You hear about it all the time, but what exactly is a computer virus? Read on to learn about the vulnerabilities of computers, and the 12 common symptoms of an infected machine.
This is the age of the computer, but you probably already know that. Computers are everywhere! According to Reference.com, there were already nearly 2 billion personal computers worldwide by October 2014. We’re well beyond that date now, so this figure is likely outdated.
Even though we can’t be specific about the numbers, we can make the following statement with complete confidence and utter conviction: There are a whole lot of computers in the world today.
What is a Computer Virus?
With so many computers out there, some of them are bound to get sick. In the computer world, a sick computer is said to have a “virus.” But what exactly is a computer virus? Norton.com, maker of Norton Antivirus, says that a computer virus is a software program with malicious intent. A computer virus manipulates the behavior of the machine it infects and will spread to other machines if it isn’t quarantined.
Like the real live viruses that humans struggle with, computer viruses have different names and characteristics, and they affect computers in different ways. Also similar to a human virus, a computer virus prefers to attach itself to a host—usually a legitimate file by which it can execute its code—and then spread (and sometimes multiply in the process) to other computers to corrupt or destroy the data it comes in contact with.
Sound nasty? It is. And like the human viruses we encounter in life, it can be annoying, costly, time-consuming, and even deadly (for your computer). That’s why it is important to understand computer viruses so that you can figure out whether your machine has one, how to “cure” or remove it, and how to prevent it from happening again.
So if My Computer is Slow, Does that Mean it has a Computer Virus?
Great question. The answer is, not necessarily. Sometimes a computer runs slow because it has been running a long time without a reboot (shutdown and restart). Sometimes a computer’s software needs to be updated to avoid a software conflict, or there are too many programs running in the background. A browser’s cookies or cache may need to be deleted, or hard disk space may be limited.
In these cases, a great maintenance tool like CCleaner can clean out temporary files, cookies, and other unneeded data to help your computer run faster. After you run CCleaner, you might want to go a step further and run a malware removal program like Malwarebytes, which identifies viruses and unwanted popup programs, then cleans the infected computer and prevents future infection.
Both these programs have free versions that are great for performing maintenance on your computer. After you’re done, all you need to do is restart your computer to see if its performance improves. If it does, you’re good to go. If not, it’s time to learn about the symptoms of a computer virus and what you need to do to get rid of it.
What are the Symptoms of a Computer Virus?
Just like real viruses, a computer virus will present symptoms. If you have been using computers for any length of time, chances are you’ve probably already encountered one or more symptoms that suggest your computer has been infected with a virus. They can range from “slightly annoying” to the “downright terrifying.”
The following IS NOT an exhaustive list, but one meant to make you more aware of what your computer is doing and why it may be doing it. You should make it your business to investigate other strange activities your computer may be engaged in.
The Blue Screen of Death (BSOD)
Of all the scary symptoms of a computer virus, this one may well be the scariest. The BSOD is a Windows error screen indicating that an operating system is no longer functional, resulting in a fatal system error or crash. You’ll know if you have just experienced the Blue Screen of Death because your screen will be, well…blue. And the first words it will display are the words “A fatal exception has occurred.”
Your Computer is as Slow as a Turtle
If your computer takes forever to boot up and even longer than that to perform one simple task even after you’ve cleaned it with CCleaner and Malwarebytes and performed an antivirus scan, chances are you have a computer virus.
You Can’t get to Your Control Panel, Task Manager (Ctrl+Alt+Del), Registry Editor or Command Prompt
These are what run your computer. If you can’t access these, your computer is out of your control. WARNING: If you suddenly can’t find and/or click on your SYSTEM RESTORE button, you probably have a computer virus.
You’re Pelted with Pop-ups
If you are browsing your usual web pages and you keep getting popups (or pop-unders) from Viagra, sex sites, surveys, work-at-home offers that pay ridiculous amounts ($8,000 per week? Come on!), pharmacies, gaming communities and the like, chances are that you have a computer virus. WARNING: Popups don’t always happen while you’re on online. You can be working on your desktop and sudden get a popup that says your computer is infected and you need to click on the popup so they can remove the computer virus for you. DON’T click on that popup. The popup IS the computer virus.
Your Computer Keeps Freezing and Crashing
If you cannot get online without your computer freezing or crashing (and you’ve already ruled out local area network problems and web browser problems) you may have a computer virus. Also, if you try to open programs and you keep getting those annoying “not responding” error messages, or if everything on your screen freezes and you have to hit the Control Alt Delete (Ctrl+Alt+Del) keys just to be able to back out of the programs, you may have a computer virus.
Running out of Hard Disk Space
If you suddenly have very little disk space left but you haven’t been adding programs, a computer virus may be taking a bite out of your disk space.
Unusually High Network Activity
When you hit the Ctrl+Alt+Del keys on a Windows computer, a screen called Task Manager pops up. If you see files with weird names that are using an unusually high amount of resources when you aren’t even doing much on your computer, you may have a computer virus.
You Suddenly Have a Different…Everything!
If you suddenly find yourself staring at a new browser homepage, you probably have a computer virus. If a shiny new toolbar appears on your desktop or even at the top of your shiny new (and unrequested) homepage, your computer is most probably infected. If you try to go to a certain website but you are herded like so much cattle to an unwanted site that tries to sell you cigarettes or Viagra, your computer is probably infected. But even if none of these obvious changes happen but you suddenly have a playful, fluffy cursor that looks nothing like the cursor you’re used to, there’s probably a computer virus lurking on your hard drive.
Your Installed Programs Open and Close Automatically
Although many people dream of the day when a computer can anticipate their every desire, that day is not here yet. Therefore, if various programs on your computer decide to open themselves, or if they decide to close even though you were right in the middle of an important session, you may have a computer virus. By the way, that includes your printer. If your printer springs to light and prepares itself to print even though you weren’t prepping anything to be printed, this may be a sign that your computer is infected.
Your Security or Antivirus Software is Suddenly Disabled
There’s nothing more comforting than seeing that bright green “superman shield” that tells you your antivirus is doing its job. But if your superman shield suddenly has a big red X next to it, you should check it out immediately. This usually means some mysterious entity has shut off your protection—which probably means a virus has thrown your computer under the bus.
People are Getting Strange, Unwanted Messages from You
If your friends, family, acquaintances, etc. suddenly tell you they “got your email” but you never sent out any emails, your computer may be infected. You should seek an antivirus solution immediately (and perhaps be equally worried about the message that was sent with your name attached to it).
Your Battery Life Drains Quickly
The world of mobile computers present new sets of benefits and challenges. If your long-lasting battery suddenly needs to be recharged more times than you can count, that’s most likely an infection.
It would be fruitless to attempt to identify and describe the constant influx of malware more than we already have in this article. Hopefully, this article will serve as a starting point for educating yourself on what is a computer virus, what it does, and what types of computer viruses are currently out there.
We encourage you to learn about the different types of viruses out there, as well as how to remove them from your computer. Know of any other computer virus symptoms? Be sure to share your experience by leaving a comment below!