10 Symptoms of Computer Viruses
Viruses and malware
Infection by a virus or other malware is every computer user’s number one nightmare. If your computer is taken over by malware the consequences can be devastating. Although not all malware is lethal, the worst examples can speedily destroy your valuable data, hijack your personal details and render your computer unusable, leaving you with a massive – and potentially expensive – mess to sort out. Even if you’re a careful computer user, the risk is ever-present. You only have to open one unsafe email attachment or click on one dangerous internet link for everything to come crashing down.
The good news is that although cybercriminals are clever, you can make life much harder for them if you’re alert to the threats that are out there and can read the signs. Some viruses can strike suddenly and with huge destructive force, but others are more subtle. They lurk in the background, leaving you none the wiser that anything’s wrong. This means that they can carry on doing their nasty work over time. If you’re clued up on the signs that your computer has contracted a virus, you can at least detect the problem early on and nip it in the bud.
Let’s start with a quick introduction to what these cyber threats are. Malware is a general term for all malicious software. Viruses and worms are the best known type of malware, and both can not only wreck your system but also spread at every possible opportunity. Spyware does what it says on the tin: it spies on you in order to gather sensitive information such as personal details, including financial data and passwords. This can be done with a keylogger, which does exactly what the name suggests: it logs every keystroke you make, so nothing is private. It can also monitor your computer and internet usage and identify vulnerabilities in your computer system. Adware is another common threat, which uses advertisements to reel you in before tracking the websites you visit and collecting marketing-type information without your consent. Ransomware takes control of your computer and holds it hostage. All of them can cause you a whole lot of trouble.
Are you infected? How to read the signs
Some of the indications that your computer has become infected are relatively easy to identify, if you know what to look for. So if you experience any of the following, consider whether it could be malware causing the problem.
Too many pop-ups
Pop-up boxes, usually in the form of ads or notifications, aren’t always sinister and many websites generate them. Even if they’re not dangerous they can be annoying, and so most browsers allow you to disable or block them (check your browser’s settings and/or tools options). If you’ve done that and you’re still seeing weird pop-ups, or if you’re getting lots of them when you boot up, or if they appear even when your browser is closed, that’s a red light. It’s time to suspect malicious adware.
Because we’ve become accustomed to pop-up ads, it’s tempting to just click on the ‘x’ symbol to get rid of the box. That’s fine with legitimate adware but, with its evil relative, even clicking the ‘x’ can be a way to let a virus in. It’s not worth taking chances. If you know the name of the adware program then you might be able to simply uninstall it, but cunningly designed malware is best removed with a dedicated tool.
It’s not just pop-up ads that you need to be wary of. Other pop-up windows are also used by cybercriminals. You might see an error message of some kind. It could be legitimate, and the temptation is always to click on it for further information – but this action in fact gives the go-ahead for malicious software to be installed.
It’s common for computers to get slower over time as you install more programs, space fills up and the system uses more memory. But it can also be a sign of a malware infection. If you’ve got adequate RAM (random access memory) and you haven’t overstocked your hard drive, it could be that there’s malicious software using extra memory and resources. This will be apparent both during boot-up (as the malware loads up and starts doing its work) and when you’re up and running.
Unusual system activity
Another sign that something may be amiss is if your hard drive is working away even when you’re not doing anything or actively running any programs. If your hard drive is spinning round and making a noise when your computer is inactive, it can be cause for concern.
Viruses don’t just operate within your system. They use your internet connection to relay data back to the con artists, so if you can see internet activity when there shouldn’t be any that’s another warning sign of something suspicious potentially going on.
Knowing a bit about how your computer is set up is always useful. It’s worth keeping tabs on how much storage space you have remaining on your hard drive, because any sudden decrease in available space could mean that something has been installed covertly without your knowledge. It’s also helpful if you know what’s normally there and where things are usually stored, because malware often messes with your files. It may delete them, move them or even lock them up so you can’t access them. A basic knowledge of your system and the way it’s organized will be invaluable if you need to check whether anything has been meddled with.
