How can I scan and repair my PC when Windows won’t boot?

Gone are the days when hacking referred to ingenuous computer gurus who cared more about fixing computers than they did about wreaking havok.

Today hackers are crafty individuals who delight in exploiting computers to gain unauthorized data access. And contrary to prevailing opinions, Hackers aren’t basement dwelling geniuses living ascetic lives away from the world.

On the contrary, they’re more sophisticated and many cybercriminals don’t even look like crooks.

Some hackers match the reclusive, unshaven, hunchback stereotype; yet, others are less conventional.  There’s a faction of urbane hackers who are the antithesis of their loner peers.  These guys wear Brooks Brothers pants and frequent up-scale wine bars on the upper east side of Manhattan…

But you would never know.  Hackers are an eclectic breed and you can’t easily spot one like you could decades ago.

The girl sitting across from you in the coffee shop in the yellow Livestrong T-shirt and pink New Balance shoes could be furtively sniffing network traffic from her iPhone.

The guy on the train ride home rockin’ the Theory suit and Tom Ford shades could be marshaling an army of bots to launch a denial-of-service attack against a major e-commerce site.

The 12 year old prodigy in the back of the bus might be coordinating a nuclear missile strike with the Russians…

Hah, okay, I aggrandized that last one but my point is that cybercriminals abound; therefore, you shouldn’t be surprised when you hear about it on the news or become a victim yourself.

Unfortunately, when a hacker breaches your system sometimes it’s hard to ascertain the full scope of damage.  In addition, it’s possible that the aftermath of a virus bricks your computer preventing you from logging in to launch a scan.

If your hapless computer is so goobered that it can’t even boot into Windows then you need another way to get things going again. In this guide I’m going to give you four tips for scanning your computer and repairing it even when getting into Windows isn’t an option.

Check it out…

1. Try Safe Mode with Networking

Safe mode is Windows sans the crap.

It’s the most basic form of Windows so all superfluous software is disabled.  If we can boot Windows in safe mode then we may be able to detect and destroy viruses lurking on the system.

In Windows 7, you can enter safe mode by rebooting and incessantly pressing the F8 button before the Windows logo appears.  If you’re using Windows 8, the process is a little different; however, the idea is the same. Here’s a little trick to boot Windows 8 into Safe Mode:

  • Press the Windows Key + i
  • Click the Power button icon
  • Hold Shift and click Restart.

You may be tempted to remove your finger from the Shift key but just keep it there and after a few seconds the box will bounce and you’ll see a cerulean Blue Screen of Life (it’s not always the Blue Screen of Death you know)

On the Choose an option screen click Troubleshoot. (Sorry for the poor image quality here)

Windows 8.1 Choose an option: Pick Troubleshoot

Then click through to Advanced Options and Startup Settings.

Windows 8.1 Advanced Options, Startup Settings

Click the Restart button on the next screen then when the box reboots press the number 5 to load Windows in Safe Mode.

Windows 8.1 Startup Settings

Once you get into Safe Mode, I suggest throwing Malwarebytes, Windows Defender and Bitdefender Antivirus free on your computer and launch the full scans.

2. Laud Linux

I see two equally lamentable situations here:

  • The computer is FUBAR’d and won’t boot
  • The computer boots but is way too slow for use.

Working with a debilitated computer sucks; however, no reason to stay bereft of joy!

Geza Kovacs created a little program that downloads and extracts any Linux ISO to a USB drive and then automatically makes it bootable.

The tool is called UNetbootin (short for Universal Netboot Installer) and might be the panacea you need to fix your morose PC.

First, find a working computer then grab the latest UNetbootin build from Sourceforge and launch the app.

Now, pick your Linux Distro.  There are lots of options and Mint Linux is a perennial favorite; however, it really doesn’t matter which one you choose since we’re just using Linux to scan our PC for viruses.

I’m going with Ubuntu because I’m conversant with that flavor.

Using UNetBootin

Pick your USB drive from the bottom section then click OK.

