Our customers occasionally call us with questions about a virus or malware they've heard about. They want to make sure their computer hasn't been compromised, but they aren't sure what symptoms to look for.
We designed this article to help you determine if your computer has been compromised. Some malware is easy to recognize, such as the pop-up warning message that appears to come from the FBI below.
But not all viruses are this recognizable. Some lurk behind the scenes, and you may not notice something is wrong for months or even years. These less conspicuous can be especially harmful because they tend to capture personal information such as your bank acount. Here are 7 signs that a virus may have infiltrated your computer:
MoneyPac Scam: If you see this warning, you've got malware.
1. Odd programs show up system tray or installed programs – Malware will often automatically launch itself when you reboot your computer, and sometimes these extra applications will show up in the system tray. This is common when programs piggy-back on other products during install. If you don’t pay attention, you can end up with extra junk on your system. This is especially common if you try to download movies over the internet from nefarious websites and those movies turn out to be infected video codecs. It’s never a bad idea to occasionally check the list of installed programs on your computer to make sure something didn’t sneak itself on to your computer.
Do you see any programs on your PC that you didn’t install?
2. Your computer is very slow and takes a long time to boot – This is a common symptom of a PC that’s been infected with a virus. If your computer normally took about a minute to boot up but now takes 3+ minutes, that could mean you’ve been infected.
3. Your modem or disks are working overtime – Some types of malware use your computer to send out SPAM during the middle of the night when you're less likely to notice.
4. Incessant pop-up ads – Unless you’ve enabled pop-up blocking in your browser, you’ll likely see an occasional pop-up ad. But when you’re getting multiple pop-ups at the same time you may have a virus. Some of these pop-up are very clever in how they look and what they say. “A Virus Was Detected” is a common phrase used by malware to entice the user to install software they don’t want. Below is an example of a pop-up disguised as a Windows security alert. Clicking on the first option installs malware on your PC.
Bogus security alert.
5. Programs stop working – Some malware will lock the user out of most programs and even disable your anti-virus program. If more than a couple of program won't launch, you've likely caught something.
6. Your browser's Home Page or Default Search Engine has changed – This is very common with malware today where they change your home page and search engine without your approval. Here’s an example of a user who had his homepage and search engine changed to service called Mysearchproperties. Also, if your computer sends you to websites you didn’t search for that’s also a sign of trouble.
7. Your computer crashes or you’ve lost access to the internet – Malware authors know if they block access to the internet, it's less likely you'll be able to locate a solution. This is especially frustrating.
These are some of the most popular symptoms that you might have a virus. But recognizing your computer has been infected and removing the virus are two different matters. At Puget Systems, we usually recommended reinstalling your operating systems because it’s the only way to insure all malware remnants have been removed. It’s not uncommon for malware to go dormant for months leaving the user to feel as though everything is fine, only to show up and cause issues later. Beware quick-fix solutions.
If you suspect you've caught a computer virus the best thing you can do is turn off your computer and seek expert help.
Some websites will tell you to lock-down your PC using a firewalll, or update your operating system or use some magic utility to remove the virus. These well intentioned suggestions can actually make things worse. Turn off your computer and take it to an expert.