Freezing, crashing and error messages
Is your computer suddenly misbehaving? Bad behavior includes freezing, strange error messages and full-on system crashes. Of course, these problems can be caused by all sorts of things, but while you’re trying to pinpoint the cause, always bear in mind that malware or a virus could be to blame. It may be possible to narrow down the problem by observing what programs you’re running at the time.
Problems with your web browser can also indicate that you’ve fallen foul of a virus. Is your browser unusually slow? Does it send you to odd websites that you wouldn’t normally ever consider visiting? Has your home page changed without you changing it yourself? These are all signs of a possible cyber-invasion.
Problems with email
Infiltrating your email account is a favourite way for hackers and cybercriminals to spread viruses. Friends and contacts may receive emails that purport to be from you (but definitely aren’t). You may have even had the surreal experience of receiving emails yourself that claim to be from you. That’s a sure sign there’s an issue. Email programs typically send suspicious messages straight to spam, where they will be deleted after a specified time – usually 30 days. So you don’t miss any warning signs, it’s always worth occasionally checking your spam folder for messages like this (just don’t open them!).
System protection isn’t working correctly
Most of us now know that our best line of defense is firewall protection and antivirus software. Normally this runs smoothly and effectively in the background and we never think twice about it. If you experience problems loading or running these protections, be suspicious. It could be a virus designed to interfere with your computer’s security measures so it can operate freely.
Unlike some of the signs that you have malware on your computer, ransomware is impossible to miss. You suddenly become unable to use any of the controls on your computer. Lockscreen viruses do much the same thing on Android phones, rendering all functions unusable. You are helpless. Then, as panic sets in, a message pops up…
It might tell you that it’s because you’ve been infected with a virus, and that you can resolve it right now by paying for the cure. It could pretend to be from a law enforcement agency, informing you that you’ve visited an illegal website and must pay a fine to recover your system. It could even tell you that your files have been encrypted and bluntly demand that you pay x amount to restore normality. Worse, some ransomware of this kind actually does encrypt your files, and it can be impossible to decrypt them. Beware – paying up doesn’t mean that the crooks will actually fix the problem for you. You will likely be invited to click the message for further information. Don’t do it. It will almost certainly just make things worse.
Computers can malfunction in all sorts of ways. You may have an antivirus program running and a firewall in operation. That’s smart – but you’re never 100% safe from malware and viruses, so don’t assume that your computer isn’t vulnerable.
How to remove viruses and malware from an infected PC
If you think you have a virus, don’t hesitate. Assume the worst. If you’re not confident, it’s worth calling a professional. For larger networks or more complex infrastructure, let the expert technicians at Quikteks Tech Support take care of your malware removal needs. Here’s how to proceed.
Disconnect your computer from the internet
This is essential damage limitation, to stop the virus spreading and any further data transfer from your computer to third parties.
Reboot into Safe Mode
What this does is load up just the basic programs needed for the system to run. Malware attached to programs on your computer is often launched when you boot up, so this action will limit the opportunities for a virus or other invader to start working. The instructions will vary depending on your operating system, but here’s how to do it in Windows 10:
• Click the Start button and Select the ‘Power’ option. Then select ‘Restart’ and click it while simultaneously holding down the Shift key. A menu will appear. Choose ‘Troubleshooting’, then ‘Advanced options’ and then ‘Startup settings’. It will then bring up a ‘Restart’ option. Select it, and you’ll then see a number of startup options. Choose ‘Safe Mode’ (number 4) or, if you’re part of a network, ‘Safe Mode with Networking’ (number 5).
• Run ‘Disk cleanup’ to get rid of temporary files. Not only will this speed up your system but it might even get rid of some malware files. The easiest way to do this is just to enter ‘Disk cleanup’ in the Windows search box.
Now you’re ready to get rid of any malware that’s on your computer. If you don’t have antivirus software installed now is definitely the time to get some. If you do, and you’ve still got (or suspect) a virus, it’s a good idea to use a different programme to scan for malware, because your standard software clearly hasn’t picked up the problem.
