Some time ago, news broke that the U.S. government had plans to destroy up to $3 million worth of computers. In fact, they had already destroyed thousands of dollars of computers by the time the story came out.
Why were they doing it? Because of a malware infection.
I get the question, “Should I just throw it out?” due to malware more often than you think. It’s the knee-jerk reaction of someone who has a machine that is fairly infected and feels utterly hopeless about getting it cleared up again.
But I want to be very clear about something. There is never, ever a reason to destroy hardware because of malware.
Malware is never that bad
Depending on the severity of the malware, junking the computer and getting a brand new one may seem like the best solution to some people.
And by its very definition, software can be removed.
Now, the techniques to get rid of malware may be draconian, extreme, and a lot of work. The worst-case scenario is that you erase everything on your hard drive and reinstall Windows, all your applications, and your data.
But that scenario does not involve getting a new computer or destroying the old one. The computer itself is just fine. The computer is hardware. Malware is software, and you can erase and replace software.
Who should know better
In my opinion, junking government computers is the absolute pinnacle of idiocy when it comes to understanding technology. The IT department responsible for that should absolutely know better. We expect more from our government agencies.
You never need to destroy hardware because of a malware infection. You simply get rid of the malware.
And yes, the word “simply” in that is a misnomer. This process includes some time-consuming steps, like reformatting and reinstalling the operating system, but in the end, that’s all that it takes.
: OK, ok, for all the pedants: never say never. In theory, malware could do something to destroy hardware. Malware that targeted nuclear facilities, for example, would target a control system to physically destroy it. Even so, the PCs involved were unharmed. Unless your PC is exceptionally poorly designed, malware will not physically harm your computer.
Originally published as My Computer Is Infected with Malware. Should I Just Throw It Out? on Ask Leo!
Leo Notenboom has been programming computers since 1976, and answering questions about them online since 2003. For more, see askleo.com.