I have an old laptop that I've been using since high school, and for a long time I wasn't careful with how I used it. Namely, I shared USBs with friends and teachers for assignments and presentations, installed (fairly popular) game mods that contained .dll files, and other members of my family used the laptop for internet browsing too.

I kept backups of my important files in external drives (and later, google drive), and the laptop didn't have any visible issues during its life.

Now I plan to retire the old laptop and get a new one, it occurred to me (I grew a bit more paranoid recently) that maybe I should make sure I don't pass anything possibly malicious from my old laptop to a new one, before I try to transfer files.

My old laptop behaves normally (other than that Microsoft defender scans get stuck sometimes, which is apparently a common issue, other AVs work normally and return a clean bill of health), but maybe I can take some extra precautions before transferring files from it to another machine?

The files I plan to transfer are mostly pdfs, docs, tex, and some are Matlab, python, R, or Mathematica scripts. I can't upload them to VirusTotal because some of them contain my personal information.

My current plan is to save the files into (maybe a couple) external drives and let them sit for a couple years and hope that whatever possible malicious code sitting there won't be able to compromise newer systems. Does that sound like a reasonable plan, for files that I want to keep but don't need to access in the short term?

  • So, you are looking for solutions beyond Anti-virus? I'm a little uncertain about what success looked like for you in all this. Do you want to verify the backups? Scan the backups, or know if "letting them sit for 2 years" is enough?
    – schroeder
    Commented Feb 13, 2023 at 9:22
  • @schroeder The backups are reported to be clean when I'm scanning it on the current computer, but the computer's OS could've been compromised (although I don't know the likelihood of that happening when the computer behaves normally), and I don't have other machines to run a scan from a "known good" source just yet. If "letting them to sit for 2 years" sounds like a good plan, I'll go with it.
    – Tunes_K
    Commented Feb 13, 2023 at 9:29

1 Answer 1


The better option is to use an AV "Live USB". You boot off it and it scans all your drives. It does not depend on the OS or the AV installed on the machine.

This is still only a single AV engine, and not a collection, like VirusTotal provides, but it does mean independent scanning.

Placing the files in an archive that doesn't get touched for a couple years is a good strategy, but it can't be your sole strategy. The probability is that whatever viruses might be on your computer will become well-known enough that the AV in 2 years time will be able to spot it better, and any exploits the viruses use, if any, will be patched by current software versions at that time.

  • Thanks! I cannot upvote just yet, so will say thank you in a comment.
    – Tunes_K
    Commented Mar 6, 2023 at 16:35

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