Spotting A Virus

Got a weird computer? We know the feeling! You may be asking “have I got a virus on my computer”. In this modern age it could be under the influence of a virus. Anything from sluggish performance to intermittent (or non-existent) internet connection are problems that we see caused by computer viruses. Just to give you an idea of how rampant viruses are; in May 2011 Microsoft reported that 1 in 14 downloads may contain malware code.

To really understand the signs of infection it’s important to touch on some of the purposes behind infecting machines and then you can ask “have I got a virus on my computer”. Much like the wide range of symptoms your computer might exhibit, there are also a wide range of reasons someone would want to infect your computer. Common reasons are:

  1. To download and conceal further infection (normally the first method of attack paving the way for the reasons below)
  2. Steal personal information (e.g. bank details)
  3. Recruit your computer to a botnet (a large network of computers used for a variety of unsavoury tasks)
  4. Steal your e-mail details to send spam
  5. Redirect your search results to get money out of you
  6. Hold your computer to ransom
  7. Tricking you into paying for fraudulent services

 

Now fortunately you don’t need to try and tackle all of those; unfortunately it’s only 6 and 7 that will make you aware of the problem! Ransom ware (point 6) and fake anti-virus (point 7) are easy to spot they will both render your computer near useless and ask for money to restore it! These types of infection are becoming increasingly common, in fact this week alone we have seen 4 machines affected by ransom ware. Sadly uncovering the others is a more difficult task. What you really want to do in those cases is stop them from getting in to your system in the first place. You can give yourself a good chance of doing so following this article. Although if you suspect you’ve already been infected or just aren’t sure then here are our top 5 signs of virus infection:

  1. It’s running slow; viruses take up processing power and memory so if your computer has suddenly got a lot slower then be suspicious!
  2. Your internet connection is subject to frequent disconnections or doesn’t work at all. Or your browser (internet explorer for example) doesn’t work. We have found a lot of viruses cause internet connection issues
  3. Desktop icons appear to be missing. Certain types of infection (though they are becoming less common) like to hide things on your computer! If you’ve lost a whole bunch of icons on your desktop then you’ve been infected
  4. Programmes won’t run. This can be a little misleading; if you have one programme that won’t open then it is more likely to be a problem with that programme than a virus. Though if you have a range of programmes that won’t open then it could be a virus causing the problem
  5. Your anti-virus programme, firewall and Windows Automatic update aren’t working or are reporting problems. A lot of viruses will target these 3 bits of software so they can alter your system unhindered and leave you defenceless against further infection (see point 1 of reasons to infect your machine). You can check these items by having a look in the Windows Security Centre from the control panel

 

This list is by no means comprehensive however it will give you a good starting place for trying to root out viruses. In addition to keeping an eye on your system Microsoft offer a great tool http://www.microsoft.com/security/scanner/en-us/default.aspx that is worth running in conjunction with any anti-virus software you may use. It would also be wise to run a quick scan of the system twice a week.

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