, but they offer three yearly licenses for the same fee amount, and that can help my indigent clients, share in the cost.

As far as what William H. was asking, I've had great luck using Avast and MBAP(Pro version) to scan backup files for malware, and have been able to transfer clean copies even when using compressed backups from several reputable utilities. Avast and MBAP are able to dig deep enough to root out archives of data, and fairly well clean up anything going over to the new PC. This, has been repeated many times in my disaster recovery operations.

It can get tricky when you are using an optical disc to transfer the files, though, as they cannot be removed completely before entering the operating environment of the new PC - in these cases using the limited user accounts can at least prevent a new takeover until you can scan the file again. I keep them all in a folder until I can scan them in this standard account and naturally remove them by then. Unless you are using re-writable optical disks, this can become a necessary evil.

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MBAP??
by btljooz / November 23, 2014 12:54 PM PST

When one looks up "MBAP" one comes up with everything except MBAM (Malware Bytes Anti-Malware). Here, see for yourself: https://www.google.com/search?q=MBAP I truly believe that you actually mean MBAM Pro, instead. Wink

That said, I have always had very good luck with only using Avast's real time protection. I state that because when I've tried to run MBAM's real time protection along with Avast, the two conflict. I just make sure that I remember to update MBAM Free at least once a week and run it at that time. I do the same with Spybot Search & Destroy for the same reason.

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Actually..
by JCitizen / November 24, 2014 11:04 AM PST
In reply to: MBAP??

I was corrected on a forum by a moderator for calling new version MBAM - he said they were trying to rename it so consumers wouldn't get the old Pro version mixed up with the new "Premium" version. As I was already used to calling their rootkit tool MBAR, I fell into this habit for exactly that reason. It is a habit I picked up so my clients won't get confused - just a personal preference I shouldn't have used here on CNET, I will admit:

1. MBAM - Free version
2. MBAM Pro - old lifetime licence version
3. MBAP - New Premium service by yearly subscription.

You are right of course, just a bad habit I picked up.

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Well,
by btljooz / November 25, 2014 8:28 AM PST
In reply to: Actually..

...if they are wanting to or in the process of doing that, then they badly need to clarify this on their website!!! Wink Otherwise, they will simply create a lot of confusion that will turn folks off of their product.

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Never had a conflict..
by JCitizen / November 24, 2014 11:21 AM PST
In reply to: MBAP??

with Avast and MBAM ever! I've even kept watch on the event viewer to make sure there were no process problems between the two. I've never run into this problem before - I hope it is not a harbinger of the future, because I don't want to give up that combination. It has been a killer combo for I and my clients for years now.

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I'm a long time user of...
by btljooz / November 25, 2014 8:09 AM PST
In reply to: Never had a conflict..

the Avast/MBAM combo, too. I guess I set Avast so tight that
this is what causes the conflicts? Or, just maybe, my old hardware just
couldn't handle the load. I haven't tried it with my new hardware. At that,
though, I've not had any more problems with malwarez than I would have had,
otherwise, I don't think.

But, then again, I don't use on board e-mail and I don't download anything at
all with the exception of my software, the odd graphic here and there and [once
in a Blue Moon] a font or two. I do make double sure as much as possible that I
grab those from bona fide trusted sources. And, I also make double sure that I
manually update MBAM at least weekly. And I also make sure that SS&D stays
updated, as well.

Not using on board e-mail and not downloading anything
much and being extremely careful of where I do download things from and not
cruising the back alleys of the internet goes a LONG way towards helping stem
the tide of any nasties that could be lurking about.

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(NT) Sounds like the ticket to me
by JCitizen / November 26, 2014 10:00 AM PST
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All files can contain malware
by bigbear639 / November 23, 2014 8:47 AM PST

Possibly or probably more or less the same meaning. IE ????????

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I'm with you but
by Bob.F / November 29, 2014 7:28 AM PST

The product you recommend is perfect but what I would do is move all the data to a usb key, restart the computer in safe mode . Then I would right click the usb key and run the two programs If everything is ok pull out the usb key and transfer the data . This would save time by not checking what I'm not transferring anyway If this isn't good enough for other posters and I was a purest I would run process explorer and autoruns looking for problems as a tech

Bob F.

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I'm sure there are numerous ways

You can do what I would do:

I would transfer each file of personal data, one by one, to a folder that is empty of all other data, then back up that folder to either optical media or a flash drive. If you do not recognize a file, do not add it to the backup. The reason for dealing with the files one by one is that you avoid also dragging any hidden malware with them. Once this backup is done, use your antivirus and antimalware software to scan the backup. This can be done, but you will have to check the instructions for your software. If you pay attention, there should be almost no possibility of transferring malware to your new computer.

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Treating one by one is a futile waste of time
by Alain Martel / November 15, 2014 7:54 AM PST

Transfering files one by one will NOT protect you from hiden malware in any way.

