QUESTION: I’m seeing unusual activity on my computer – what are the signs of it being infected?
ANSWER: Malware is a general term for any kind of “malicious” software designed to exploit users or cause harm to their devices.
Signs of a malware infection can be somewhat obvious or in some cases very difficult to detect, depending upon the goals of the author of the software.
Malware that’s designed to exploit users for their personal information, ransomware, or ID theft is the most dangerous, so it’s important not to ignore strange behavior from your computer.
Why is your computer slow?
One of the most obvious signs of malware is noticeably slower performance.
If you’re waiting a long time for your computer to start up or it seems to lag regularly, it’s not necessarily a sign of malware, but it should be investigated either way.
Your computer has a finite number of resources that malware or running excessive programs can silently be consuming, which can lead to diminished performance.
Determining what is causing the slow performance will help you determine if you have been infected or just have too much automatically loading up when you start your computer.
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Your browser might be acting weird
Your web browser has become one of the most valuable targets for malware because your daily internet activity can be monetized by bad actors by redirecting you to their sites and services.
Some malware will hijack your browser and change your start page or default search engine, or change where and how you connect to the internet, which can force you to malicious websites and cause everything to seem sluggish.
They can also add new toolbars or add-ons that appear in your browser’s headers.
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Unusual notifications might appear
If you see unusual messages or errors popping up, this can be an indication of a form of malware that has infected your operating system. This type of malware can also create new icons on your desktop or add programs that you don’t recognize.
Spam emails or social media messages are being sent from your accounts
If your friends start asking if you sent a strange email or social media message, it’s possible malware has infiltrated your email program or social media profiles.
What should you do
Internet security programs can help thwart malware attempts, which is why some target them first. If you notice that your security program has been disabled, this is a big red flag and it shouldn’t be taken lightly.
Malware can often take advantage of security issues, so make sure you keep your computer and its security software updated to plug known security holes.
If you believe your system is infected, disconnecting from the internet will prevent it from transmitting to others while you track down and remove any malicious code.
If you think you have malware designed to steal your online credentials, change your passwords on another computer or from your phone or tablet immediately.
If you have an internet security program installed, perform a full scan of your entire system.
Review your browser’s installed extensions, add-ons, or plug-ins, and remove anything you don’t use or recognize.
If you don’t have a good backup of your critical data, get one and make sure it’s disconnected from your computer or use an online backup service.
Ken Colburn is founder and CEO of Data Doctors Computer Services, datadoctors.com. Ask any tech question at facebook.com/DataDoctors or on Twitter @TheDataDoc.