Six Telling Signs of a Virus Infection
The Internet has its uses, but the preponderance of online activities is also exposing you to malware and other potentially unwanted programs (or PUPs). While you can take steps to protect your gadgets from infections, the risks posed by PUPs are never really going to go away. So, even though you actively keep your machines safe from online threats, you’ll still be better off knowing the telltale signs of a virus infection. Prevention remains the best medicine, but in cases where a device is already infected the needed cure can only come after a timely and accurate diagnosis.
The following list collects six observable symptoms of a malware infection. While not exhaustive, this article will nonetheless give you a clear picture of how a compromised computer behaves.
1. Reduced Processing Speed
A slow machine can point to many problems unrelated to malware and other PUPs. PCs and other personal computing devices running incompatible software will naturally encounter glitches while processing information, for example. Misaligned system settings, out-of-date hardware and peripherals, and gunk in the form of old or unused programs can also cause your computer to slow down.
Still, nothing causes more headaches than a virus infection, so you should at once suspect and look for any type of malware when your machine freezes, crashes, or slows down. A sluggish PC may signify a PUP working in the background. A laptop that resets without warning may suggest a malware that’s repurposing computing and bandwidth resources without authorization. Every activity that circumvents default system settings will naturally add to (or even crowd out) legitimate device operations, so always pay attention to your machine’s processing speed.
2. Self-Starting Programs
Bypassing standard controls is a common PUP tactic. Thus, when a program launches repeatedly without your say-so, chances are you have an infected computer.
The self-starting software is often not just the malware itself. A PUP can hijack your machine’s default browser or PDF reader, for example. Hackers and other online crooks routinely point users to enticing scams by taking control of vulnerable proprietary programs and other conventional device resources. The malware itself often operates undetected.
3. Inexplicable Dialog Boxes and Other Unexpected On-Screen Messages
Pop-ups are annoying as they are, but watch out for unexpected dialog boxes and other on-screen messages that appear out of the blue. Some PUPs make use of pop-ups not only to grab your attention, but also to get you to participate in scams and other phishing activities.
In particular, you should be wary of suspicious on-screen messages that warn of a virus infection. Fake contamination notices are the bread and butter of scareware (malicious programs that employ scare tactics to force users into buying or downloading useless or harmful products) and ransomware (illegal programs that limit access to infected systems until the malware creator is paid in a particular currency). The effects of cryptoviral extortion and other rogue software scams are notoriously hard to mitigate, but hope still lies in early detection and sound precautionary measures.
4. Surprising Browser Changes
Because your browser is often the only thing standing between you and the Internet, many malicious software specifically target programs like Chrome and Firefox. Browser-specific malware typically introduce in-browser adjustments that aim to promote (or redirect you to) certain for-profit resources that are often useless, unsolicited, or harmful to your computer.
The changes are almost always made without your knowledge or permission (in some cases, a malicious software will load fake certificates to get your approval). Many malware will modify your homepage settings to lead you to a phishing site or a bogus promotion. Other PUPs will surreptitiously add toolbars to your browser to trick you into using certain online properties. Some malicious programs will even directly and openly take control of the address bar to transfer you to an attack site. Retyping the URL won’t help. Using another browser in the same machine will usually just perpetuate the same problematic cycle.
In most cases, browser-specific contamination requires the removal of both the malware and the infected browser. Uninstalling all browsers is even recommended in situations where the contaminated device has two or more HTML-type programs.
5. Offline Advertisements
Users are generally turned off by offline ads. After all, offline advertisement is often deployed using intrusive spam tactics. Thus, mainstream companies that want to strengthen their Internet campaigns typically pay for online-only placements.
While in-software announcements are common, seeing ads on your screen while you’re not connected to the Internet is usually an indicator of an infection. Adware, a type of malware designed to load ads minus the Internet, is especially rampant.
6. Stretched Hardware Resources
PUPs often repurpose an infected machine’s capabilities to further the malware owner’s aims. For example, your device’s computing power can be utilized without your permission to harvest passwords or crack security codes. Without your say-so, your system’s bandwidth resources can be used for automated queries or mass email distribution. Some malicious programs can even add your PC to an illegal network of remotely accessible drones. Pulling together many systems allows hackers to swamp large websites or take down highly secured intranet schemes.
Because they facilitate the exploitation of system resources, PUPs that make use of the capabilities of infected devices seldom make changes that directly damage the physical unit. They don’t typically wipe your hard drive or lock your screen, for instance. Thus, detecting malware of this sort is extremely difficult without the aid of security programs.
Nonetheless, you can still look out for manifest signs of an infection. Pay attention to your system’s hardware components, in particular. Is your hard drive overworked? Is your modem handling an unusual number of requests? Check your CPU usage (often rendered in percentages). Assess your Internet account’s data load. A malicious program might be taxing your computing and connection provisions without your knowledge.
You should meet all suspicious system operations with immediate and decisive action. When you come across an unknown, unwanted, or abnormally active program, run your machine’s security suite at once. Perform a thorough scan, and then isolate and remove the offending software along with all contaminated files that can’t be repaired or recovered. Awareness and appropriate countermeasures will help you contain the problem and avoid further complications.