Malware has the potential to affect almost any computer regardless of whether it’s a PC or Mac and regardless of what operating system you’re using. In case you aren’t familiar, malware is any type of software on your computer that was placed there with the intention of harming you, stealing your data, or otherwise exploiting your computer’s resources.
The trouble is, many types of malware have the potential to interfere with how your computer operates, but with your computer it may not be immediately obvious that it’s infected. If it is infected, you’ll want to remove the malware as soon as possible to avoid risking your personal information or compromising the performance of your computer any further. So how can you tell if you’re infected?
Signs Your Computer May Be Infected
Some types of malware make themselves immediately evident, like adware and ransomware. But regardless of what type of malware is affecting your machine, there are some common, subtle signs to watch for:
The most glaring issue is usually a slowdown on your machine. It will take longer than usual to launch a program, execute commands, or take action. You’ll notice delays between your inputs and the outputs you see onscreen. If your computer is getting old, this can happen gradually, but if you notice a sudden drop in performance overnight, it’s a sign you may be infected.
Annoying and unexpected ads
This is the hallmark sign of adware. If you see popup ads unexpectedly, like when you don’t even have a web browser open, it probably means your computer is infected.
If you’re using your computer at a reasonable capacity, but it suddenly crashes, you might consider the possibility that it’s been Again, if you have an older computer, this can also happen—so make sure you consider this possibility in the right context.
Higher internet traffic
Keep an eye on your internet traffic usage. If you notice your computers are using far more bandwidth than you’d ordinarily expect, it’s a good sign that there’s a program on your computer hogging those resources.
Unusual messages or a new homepage
Does your browser have a new homepage when you open it up? That’s usually a clear sign of infection. Strange messages can also be a sign of infection; if you receive a message or notification from an unfamiliar source, it could be coming from the malware on your computer. Also, if your contacts are getting strange messages from your email accounts, it’s a sign they could have been compromised (with or without malware assisting the breach).
Disabled security solutions (or admin functions)
Are you able to access your antivirus program? If not, it’s a possible sign you’ve been locked out by the malware. Malware may also be able to lock you out of your Control Panel or other administrative functions in order to protect itself. If this happens, your options are limited.
If you notice even one of these signs, there’s a good chance your computer is infected. However, your computer may also be infected without showing any of these signs at all.
Types of Malware
You should know that there are many different types of malware to watch for, each with different effects:
- Viruses in the world of computers infect files and spread much like they do in their disease form. They’re most often found in an .exe file that, once executed, can infect an entire computer in a matter of minutes.
- Trojans take their namesake from the Trojan horse; they often masquerade as perfectly legitimate files or software, but once downloaded and installed, they create backdoors that allow other malware to get in.
- Spyware is designed to spy on you—which shouldn’t be surprising. This malware is especially nefarious because it’s hard to notice, but it could be tracking your spending, your passwords, and even your communications.
- Worms are large-scale pieces of malware that affect whole networks, like a virus but on a wider platform.
- Ransomware is easy to spot; it locks up your computer, making it practically impossible to use. Typically, it demands a payment to its originator to release the computer from its grasp.
- Adware is designed to serve you ads as aggressively as possible, usually in the form of pop-ups. Accordingly, this type of malware is also easy to spot.
- Your computer can also be recruited as part of a botnet; in these attacks, multiple devices are coordinated to execute a task, like mining for cryptocurrency or launching a DDoS attack.
If your computer is infected with malware, what can you do to remove it and maintain malware protection?
- The answer will vary slightly depending on your computer and the nature of the malware. For example, you can remove malware on your Mac by manually deleting a problematic program, file, or process (assuming you can catch it on your own). You can also use a specific antivirus or anti-malware program to hunt down and remove the source of the problem. On a PC, you may be able to hunt down the location of the malware with a scanner designed to look for malware (malware scanner program); from there, you may be able to delete it yourself or remove it with your antivirus software.
- In some cases, the malware may lock up your system to the point where it can’t be removed by an antivirus program. If that’s the case, you’re best off taking your device to a professional for malware removal.
Fortunately, there are also many strategies you can use to avoid getting malware and set up malware protection in the first place. You can start by refusing to download anything (including email attachments) unless it’s a file from a source that you trust. Most malware infections come from infected attachments, zip files, or other files that people intentionally download, failing to recognize them as a potential threat. You can also ensure up-to-date malware protection by keeping your firewall and antivirus program active and up-to-date. Conduct system scans using your anti-malware program/s and a malware scanner program regularly to remain in peak operating condition.
That said, even with best practices in place, it’s possible to face a malware infection. Remain vigilant and take action proactively using anti-malware techniques if you want your computer to stay in good shape.