Some of the dedicated programs that are generally regarded as high quality and effective include Malwarebytes, Kaspersky Virus Removal Tool, Malwarebytes, Microsoft’s Malicious Software Removal Tool, Avast, BitDefender Free Edition and SuperAntiSpyware. You might be wondering how you’re going to download these when we’ve already told you to disconnect from the internet. It’s fine to connect again to download your malware scanner – just remember to disconnect again afterwards. If your computer is so disabled by a virus that you can’t even download the software, you’ll have to make a plan to download it elsewhere, put it on a flash drive or disk and run it that way. To get an idea of what’s involved, PC World has provided an excellent example of what to do using Malwarebytes
If you’re lucky, running the scan will do the job, remove infected files and restore your system to its former good health and performance. Unfortunately, sometimes it’s more complicated. It all depends on how the malware or virus got into your system in the first place. For example, you may need to check your web browser. If that was the where the malware lodged, then it may have altered your settings. In particular, check your homepage settings.
Reinstall your operating system
If you’re unlucky, your operating system (OS) could have been corrupted by the malware. That may require reinstalling Windows (or whichever system you use). This is a fairly drastic step, and needs to be done with care. It will wipe your hard drive, so make sure you’ve backed up everything to a flash drive (or the cloud). If your computer is malfunctioning so badly that even this is impossible, you can use a Live CD to retrieve them.
As well as your ordinary files, you should also back up your settings for your email program, using the ‘export’ command. Drivers for your devices will also disappear. You may have the original disks, or the device drivers can be downloaded from the internet, but backing them up will save you time and hassle down the line. For Windows, PC World recommends Hirens Boot CD (HBCD) if you need a live CD for backing up and DoubleDriver to back up device drivers.
Now you’re ready to reinstall Windows. There are three ways you can do this.
• If you got an operating system disk when you acquired the computer you can use that. However, many computers now come without one, but you do have other options
• Download the OS from the Microsoft website
• Use the factory restore setting. There are a couple of ways to do this. Open the Windows search bar and search for ‘Reset. Then choose the ‘Reset this PC’ option. Alternatively, you can bring up a pop-up ‘Settings’ men by pressing the Windows key + X at the same time. Go to ‘Update and Security’ and choose the ‘Recovery’ option.>h4>Staying safe in the future
Once you’ve recovered your system – and your peace of mind – you will be determined to avoid all the hassle that malware has caused you. Here are some of the measures you can take.
• Install a reputable antivirus program that works in real time (that means that it’s constantly checking for incoming threats). The ideal program will be really good at catching malware and viruses, won’t be a drain on your system resources and will have a user-friendly interface.
There are plenty of free versions that will work well, including BitDefender Antivirus Free Edition and Avira Antivirus Free Edition. For more heavy duty antivirus protection, you can opt to buy one, with prices starting at about $50. Well-known brands include Norton, Kaspersky, AVG and McAfee. PC World has reviewed some of the best antivirus programs here.
• Make sure your firewall is on and that your operating system and programs on your computer are updated. Many updates are devised specifically to deal with emerging cyber-threats.
• Check your online accounts to see if they’re secure. That would include accounts linked to your personal and financial data, including your email and social networking accounts. Change your passwords, because malware may have captured your existing ones.
• If the data on your computer is automatically backed up, set your AV program to scan the back-ups. Backing up can inadvertently save malware and you don’t want to re-infect your system all over again.
• If you feel you’re at risk of encountering dangerous websites then you can install extra measures to protect yourself. OpenDNS offers free packages for home users, providing content filtering (for example, to block ‘adult content’ sites) and phishing protection. You can also operate your system in sandbox mode. What this does is allow programs or code that might be untrustworthy to run in a kind of virtual quarantine, so it’s not a threat to the device as a whole. Again, there are free programs available for you to install, such as Sandboxie.