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Regardless of whether you already have anti-virus and/or spyware and/or anti-malware applications running, you might be tipped off to the possibility of intruders by your computer slowing down in general, or specifically when you go online. The symptoms of malware are many and varied, but a general rule of thumb is to assume you have an intruder if your computer isn't behaving the way it usually does. Never assume that the protective software you've already got running will trap everything, or even warn you that you might be infected.

HijackThis (one word) isn't a virus or trojan or spyware though, even if it sounds like that. In fact it's entirely the opposite, an application to help you hunt down unwelcome visitors which might have installed themselves on your Windows PC. It's an essential tool for anyone working in this area and it's very widely known and used worldwide. It's free, and it's simple and quick to use. The only problem is, unless you've got a good to expert understanding of how your computer works and can read the log file that HijackThis creates, all you'll see as a result of running HijackThis is a few pages of meaningless jargon.

HijackThis doesn't fix anything or alter anything. Its job is only to analyze what's happening on your computer, and then produce a log file showing what it's discovered. Generally speaking, almost every entry in the file will be fine and may be ignored, as you'll have many background programs running that are safe and necessary, but it may also reveal some unwelcome guests. So the next step is to find out what to do with that log file, and this is the site you should go to first.

There is a substantial international community supporting HijackThis, and a great deal of data has been collected over many years which may be used to identify which items in a log file are safely ignored and which are not. All you need to do is run HijackThis, which takes only seconds, copy the contents of the log file, go to this page and paste those contents in. Clicking "Analyze" will produce a report showing which items are suspicious. You may then act on that information by deleting applications and removing processes yourself, or, as most people do, take that information to one of many tech support websites and have someone there help you out. Often, they'll just ask for the HijackThis log file without the analysis, but it's still good for you to learn what that log file means for yourself. Then, eventually, you don't have to rely on other people's opinions, however educated they appear to be.

You may download the HijackThis application from Trend Micro:

or Google for hijackthis and pick from one of many other download sources. Just don't use the most obvious one,, as it isn't what it appears to be and has a reputation for phishing and distributing malware. There is no "home" address for HijackThis now, other than the one at Trend Micro.

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