One minute, everything seems fine, and the next, your computer is back to speeds you haven't seen since 1995 dial-up.
Or maybe you're browsing the interwebs and find yourself drowning in pop-ups, even though you totally have ad-blocker installed.
Or, you've been hearing your laptop make suspicious noises, even when it's closed and not in use as if the ghost of a long-dead IT tech is trying to work through some new paranormal code.
If you are noticing something weird with your computer, it may not be time travel, or plug-in issue, or even a ghostly computer whiz.
It might just be malware.
Now, no need to panic. Most viruses and malware can be removed with a quick visit to your local computer repair shop or an in-home visit from a tech (hopefully not a ghost).
But before you call, you should know what computer virus symptoms your computer is exhibiting, what the most likely cause is, and what potential damage it could do to your computer.
So let's take a looks at the signs of a computer virus and what you can do about it.
Defining a Virus
We're going to be using a few different words in this article, so let's break them down a little.
First things first, malware. This guy is pretty easy. the suffix "-ware" indicates that it has to do with a computer (software, hardware, shareware), and the prefix "mal-" means bad.
So, bad computer stuff.
Malware is any malicious computer software. It's the umbrella terms that covers adware, spyware, and viruses.
So remember, all viruses are malware, but not all malware are viruses. See? Those high school logic problems came in handy after all.
A virus acts like a parasite. Once it's inside a computer, it replicates itself and the copies infect other pieces of software. This can be especially dangerous on shared systems.
Adware is software that produces ads. It isn't always malicious, but it can get out of control
Spyware helps computer hackers gather information about other users, allowing them to steal data.
Worms are destroyers of data. They replicate and eat information on your hard drive, eventually destroying everything.
Trojans, like the Greek myth that gives them their name, look like normal, happy programs. But, they're designed to steal personal information.
Ransomware literally holds your computer system hostage until you pay a fee.
Viruses and malware are very prevalent. The motivations behind their creation vary, but hackers are still cranking them out like crazy.
And to be fair, international law enforcement is getting a LOT better at catching and cracking down on these types of criminals. But, like the Hydra of old, it seems that no matter how many heads you cut off, there is always at least two more waiting to take its place. So it's best to be vigilant.
So, now that we've given you the common types of malware, let's look at how to spot them.
Everything Slows Waaaaay Down
We live in the future. There's no excuse for a slow computer anymore. I mean, think about it. We get twitchy when the Wi-Fi at Starbucks take a few seconds to load a page.
If a virus gets a hold of your computer, you could be looking at slowdowns that look practically pre-millennium.
Your computer only has so much processing power. Even a great computer will reach its limits over time, and your computer can't tell the difference between a good program and a bad one. So when malware, regardless of type, starts working in the background, it begins using up your computer's processing power.
The more malware and viruses are present, the slower the computer will run. This is because it's dedicating its time to the malware running in the background.
We all have things sitting on the hard drives that we never use. Get rid of old programs that are just dead weight. Also, transfer photos and files to cloud storage or a physical hard drive
2. Take a Look at Your Start-up Settings
All computers have a few programs that run automatically at startup. If you have too many, it can slow your computer down.
3. Find Your Performance Tool
Most new computers have a performance tool that will help you see where your computer isn't running at optimal performance. They'll also give you suggestions to fix the problem.
A lot of the time, those three simple steps will solve your problem. If not, take it in to see a specialist.
Ads, Ads Everywhere
If you're seeing pop-ups and ads all of a sudden, even getting past your ad blocker, you could have an adware problem.
The thing about adware is that it isn't malicious in general. It's just annoying.
So it's less the bully in the office than it is that overeager guy at the water cooler who wants to show you his rock collection. He's harmless, but he definitely slows down your day.
And that's what adware does. Its purpose is to advertise, to get you to buy a product. But when it starts getting overzealous, it slows your computer down by running way too many ads, all the time, all at once.
Your Stuff is Going Missing
Where's all your stuff? Didn't you have pictures of Jason's wedding? And like, a screenplay from tenth grade you were totally going to finish?
I mean, you might have, but if they're gone now, a worm may have gotten them.
Like a worm eating away at apples in the fall, computer worms wriggle their way into your hard drive and start devouring everything in sight, from documents to pictures to vital files.