Firstly, malware in a data folder will only stay there. There is nothing in place to start it. It need some entry in the registry to make it start or, at least, a shortcut in the startup folder.

Second, truely hiden content are often hiden in alternate streams. This content always remain hiden, and will tag along whenever you move or copy the associated file. To access an alternate stream, you absolutely need to provide it's name in asswociation with that of the correct file or folder. It look like this:
folderName:name
fileName:name
The part afeter the collon is NEVER visible and can't be made visible.
A descent anti-virus will be able to find and scan those, and also suppress malware hiding there.

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I disagree
by 4Denise / November 15, 2014 10:45 AM PST

Malware does not hide inside other legitimate files. The reason for moving the files one by one is that you will only move the file, not the entire contents of the folder. It is possible for some contents of a folder to be hidden, but the file itself is fine, if it is moved my itself.

I mirror the folder structure I want in the new location and then transfer personal data files one at a time because I know that there will not be any other files there, hidden or not. It is an extreme measure to take, but it works if I am making a backup off of a machine I know to be infested with malware. The original poster specifically said that the machine was infested. Simple solution: pay close attention to what is transferred and don't make assumptions.

You are being unnecessarily complex. Transfer only the files wanted and then scan the backup before putting the files on the new computer. Problem solved. As for your explanation, I have been taking care of computers for years and I have never seen what you are referring to.

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I guess you don't have many files
by dg27 / November 21, 2014 10:28 AM PST
In reply to: I disagree

Your recommendations sound 20 years old in terms of the reality of data and how much some people have.

My personal docs alone (no photos, no music) includes 2570 folders and over 20,000 files: To transfer these individually would be truly insane.

The files can be copied using a free program like Cobian, then scanned. I use MalwareBytes, SuperAntispyware, plus my antivirus.

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I have 4 TB of storage on my PC
by 4Denise / November 21, 2014 4:44 PM PST

...and I use it! Of course, I also keep current backups. The reality is that folders that contain personal data files can have hidden files written into them. If you want to take that risk, that is your choice.

Most people who do not already know how to transfer their data files onto a clean computer do not have nearly as many personal data files as you or I have. In my experience, they usually only want their pictures and music. Sometimes they are only interested in their pictures. I copy them to a clean folder one by one and make a backup, then scan the backup. I then advise them to keep their personal data backed up in case it ever happens again.

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Rediculous
by The ancient one / November 22, 2014 7:42 AM PST
In reply to: I disagree

I would live with malware rather than one by one transfer 275,000 files that are housed in 8600 folders. Others have mentioned a more sensible approach.

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Don't backup the entire drive and have a strategy

I don't backup the entire drive as an image (a snapshot of the hard drive), only the data. While your pc is still operable, be sure to store all of your data in one main directory (ie My Documents). All pics and music, documents, etc are all stored in those sub-directories. You can even change the folder where your emails are stored. When you do your backups, it will be a snap.

Other things that can make your life easier to get the new PC with the same setup as much as possible, take an inventory of the programs installed on your PC. While you're doing that, be sure to identify the folder that app stores the info and decide whether you want to keep it to junk it. For most apps, you can re-download it from the web.

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Re-downloading apps is impractical and inefficient
by miceberg / November 15, 2014 2:14 PM PST

Between my Primary system (desktop) and Secondary (laptop) I routinely (usually about no less than once a month, and sometimes as often as bi-weekly) clean slate my drives. I tried the process mentioned in this post "for most apps, you can re-download it from the web."

Well, I'm not saying that's not possible - it is,,, but for god sakes friend do you really want to go thru all that rigamarole ?? Those downloads take time. And you probably got a lot of different apps at entirely different sources, which means you will also spend a lot more time navigating your browser to each individual download.

I did it a few times until I got wise and realized the value of investing in extra flash drive media and CD-R. You can get 32 GB cards now on eBay for about $20 measly bucks. And CD-R disks are also dirt cheap now. Invest in it. You WILL be happy you did. As far as transferring the data is concerned, I don't really see what the big concern is if you brace your new system for the incoming files/folders. Consider the new system as under a "shield" similar to Israel's "IRON DOME" inbound missile defense system. That's not a too far off analogy.

Whether you use Avast (5 Star Rated) or AVG (5 Star Rated) is a personal choice ( I personally use AVG, but I have also used Avast, I just like AVG's interface and alert box preferences settings a tad bit more to my personal ease-of-use tastes, ...to each their own....) and MalWarebytes, simply install those two on the file-migration destination system (the 'new' pc) and of course ensure the latest updates are fetched and installed. TURN OFF your pc's internet connection during the file-migration process.

