Infection with a virus, trojan or malware is one of the most common reasons that home computer users, unfamiliar with computer repairs, seek the advice of an expert to solve the problem. Whilst purchasing a good quality anti-virus program is the most important step you can take, in reality, sophisticated viruses and other malicious programs can occasionally bypass the security and conceal themselves on your hard drive. From bombarding you with advertising to stealing your credit card number – viruses, trojans and malware can cause considerable damage to your machine and your livelihood.
Recognising the signs of an infection, therefore, is important for all home computer users:
1. “That’s not what I searched for!” – a virus may be a convenient excuse when you’re caught by your partner with questionable Google search results, but unwanted websites – usually of an adult variety – that are returned when you’ve searched for something perfectly innocent are a cast-iron guarantee that a malicious program is dictating what Google shows you when you’re surfing.
2. Irrational behaviour, displayed not by your partner in this instance, but by your PC or laptop. For example, sudden crashes when your machine was previously ultra-reliable, slow responses – particularly when trying to access the same file, folder or application, icons that appear on the desktop for programs you haven’t installed or regular on-screen error messages. Whilst these symptoms could be a sign of a hardware malfunction, the cause could also be a virus or other infection on your hard drive.
3. Your anti-virus software stops working. Put simply – it shouldn’t, but some viruses will target your security system in order to gain full access to your machine, much like the air force knocking out an enemy’s anti-aircraft missiles, in order to fly unseen over foreign territory.
4. Your online banking website requests your personal data. We’re not talking about your usual login information, but the appearance of a never-seen-before screen asking you to reset your password or to enter your card details. Such screens may look perfectly genuine and even appear within the bank’s usual website – sophisticated trojans can replicate the website, replacing it with a fake that is entirely convincing.
5. Your computer seems to have developed a mind of its own. CD drawers that open by themselves, printers that churn out unwanted prints, folders that seem to have deleted themselves without your knowledge, all point to a virus being in the driving seat where your computer is concerned.
Of course, if your anti-virus software is up-to-date, you may be alerted to the presence of a malicious infection. In this situation, stop whatever you are doing, log-off any websites that require secure access and allow your anti-virus program to take action to delete the virus. But in the event that your computer still misbehaves, seek expert advice at once.