9 Signs Your Computer Might Be Infected
Most people are not aware that nearly half of all home computers, which includes desktops and laptops, have some type of malicious software (known as malware) installed on them – often without the knowledge or consent of the computer’s owner or operator. This malware includes adware and spyware, of which the latter is the most harmful and the presence of which can, in extreme cases, cause your computer to stop functioning altogether.
Some types of spyware are not as harmful as others, doing little more than keeping track of your computer usage and internet browsing habits. Other spyware applications, however, are significantly more harmful and can modify settings, parameters, and variables of programs on your computer from your preferred internet browser to executable files that control computer applications. Even worse, destructive spyware programs can delete critical files that affect the functionality of the operating system.
An occasional glitch in the way your computer functions does not always mean a spyware or virus infection is present. If you notice operational behaviors that are unusual or cause your computer or programs to stop working the way they should, you should have your computer checked to make sure it is spyware free and there are no other potential threats that could cause temporary or permanent damage. Here are nine signs your computer may be infected with spyware or other harmful applications:
1. A slower computing speed is often a tell-tale sign that spyware or a virus is active on your computer. You may notice this through computer behaviours like programs taking longer to open or if files or other applications have a much slower loading time. While spyware, as mentioned, may not necessarily be inherently destructive, this type of issue with your computer could indicate the presence of a virus, which is almost always harmful.
2. Internet router or hard drive activity, when you are not actively using your computer or internet connection, can indicate a spyware infection. You can detect router or hard drive activity by observing the connectivity lights on your modem or router, the internet activity icon in your computer monitor’s system tray, or the hard drive’s processor activity light on your computer itself. If you have wireless internet service and have shared your access password with other people, internet router activity could simply mean that those people are using the internet. If you see activity when you aren’t using your computer and you know that no one else is using your internet service, your computer may have spyware that is communicating with its originator.
3. Changes to your internet browser’s home page can indicate the presence of spyware, especially if you have already adjusted the browser settings to open a specific home page when you open your browser. Known as ‘hijacking,’ the modification of your browser home page and redirection to a different web page is a more common attribute of spyware applications.
4. New items appearing in your list of bookmarks or favourite pages that were not added to the list by you or another authorised user of your computer may mean your computer has been infected with spyware. An even stronger indication of the presence of spyware is if these newly added items continue to reappear on your bookmarks or favourite page lists after you have manually deleted them.
5. Another browser-specific indicator of spyware is the addition of toolbar, menus, search bars, and other ‘features’ that appear on your internet browser. While many of these unauthorised function bars are essentially harmless, they are often added along with other spyware applications that could cause damage to other operational components of your computer.
6. Email messages or social media content that has been sent or posted without your knowledge is a strong indicator of spyware or a computer virus. Email messages created and distributed by spyware applications often contain automatically executable spyware or virus programs and will install themselves on the computers of the message recipients when they open the email.
7. Pop-up advertisements that appear when your internet browser is closed, you are not connected to the internet at all, or at a very rapid rate when you do have a browser window open can be a sign that spyware is infecting your computer. Keep in mind, however, that many companies use pop-up advertisements as part of their web page design to highlight certain features, products, or services without using web page space for the advertised information.
8. Warning windows that appear and caution you about computer security breaches or virus infections may indicate spyware, especially if they inform you of issues involving a program you are not familiar with or did not install on your computer. The most obvious sign that these warnings are part of a spyware or virus application is if they warn you about system security or anti-virus programs that are not the same as the programs regularly used on your computer.
9. A catastrophic operating failure, like the infamous ‘blue screen of death’ or other crashes involving your computer’s operating system or other programs can be a strong sign of an infection on your computer. In rare cases, these types of system failures are the cause of modifications to an essential file or program setting made by the user manually, but if you are sure that isn’t the case, you should have your computer inspected for potential problems.
If you have been a computer owner and user for quite some time, you may have already experienced the results of a spyware infection, virus, or other serious issues that have caused a total system failure or irreparable computer crash. These computer problems can be frustrating at best and devastating in worst-case scenarios because of the amount of valuable data you may have lost. Detecting potential problems as early as possible is the best way to minimise the risk of damage to your computer and the data it contains. If you notice any of the signs listed here, or others that may indicate a problem – big or small – with the functionality of your computer, don’t delay in having it inspected for the presence of spyware, adware, a virus, or other issues.