Since the dawn of the Digital Age, malware has been a threat to those using digital devices. PCs are prone to malware because they have long been the most common digital tools, and even today, PC users suffer about 83 percent of malware attacks. Unfortunately, you can install antivirus software and apply appropriate cyber hygiene, and you still might succumb to a malware infection.
Knowing what malware looks like on your PC is the first step to keeping your device and data safe. Here are the most common signs your PC is suffering from a malware attack, and what you can do if it is:
Your Computer Is Slow
Poor performance is usually the result of processes running in the background, taking up more than their share of memory. Sometimes, these processes merely accumulate over time, and increasing your processing speed is merely a matter of cleaning up your RAM and hard drive. You can use a free PC cleaner to make quick work of this task. If the slow speeds and crashing continues after you clean out your files, there is a chance that your PC is old and worn out — but if you know that isn’t the case, then it is possible that malware is the culprit.
You Are Locked Out
A type of malware called ransomware locks users out of their devices and data and demands a ransom payment for their safe return. Usually, ransomware will inform you of the attack in a dialog box and provide information for making your ransom payment — which you shouldn’t do. However, an interrupted or failed ransomware attack might cause you to be locked out of certain PC functions without any recourse. You can look up guides for unlocking your PC using another device, or you can contact a cybersecurity service like TrendMicro for help.
Your Computer Keeps Restarting
A PC will restart several times during an operating system update or program installation as it integrates changes. Because malware is essentially just a program, it might initiate a series of restarts as it insinuates itself into your system. If you didn’t initiate a program installation, and if you don’t see any signs that your operating system is automatically updating, you could have caught some malware right at the beginning of an attack. If possible, you should try to interrupt the installation by booting up in safe mode, where you can run your antivirus software to stop the attack.
You Are Getting Pop-ups
Pop-ups used to be an unfortunate cost of using the internet, but thanks to the development of pop-up blockers in the mid-‘00s, they fell out of fashion. Now, the only services that use pop-ups are malicious ones, so if you see any pop-ups when you use your PC, you can be reasonably certain you are the victim of malware. It is important to note that there is a difference between pop-ups (which appear in a brand-new window) and pop-overs (which exist in the same window); the former is dangerous, and the latter is merely a torture device from digital marketers.
You See Error Messages
A few types of malware will trick PC users by sending fake system error messages. When users interact with the messages, usually by pressing buttons like “agree” or “resolve,” they could give the malware more permissions to make changes to their operating system, or they could prompt further virus downloads. Usually, these errors will look strange in some way; they might include poor grammar, a misspelled word or odd colors that don’t match your PC’s theme. If you don’t recognize an error message from your PC, it is best to perform a web search about the message before clicking anything, which will help you understand whether the message is fake or real.
Your Antivirus Is Disabled
Antivirus programs are critical for keeping your PC safe, but they aren’t foolproof. If there are vulnerabilities on your machine — like an outdated operating system or shady applications — malware can still sneak in, and when it does, one of the first things it will try to do is disable the security on your device. If you notice that your firewall is down, that your antivirus tools aren’t scanning for threats or that other changes have been made to your security protocols, you probably have malware on your machine.
These aren’t the only signs that malware has found its way onto your PC, but they are the most likely signs you will notice. Of course, you can avoid any signs of malware by taking steps to defend your PC against all malware threats — by installing trustworthy antivirus software, by staying away from shady links, messages and websites and by using the strongest possible passwords for all accounts.