If any malware slipped thru both the AV and MWB you can be sure it will try to access the web. If it somehow eluded both AV & MWB and did have access to get back online from your new pc system you can bet your bottom dollar it's going straight back to it's nest in the cloud like a homing pigeon, to report with glee, how effortlessly it pentested (penetration tested) your system's then-active defenses.

Corral that sucker like a wild boar.. Just because your AV &/or MWB didn't catch on first pass doesn't mean neither will ever ----they will detect it...it just might take a 2nd pass to detect it absolutely, not as a possible "false-positive"---no biggie... And remember that's a very unlikely scenario to begin with.. In actual practice you only have a single-digit chance that between the two of those powerful intercepting programs somehow a rogue variant malware/adware could shimmy through.. -->not likely Just disable your internet connection during the offline file-migration process as a routine precaution.. Like a safety net, when you have it in place you never seem to need it,,,,but it's a re-assuring feeling knowing it''s there "just in case"..


--- Install your new OS, AV, & MWB on your new system.

--- From your source (previous) pc-system copy the data you want to save onto flash cards.
(an external hd is too big for later repetitious re-sanitizing & re-use. 32 GB cards are ideal for the task..
You might be able to complete the whole thing on one card, unless you have a lot of saved video files. )

--- On your new system make sure your detection/interception utilities Avast/AVG & MalwarBytes are running.

--- Insert the flash media into the appropriate media port (card reader drive, usb drive for a cardreader device)

--- The Avast/AVG & MalwareBytes should automatically begin to scan the media, but check & make sure it is.

--- After scan is complete and has shown no threats detected, consider it safe to transfer the files in question

--- Reformat the flash media after each xfer offloading data from it onto your new fresh hard drive, as a habit.

--- Repeat abov as needed until all files/folders are xferred.This process includes software setup installer kits !



best of luck to you

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I agree, however.......
by btljooz / November 17, 2014 4:23 AM PST

For someone who constantly has the need for apps to re-install, saving them on a flash/thumb drive is a good idea. But, it is also a good idea for that flash/thumb drive to have updated versions included as necessary. I am always having to help friends and family out with their computers so I carry such a drive with me at all times since I never know when I'll need it.

In William's case, he will want to download the latest versions of apps to put on his new computer because it is somewhat unlikely that he will have the latest versions available in back up. That is not to say that he shouldn't back up those latest versions for a "just in case" scenario. He should along with regular backups of all the rest of the data that he wants to keep out of harm's way.

In addition to which, for anyone who misunderstands and takes the above post to mean that AVG and Avast need to be installed together, that is most definitely NOT the case. ONLY ONE AV solution should be installed and running at any one time. This is because they will conflict with each other (slowing and possibly freezing a computer) and, also, find each others' virus definitions and flag them unnecessarily as positives when they are not.

That said, though, while one can install both Malwarebytes and Spybot Search & Destroy concurrently, it IS recommended to allow just one to run along with one's chosen AV solution for reason similar to running two AVs together. BUT, one can always runs scans with both. There are plenty of folks who do and I am one of them.

Furthermore, yes, it is OK and even suggested to allow an A-V program and an A-M program to run together because they look in some different places in some different ways for different types of infestations. This gives a much broader scope of protection.

In closing, I will recognize that there are a LOT of folks who like one or the other AV and/or AM solution which is fine. But, I personally, like Avast better than AVG because it has a wider definition base that is updated more frequently and it also throws fewer false positives than AVG. I used AVG for MANY years until it allowed my computer to get infested from a drive-by to the point that it simply crashed. I lost all the data I hadn't yet backed up on that occasion. That is when I switched to Avast and haven't looked back since.

I hope that this clears up some points and doesn't create more questions.

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Probably no problem

It is seldom that user data files are the source or repository of any infection. Assuming that you are intending to move only the data and install all your applications anew -- a lot of work but something I always recommend when anyone gets a new PC -- you are about as safe as you can reasonably expect to be.

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Data are safe from virus, executables are NOT

You mention transfering photos, music, videos and similar files. Those are NOT virus cariers. Well, there where some exploits using those in the past, put any vulnerabilities they exploited have been patched well over 2 years ago.

Anyway, the first thing to do is to install a reputable anti-virus on the new computer.

Transfert all your media files.
Perform a full virus scan immediately after the transfert.

Next, you may want to transfert some executables, like some old but loved screen savers or small utilities.
Copy the executables in some quaranteen folder on the new computer. DON'T run them in ANY way.
Perform another virus scan.
The executables that survive the scan can be assumed to be safe.

For the installers, it's beter to get new copies from the original publisher. That way, you'll get the up to date version in a clean installer.

Performing the virus scan on the new computer makes it sure that the anti-virus is not compromised by some nasty stuff.

