Last week I described the typical types of malware to include computer viruses, spyware, worms and more.  These malicious programs can range from being nothing more than a nuisance (i.e. adware) to very damaging (i.e. Trojan Horse with a destructive payload) or even costly (i.e. ransomware).  The real question is, “How can I tell if I’m infected?”  Sometimes it is very obvious as the developer of the malware will create a pop-up window telling you that you are infected and how to fix “the problem.”  Other times, it is not so easy.

Detection

With more Internet users world-wide than ever before and the proliferation of tablets and smartphones, the opportunity for one of your computer system getting infected is increasing daily.  You may have purchased and installed an antivirus/anti-malware program but they cannot protect you from new and emerging threats.  Therefore, how can you tell if your computer is infected with a malicious program?  There are several ways infected system behave:

Slowness:  For any program to run, including malware, it must use system resources.  Depending on the type of infection, you may notice that your computer boots slowly or that you are waiting an abnormally long time for programs to launch.  An important note is that sometimes slowness is caused by an aging computer system trying to run the latest and greatest applications and the hardware simply is not robust enough.  After you eliminate hardware as a possible issue (insufficient RAM, fragmented hard drive, lack of hard drive storage space, etc.), you may be infected.

Pop-ups:  If you start receiving unexpected pop-up advertisements, you may be infected.  These pop-ups are quite annoying, but may also be the visible sign of a much more destructive and harder to remove malware program.

System Crashes:  There is nothing scarier than working on your computer and suddenly experiencing a system crash, more affectionately called “Blue Screen of Death” in Windows systems and “Kernel Panic” in the Apple and Linux world.  System crashes could indicate some sort of incompatibility between an application and the operating system, or a critical failure of a piece of hardware (i.e. hard drive), or some sort of malware infection.  Computer system diagnostics should be executed to eliminate the possibility of a hardware problem (which is beyond the scope of this article) but if the diagnostics are clean, it may point to a malware infection.

Hard Drive Activity:  Excessive hard drive activity is now harder to identify than previous years as less and less computers provide an indicator light showing hard drive activity.  In addition, with more and more solid state hard drives being installed in computers today, there is no sound or vibration that can be felt during hard drive activity.  However, Windows users can look at the “Performance” tab within Task Manager to get an indication of hard drive activity.  Too much activity when the user is not doing much on the computer is a possible indication of malware.

Hard Drive Storage Space:  Another indication of a possible malware infection is the continuous and often rapid decrease in hard drive free space.  If you have not been saving tons of files, photos, videos and the like to your computer hard drive, but you are still running out of room, you may be infected.

Changes to Browser Home Page, New Tool Bars or Unknown Browser Extensions:  Has your home page changed without your knowledge?  Has any other “normal” browser behavior unexpectedly changed?  Have you tried to go to a particular web site and been redirected to some undesired site?  If any of these behaviors are occurring, you are likely infected.

Security Application Disabled:  When working properly, your antivirus/anti-malware application should work quietly behind the scene unless the application detects malicious program behavior.  However, if you notice that your application has been disabled or that the program is no longer being updated, you should first verify that your antivirus/anti-malware subscription is up to date and if it is, your system may be infected.

Above are just some of the primary indicators of a computer system being infected by malware.  No system is 100% safe unless you never connect to the Internet, never use a USB drive that has been shared with another computer or never share files with anyone.  So, how can you protect your system from being attacked?  In the next part of this series, I will identify some of the more common sense actions you can take to protect your system and the data contained within it.

For more information regarding malware and how to defend yourself, feel free to contact Reedy Creek Enterprise Solutions to start a conversation.

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