Have you ever felt that something wasn’t quite right with your computer, but you’re not sure what? It might be nothing (fingers crossed), but it just might be 'malware' - malicious software.
Malware is a catch-all term that includes viruses, trojans, spyware and ransomware. It's software designed to cause damage to a computer or network, or act against the user.
Malware’s nature is to hide and protect itself, so the only clues you’ll have that your system might be infected are likely to come from your eyes and ears.
Most of us have a rough idea of how long our computer takes to boot. Changes here could mean something isn’t right, but Windows updates can make boot times longer too, so check that isn’t happening before you panic.
If your computer suddenly slows down or stops responding, it could mean that all the RAM (random access memory – the memory that programs run in) is being used. Task Manager can show you which apps are running. Press Ctrl+Shift+Esc to open the app, then check the ‘Performance’ tab for apps you don’t recognise.
These can include things like apps opening or closing on their own, operating system freezes where you can't do anything at all, and even the "blue screen of death". If they only happen occasionally, great, but more regular crashes are usually a sign of trouble brewing.
Adding new hardware or software to your computer can also cause the same symptoms. If you’ve recently added something new, it might be worth checking it out before you assume the worst.
Your computer’s hard drive can also give you clues. If it keeps spinning when you’re not using the computer or running any apps, you might have an issue. Check your computer isn't doing something like a virus scan or disk defragmentation, but if it happens often, it’s worth a second look.
Watch for free space vanishing from the computer’s hard drive too. If you can’t save or download a small file, malware could be filling the hard drive with junk to make your system unusable.
Get an idea of how much free space there is on your computer by visiting Settings > System > Storage, and check it from time to time.
We’re used to seeing adverts on websites, but if you see them when you’re not browsing it could be a sign that something’s wrong.
Pop-up adverts are often the first sign of an infection but can also have more malware inside them, just waiting for a click to install more malware. Sometimes they're just links to websites which pay the virus-maker when they’re clicked, but neither is good for your system.
'Free' software can contain hidden malware in the installer. Take your time reading each screen so you know what you're putting on your computer.
Some malware targets security software, stopping your anti-virus from working. In some cases, it might even be replaced with a fake one. It can also attack system tools like Task Manager and the Registry Editor, as they can be used to help fight malware. If you can’t open them or they don’t look like the programs you’ve been using, your system might be at risk.
Fake antivirus programs often show you a ‘scan’ which claims to find ‘infections’, along with a link to buy ‘advanced removal tools’ to help clean your system. Unfortunately, the ‘scans’ are usually just animations and paying for removal tools often means wasting your money as they won’t work.
Malware can alter how web browsers behave, steering users towards target websites. Home page and search engine changes, redirecting users to unexpected pages and generally slow browsing can all be signs of a malware infection.
Fake sites are often used to steal login credentials. Make sure the website you’re looking at is real before you log into an account, especially if you clicked a link to open it. If you’re not sure, Google the site and use the search result to log in, not the link you’ve been sent.
If you see a message from someone you trust, it’s hard not to take it at face value. But that’s what malware creators are relying on. Messages from friends with links but few words are always suspicious – unless you have a friend that regularly sends you messages like that.
If you’re not sure if a message is real, ask the sender if they’ve contacted you before clicking it to avoid infecting both your own machine and your friends’ too.
Sometimes it’s the little things that can arouse suspicion. New desktop icons appearing from nowhere, toolbars installing themselves onto the taskbar or your browser, and unexpected voices from hidden adverts are all clues that your computer might be infected.
Malware can be removed, but it's better if your computer doesn't get infected in the first place.
If you still suspect you have malware on your computer, Team Knowhow's virus removal service can help. We'll scan your machine, removing all types of infections, including trojans, worms and viruses. Drop into your local Currys/PCWorld Repair & Service Centre, and have a chat with one of our experts to learn more.