Have you ever noticed your computer running slowly, crashing unexpectedly, or acting just plain weird? There‘s a good chance malware could be the culprit. Malware refers to malicious software cybercriminals use to infect and damage devices. Let‘s discuss what exactly malware is, how to manually detect if your computer has been compromised, and proven tactics to eliminate infections and prevent future ones.
What Kinds of Malware Should I Watch Out For?
The term "malware" encompasses many types of vicious programs:
- Viruses – Malware that self-replicates by infecting other files or systems.
- Worms – Malware that spreads itself automatically over networks by exploiting vulnerabilities.
- Trojans – Malware masked as legitimate software that downloads other malware.
- Ransomware – Malware that encrypts data until you pay a ransom.
- Spyware – Malware that gathers data on your browsing habits and personal information.
- Adware – Malware that floods your screen with pop-up advertisements.
- Keyloggers – Malware that records your keystrokes to obtain passwords and sensitive data.
- Rootkits – Malware that obtains administrator-level access to take complete control.
The number of new malware samples seen yearly has exploded to over 670 million in 2020 according to AV-Test Institute. Trojans and droppers accounted for over 57% of new malware in 2020.
Just one infection can result in significant financial losses and security headaches. But with vigilance, you can protect yourself.
Telltale Signs Your Computer is Infected
Watch for these common red flags:
- Sudden decrease in PC or internet speed
- Frequent crashing or freezing
- Pop-ups, toolbars, and ads you can‘t close
- Unfamiliar processes hogging resources
- Strange activity like file deletions occurring
- Unwanted emails sent from your account
- Fake antivirus alerts
If you suspect your computer has malware, don‘t panic. Let‘s walk through how to diagnose and address the issue.
How to Manually Search for Malware on Windows
- Examine running processes in Task Manager.
- Sort by CPU or memory usage and research any unfamiliar process names. Malware often hides under innocent disguises.
- Open Performance Monitor and view network usage over time.
- Unexplained spikes may indicate malware communications. Legitimate traffic tends to be periodic.
- Carefully review startup items and scheduled tasks using msconfig.
- Malware likes to start automatically when you boot up. Disable suspicious entries.
- Check your browser extensions and addons.
- Malware may install itself as an extension. Remove anything unfamiliar.
- Scan your system with Windows Defender Antivirus or Safety Scanner.
- Microsoft‘s built-in protections can catch many threats.
- Inspect the file system and registry for malware traces.
- Search for unusually named files and new registry keys linked to unknown programs.
- Monitor network connections with netstat and process explorer.
- See what connections are open and the associated programs.
Being patient and observant helps reveal attempts to hide. Now let‘s discuss how to remove discovered infections.
Removing Malware from an Infected Windows PC
If you confirm malware on your system, here are proven removal strategies:
- Run scans with updated antivirus software like Malwarebytes Anti-Malware or Norton Security. These will detect and automatically neutralize most infections. Schedule regular scans to catch any new malware.
- Restore your system to an earlier state using System Restore or snapshots. This rolls back your computer to before an infection occurred.
- Start fresh by reformatting drives and performing a clean OS installation. This completely eradicates malware but is time-consuming.
- Reset web browsers to default settings to clear malicious extensions and toolbars.
- Manually delete malware files, registry keys, and associated program folders. This requires some technical skill.
Persevere through multiple scans and reboots until malware is gone. Prevention is truly the best medicine though.
Protecting Yourself from Malware Attacks
Here are pro tips to avoid malware headaches entirely:
- Use antivirus suites like Norton 360 and make sure to regularly update definitions and scan. This catches malware upon entry.
- Exercise caution with downloads and avoid pirated software and media. Only install apps from trusted sources like official developer sites and app stores.
- Enable firewalls and encrypt connections on WiFi networks to block attackers. Never access sensitive info over public WiFi.
- Back up your files regularly either locally or to the cloud. This gives you flexibility to reset your system if infected.
- Think twice before opening email attachments or clicking random links, which are common malware ploys. Delete any suspicious messages.
- Always install software updates which patch security flaws that malware exploits. Don‘t use outdated operating systems.
- Use standard user accounts for daily activities to limit system modification capabilities. Malware needs administrator rights.
Stay vigilant and proactively protect yourself from malicious programs seeking to disrupt, steal, and spy. But if you do get unlucky, use this guide to defeat malware. Don‘t let it defeat you!