I recently built a new PC with windows 10 and I was recovering some pictures from an old hard drive that I had in one of my PCs from about 13 - 15 years ago. The hard drive has just been sitting in a drawer for about 13 years. When I was transferring the one of the user folders windows defender said there were a few viruses named


I'm assuming these viruses were from the limewire folder that quite a few downloads. But I was concerned there may be more viruses that weren’t detected.

Should I format my PC or do you think the viruses are too old to worry about?


You'd have enough problems trying to get a legitimate 13 year old program to run, much less a malicious program. While it's certainly possible that malware remains that can infect your current computer after all those years, it's not likely going to be able to cause much damage. Back then, malware could rely on the assumption that the computer would run it with high privileges, allowing it to do anything it wants, such as writing directly to the hard drive. Nowadays, malware is run under a much more limited context.

Regardless, as long as you don't actually execute the malware, you should be fine. Don't run any programs that you see lying around from 13 years ago. You aren't going to get infected simply by transferring some files over unless you have some particularly advanced malware in there. Even advanced malware relying on exploits is unlikely to be able to succeed, as the security techniques Microsoft has employed has changed and been improved drastically since the malware was written.


Are the viruses too old to worry about?

No, they can still be a problem. Except, I guess, in the incredibly unlikely event they use old 16-bit code and you are using an edition of Windows with no 16-bit compatibility, they can still technically run, and virus code is often simple enough that it doesn't have too many dependencies on specific libraries so there is a decent chance it'll run on a future version of Windows.

That said, there are some tricks in modern Windows that can make them less likely to be effective:

  • Firstly, Windows now comes with a virus scanner and malware detector, so it's more likely to be detected.
  • Windows' user account control means that most software is now run with limited ability to modify the system unless you pass a prompt.
  • Viruses may sometimes target vulnerabilities in software that has since been patched.

But all this doesn't mean you can ignore them or that they can't cause harm - you still should try to make sure you have no viruses on disk, whether dormant or executing, whether they still actually work or not, to be safe.

Should I format my PC?

The problem with formatting everything and starting again is that presumably there is data on that drive you want to keep. This is a problem with old hard drives and even media like CD-ROMs with backup data on them - they can contain old viruses too.

A reasonable strategy would be to try and disinfect the drive using the methods available in your antivirus suite. Make sure all your software (including things like Microsoft Office) are up to date including security patches, and you don't accept any security prompts you don't understand when opening documents.

  • " you are using an edition of Windows with no 16-bit compatibility," - that is any 64-bit version of Windows, so anyone using more than 4G RAM is safe. – Martin Bonner Jan 23 at 9:56
  • Only from a theoretical virus from the 16-bit era, ie virtually no viruses. I was using that as an example of something that would be very unlikely to be the case. Sorry if this was unclear. – thomasrutter Jan 23 at 13:06

I was recovering some pictures

If all you copied are pictures, you are safe. Don't worry about anything.

But I was concerned there may be more viruses that weren’t detected.

That's a possibility, so don't execute any program you have on that old HDD. Back in that time, lots of programs on Limewire were infected with something, but today's antivirus programs can detect most of them. Most, not every single one.

do you think the viruses are too old to worry about?

Unless the viruses are MS-DOS accessing hardware direct, or targeting old Outlook, or things like that, a virus can execute even today. So save your pictures, music, and don't execute any program there.

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