You’ve probably read about all kinds of threats to your computer, including viruses, spyware, ransomware, “Trojan horses,” and more (collectively called “malware,” or “malicious software”). How do you know if your system has fallen victim to a virus or malware? These malicious programs slow down your computer’s performance and potentially threaten your security. Here are five signs that you could have a virus or malware.
1. It’s slow.
Not all computer speed problems are due to malware. Older computers will generally run more slowly as they struggle to run current programs and applications (costing you time and money in lost productivity). Resource-heavy programs or applications, a lack of RAM (a kind of memory that stores program information to improve overall speed), a fragmented system, lack of space on your hard drive, or other hardware issues can also be the cause of a slow system. However, malware can cause an up-to-date, well-appointed system to lag and drag like it’s ready for the recycle pile.
How can you tell whether your slowdown is a malware issue? Check for programs you didn’t intentionally install, which may have hitched a ride on legitimate software or which you may accidentally have authorized by clicking “yes” while installing another program. Also, make sure you know what virus protection software you use, including its name and icon, so you recognize it. Many fake antivirus programs will try to mislead you with totally bogus claims that your system is infected with malware, when in fact, those programs ARE the malware!
2. You see suspicious pop-ups.
Nowadays, pop-up ads are ubiquitous and virtually impossible to fully block, even if you use a top-notch ad blocking program. Malicious ads, however, generally stand out from annoying but harmless commercial pop-ups. They tend to have distinct characteristics, like
- Claims that you’ve won something
- Overly aggressive wording
- Poor grammar, punctuation, or spelling
- Catastrophic warnings about viruses, system issues, or other problems
- Unsolicited prompts to update or install programs
Some popups are legitimate notifications from your existing programs, letting you know that an optional update is available or that your anti-virus software is running a scan, for example. If you are unsure whether a pop-up is legitimate, the safest course of action is just to close it by clicking on the “X” in the corner.
3. Your system is crashing.
When most people refer to their computer "crashing," they’re usually describing a severe symptom such as the computer failing to completely and correctly boot up. When this happens, it is usually accompanied by an error message during the boot-up process (like the “blue screen of death," pictured at right). One of the most common causes of a crash is hard drive failure, which is a process that can occur very rapidly or more slowly over a period of time. Although crashes are most commonly caused by faulty hardware or software, they can also be caused by malware. In either case, however, a true crash is a serious issue that needs professional help to avoid more severe damage or data loss.
4. Your protection software is disabled or not working.
In order to protect yourself against malware, viruses, and spyware, it’s absolutely vital to run a quality antivirus program—and keep it updated. An antivirus program not only scans your computer and removes malware that has made it onto your computer, but more importantly, it can prevent your computer from becoming infected. Microsoft Security Essentials is a good basic antivirus program that is free to anyone with a genuine Microsoft operating system (download your copy here). MalwareBytes Premium is an excellent companion program to help prevent more advanced issues.
Make sure you know what protection software is installed and running on your machine, and pay attention to any messages from it. Most antivirus software automatically updates, but you may receive occasional messages such as those asking you to renew your subscription or update to a new version of the software. If you don’t do so, your computer will not be protected! Some malware can actually disable antivirus software, too, so it's a good idea to check in occasionally and make sure it’s running as intended. If you’re suspicious of or don’t know how to respond to a message that appears to come from an antivirus program, or if you want to make sure you’re protected, contact an IT professional.
5. Your programs are different.
If you notice that your programs look different (new toolbars, strange windows appearing in the boot process, etc.) they may have automatically updated—or you may have acquired some malware. If you’ve noticed changes in how much data your programs are uploading or downloading, if windows open and close automatically for no reason, or if you notice any other significant deviations from how you expect them to perform, get your system checked out immediately. These issues may not be related to malware: for example, legitimate upgrades to programs can result in performance problems and glitches, especially if your operating system or hardware is a few years old—but it’s a good idea to have an IT professional take a look.
These five signs are not exclusively signs of malware—they can be signs of other problems too. Many minor issues become major issues—requiring professional help—simply due to users ignoring their computers’ cries for help! Don’t make that mistake. Contact the IT professionals at Dymin to schedule in-home computer repair services in the Des Moines metro area, or come visit us at our Urbandale showroom for fast, economical in-store PC computer repair services, virus and spyware removal, and advice on optimizing your system performance.