This might be one of the scariest computer virus symptoms, because there may not be a way to get that information back. Sometimes a good tech can recover data, but not always. And if the worm gets deep enough, you might have to scrap the entire computer and start over.
This is your friendly reminder to always, always, always back up your data.
Even if it's just to a flash drive, at least it's in a safe place. You can also use cloud services or an external hard drive. That way, even if a worm does get to your original files, you have copies and not all is lost.
Headed to the Wrong Website
So you're headed over to Pinterest, follow a pin, and see your destination site for a minute. Then, it switches over to something you were NOT looking for. Maybe one of those sites that declares you're the millionth visitor and have won fabulous prizes, or maybe something more insidious.
Either way, it's weird, right?
Some types of malware will force-connect you to websites you aren't seeking out. It then communicates information back and forth with those sites. Usually, that information contains small bits of code that continue to infect your computer.
This is very common. If you've ever opened a suspicious spam email, downloaded something without meaning to, or even visited specific websites on purpose, you may have exposed your computer to this kind of virus.
They aren't usually too hard to get rid of, but make sure you get your computer to a professional soon, before any more damage can get done.
So you're hearing your computer make a noise like its running, or you notice high network usage even when you aren't using your computer.
A virus might be busy at work, sending information back and forth from its source across your network lines.
Think of it as credit card fraud.
You notice a weird charge here and there, and before you know it, your bank account is drained. This is sort of the same way. A little network activity when you aren't using the computer, and soon the whole system is infected.
It's vital to make sure you take your computer in before it gets that bad.
It's common for folks to see something small and just chalk it up to normal computer hijinks. After all, if you don't have an in-depth knowledge of computers, you may have no way of knowing that this small discrepancy could end up destroying your hard drive in the long run.
Messages from No One
These are becoming much more popular because of social media.
Your followers or email contacts will get a message from you, usually with a weird attachment or link to follow. If they follow it, the virus gains access to their computer, their accounts, and their contacts. Then it starts the whole process over again.
This goes on and on, infecting computer after computer until the machines take over and we all bow to our new computer overlords.
Prevent the apocalypse, people.
Chances are, the first you hear of this will be a friend texting or calling to tell you they got a weird message from you. Most people under the age of 35 can recognize these bogus posts and ignore them. But your 85-year-old grandmother who only joined "The Facebook" to see pictures of her grandchildren may not know she shouldn't open or click.
Change your logins immediately, then send out a message to your contacts warning them not to open any weird messages from you.
Left to its own devices, a virus like this can take control of your social media accounts, giving another person access. They'll have the ability to lock you out of your own account and do all kinds of things using your name.
Change your passwords often and don't use the same ones across all platforms.
You may not see anything overtly wrong in the way your computer is functioning, but suddenly things just look a little...off. Files moved around, random files appear you don't recognize, or a setting changed here or there.
You might chalk it up to you not being observant enough. But you see your computer every day. If something looks off, it likely is.
First things first, if you see a file you don't recognize, don't open it. Honestly, this should go without saying, but we are humans, and cats have nothing on us when it comes to curiosity.
Even an unopened file could cause harm to your computer. But opening the file will never make the situation better. A quick call to a professional can often tell you if its something to worry about.
Or, you already have anti-virus software (good call, by the way), but can't open or access it.
Some clever little piece of malware has likely gotten past your protective barriers and attacked them from the inside. This prevents them from working properly and you from accessing them.
As computers and anti-virus software gets smarter, so do the people making viruses.
Think of it as a regular disease. Humans find ways to kill off certain germs, so the germs mutate, getting stronger and more resistant to the medicines. So humans make the medicines better, and the cycle goes on and on.
It's the same with computer viruses and malware.
Programmers for anti-virus programs make the best program they can. Virus programmers find a way around the program. Anti-virus makers up their game and the cycle goes on and on.
So, if you're anti-virus is suddenly acting wonky, take it as a sign that something is definitely up.
Have Computer Virus Symptoms?
So you have computer virus symptoms and you're freaking out because of OMGMYDATA.
It's a valid concern. We get it.
Your best course of action here is to turn the computer off and make an appointment with a professional. They have the training and education necessary to identify the problem and the best solution.