Finaly, whenever installing ANYTHING:
Download the installer somewhere, WAIT a few days, maybe a week, make sure that your anti-virus definitions are updated, then, perform a scan of the download folder.
When installing, chose the "Custom" install, carefully read ALL dialogs.
If you are presented with ANY suggested or recomended installation or options, DECLINE them! They are NEVER needed and may be harmfull. You don't want the installer to change your home page nor your default search engine. You don't need any additional tool bars.

This help ensuring that your anti-virus have the signatures for any new treat and know how to deal with them.

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Without Going into the Differences between Viruses, Trojans,
by Hforman / November 15, 2014 12:36 PM PST

While logically you would think that data would not harbor any malware, this has not been the case throughout computer history. There have been know instances of Malware that have infected Word .DOC files, PDFs, and email. Also, some files, while you think they are just data, are actually small programs. For example, a web page is actually a program written in a language called HTML (also ASP and JAVA). Even pictures in files with the jpg extension have been known to cause issues. Remember that to display the data, some program has to run against it. Even a text file requires notepad or something else/ By manipulating data files, hackers have been know to create all sorts of malware. A case to point out: An IT director at one of my jobs opened some DOC word file and suddenly, every time he opened an Office fole, he got a popup message calling him an idiot. In fact, he was so mad, he was going to can one of the techs if he could find out what caused that. Turns out it was a Windows Office malware that altered his templates. It is all history from long ago.

You might want to go to one of the Malware protection sites and look up what is out there and you will find some of those things out there.

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This is true, but
by 4Denise / November 15, 2014 12:57 PM PST

Running scans on the backup after making it will find these files, if they can be found. It is true that some data files can include malware, but it is not common. Malware is usually spread from one computer to another by executable files. If we get so paranoid that we never save our data, then computers become worthless.

Regular backups, paying attention, and using either free or paid scanning is still the best way to keep infections off of a computer or clear one up if it gets past the security software. The fact that we can't be 100% effective does not mean that we just sit there and do nothing.

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Really?
by btljooz / November 17, 2014 5:13 AM PST
In reply to: This is true, but
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As a matter of fact...
by btljooz / November 17, 2014 5:17 AM PST
In reply to: This is true, but
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Yes and No
by Hforman / November 17, 2014 12:10 PM PST
In reply to: This is true, but

Most malware these days is WEB-based. No executable files other than your browser. In fact, I think (IMHO) that JAVA files are more prevalent these days. Here is my take on malware:

A long time ago, people wrote malware to get noticed. Call it "bragging rights" or whatever. For example, someone was able to find a "vulnerability" (key word these days in a mainframe to get the OS to do things it wasn't supposed to do. Then we had MS-DOS and all of the viruses, worms, etc. that went along with that. What did a "Michelangelo Virus" do? On the birthday of Michelangelo, it would wish him a happy birthday as it formatted your hard drive. Back then it was a big deal. A really big thing. Today, that would just be a nuisance, right? People can just reload using their backup software.

Today, though, it is all about the money. No sparks flying on your screen; no popups; no big whoop-dee-do. Because, if you want to invade some person's bank accounts and get all the money, you need to do it quietly. So, you get a lot of people who say they never had malware on their computer but, unless they scan for it, they would never really know. Others are more pro-active. We've seen these things progress over 40 years.

Because someone is out there trying to steal your passwords, your account numbers and, ultimately, your money, the Internet (also due to its popularity) seems to be a good way to do that. Aside from your browser, there are not many "exe" files here. There is Java, ASP, HTML, PHD. etc. There are SCRIPT files involved.

Yes, you can consider these to be "executable" if you want but, if all you are doing is looking at "*.exe" files, that is not the whole thing. It used to be that you could just scan all of your files looking for a signature of malware, but that isn't much these days. It takes understanding of heuristics and knowing that a process is not doing something "normal".

So, I agree. Not only do we not sit around and do 'nothing', we have to reduce our risk as much as possible. Unfortunately, as many have pointed out over the years,, convenience and "useability" can go right out the window if you fortify yourself and your computer too much. The only safe way to operate a computer is to cut all the wires at the back especially, the power cord. The big deal here is to minimize your risk especially to people that are NOT tech-savvy or who may not be able to spot a phishing attempt. It is more about the risks these days than some executable erasing your hard drive.

All this is just my opinion so, if anyone disagrees, that is fine. I'm just trying to say is that today we move further away from executable file malware and into behavioral analysis, if that makes any sense.

Howie

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Well, I've noticed
by 4Denise / November 18, 2014 6:03 AM PST
In reply to: Yes and No

That people keep talking about how easy it is to get malware from the internet, but that is so far off the subject that it doesn't even matter. The original poster wants to know how to transfer his own personal files from one computer to a different computer without transferring malware in the process. That is not only possible, it is simple (although time consuming). As for keeping the new computer safe, that is another subject. I outline a simple way to transfer those files in my post above, and it works. I have done it for others many times.

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