Note: if you don’t format the USB drive before clicking OK, then when you reboot, you may see an arcane error message that looks like this:

initramfs mount: mounting /dev/loop0 on //filesystem.squashfs failed: Invalid Argument

Can not mount /dev/loop0 (/cdrom/casper/filsystem.squashfs) on //filesystem.squashfs

So please please format the USB drive before installing UNetbootin on it.  It’ll save you loads of frustration later.

Yeah, I learned the hard way – let’s get back to it…

UNetbootin Pick drive type

UNetbootin gets to work and immediately starts downloading your selected distro to a temporary location where it’ll extract the ISO to your USB drive.

Linux distros can be fairly large so I would estimate somewhere between an hour and 90 minutes for the download to complete.

As you can see, my Ubuntu download is almost a gig.

UNetbootin Downloading a Distro

Time to complete is contingent on your network connection; however, despite my zippy broadband connection, it took a insufferable 50 minutes to download.

Eventually, the files will extract to your USB drive.

This took about 5 minutes to start but then finished in seconds.

UNetbootin USB extraction

Next, the bootloader installs in a few seconds and then you’re done!

UNetbootin done

Click Reboot Now, make sure your USB drive is still plugged in and you should automatically boot to Linux.

If it doesn’t for some reason then you may need to press F2, F8 or Esc to enter the BIOS and tell your computer to boot to USB drives before the hard drive.

When Linux loads, you’ll want to install ClamAV so you can scan your Windows drive.

Don’t worry if you’re not a Linux genius, I’ll have you lookin’ like one in a few minutes.

Check this out:

In the Linux desktop press this key combo to pop open the Terminal:

ctrl + alt + t

When the terminal window opens type the following:

sudo apt-get install clamav clamtk

Linux wills start installing the ClamTK and ClamAV packages.  If it prompts you to install additional packages just type Y for yes and press enter.

ClamTK in Ubuntu Linux using package manager

By the way that sudo thing (also known as Switch user, do) is just Linux command that tells the computer to switch to the superuser with rights to execute any commands that follow.  XKCD has a hilarious web comic illustrating the glory of using Sudo.

That apt-get thingy is Ubuntu’s Advanced Packaging Tool (APT) which is just a fancy way for saying: I’m the application who installs your software.

The install command then provides two arguments.  The original ClamAV package which is a command-line only tool and the ClamTK package which builds a graphical user interface around it.

Now press Alt + F1 to kick open the Application Launcher.

Enter clamtk and click the ClamTK icon.

Incidentally, does anyone know why the the icon looks like a little Clam?  I know it’s called ClamTK but what’s up with that cute little clam and why is it being targeted by a sniper gun?

Hahah, okay now let’s not get too distracted.

Running ClamTK

Once the application loads press Ctrl + d to open the drive list.  Then you can find the Windows OS and scan away.

ClamTK Virus Scanner

3. Create a Rescue Disc

Hiren’s BootCD is revered by many techs as the acme of all boot CDs.  It’s an all-in-one-in-one super CD that contains every possible diagnostic tool you would ever need to get fix your computer.

Admittedly, there are reams of tools you’ll never use on that CD so if you want something a little more focused I suggest exploring the following tools:

One last thing, contrary to what some people say, I wouldn’t remove the infected hard drive and mount it in a working PC so you can scan it.  You may inadvertently infect the working PC by connecting the infected drive; therefore, I suggest using the bootable and rescue USB drives to fix the problem.

The Bottom Line

When malware disables your PC it can feel like the world is closing in on you but we can triumph amid the adversity.

When Safe Mode fails you we can Linux to boot the computer and eradicate viruses.  Thank God for these tools because honestly I don’t know what I would do without them.

The bad guys will always be out there infecting computers and fomenting problems; however, with a little patience and determination you can destroy your virsues and reclaim your PC.

If you’re running into any problems please share your thoughts in the comments below!  Maybe I, or someone in the community, can help you address it.

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Posted in Windows, Windows 7, Windows 8, Windows 8.1 Tagged with: , ,