Is your computer acting strangely? Are you seeing popup ads, even when you’re not in a browser? You just might have malware. Here’s how to find out and remove it.
Whether you clicked on a link in a spam email, visited a suspicious website, or even used a random USB drive you found on the ground, there are many ways to get a virus. A computer virus is just one type of malicious software, called malware.
Malware is an umbrella term used to describe a bunch of malicious software, like computer viruses, worms, trojan horses, ransomware, spyware, adware, rootkits, RATs, etc. Developers usually design malware to stay hidden in your system.
Although malware is more common on Windows PCs, it’s not unheard of for Macs to get them too. Some warning signs that your computer might have a virus:
- Slow Machine: What makes a computer virus a “virus” is its ability to infect computer files and do things you would normally not allow your machine to do. This could be a sign that your computer is being used for a nefarious purpose.
- Access Blocked/Captchas Required: Have secure passwords stopped working? Did your homepage change, are you blocked from accessing certain websites or are you required to enter Captchas when browsing? This might be because of malware.
- Social Media Hacked: Getting your Facebook account hacked might be the result of malware that was designed to steal your username/password and send them to a hacker.
- Strange File Behavior: Sometimes malware will make files inaccessible, hidden or corrupted. Other malware will encrypt your data and attempt to charge you bitcoins to recover them.
- Fake antivirus: A common tactic for viruses is to try to get you to install fake antivirus programs. These programs are pieces of malware themselves.
- Browser issues: Viruses sometimes change your browsers behavior. Common symptoms are SSL errors on known good sites, modified security settings and website redirections.
What You Can Do
First, disconnect your device from the internet. If you have a Wi-Fi adapter on your device, then turn off your router or change the Wi-Fi password via your routers GUI. If you connect to the Internet with an ethernet cable, unplug it. It’s important to isolate your computer from the Internet so the malware can’t continue doing whatever it is designed to do.
Next, boot your computer into Safe Mode (this assumes you have a Windows PC). On older computers running Windows 7 or earlier, you can access this by pressing the F8 key when you restart the computer. On Windows 8 or newer, the new option is called Automatic Repair mode. You can still access the old Safe Mode, though, it’s just buried in the recovery options. To access it, hold Shift then go to Start > Shutdown > Restart
Next, delete any temporary files and clear caches. The Windows “temp” folder contains files that the OS only needs – you guessed it – temporarily. Windows usually automatically deletes the files after it uses them, but sometimes it doesn’t remove them. To open this folder, click Start and type %temp%. Once the folder is open, you can manually select and delete the files.
Windows won’t let you delete the files that are currently in use, but that’s okay. Using a neat hack, you can have your computer automatically delete the files every time it starts up. Open Notepad, and type the following:
rd %temp% /s /q md %temp%
Save the file as:
This creates a batch file called cleantemp.bat. You’ll find it in the Start menu’s Startup submenu.
The next step is to scan your computer using an antimalware or antivirus software. If you have a USB flash drive handy, boot up your spare PC. What don’t you have a spare PC? Then call mom and let her know you’re coming over for dinner and use her PC. Alternatively, you can see if you can borrow a friend’s computer Download one of five (or all of them if you want) portable malware scanners to your flash drive:
- ClamWin Portable
- Sophos Anti Rootkit Portable
- Emsisoft Emergency Toolkit
- VIPRE Rescue
- Spybot – Search & Destroy Portable
You can run all of these programs straight from your USB drive. You can download one of them or all of them just to be safe. Scan your computer using these programs. Using these apps, you should be able to find and remove any malware plaguing your computer.
After the programs have removed the malware, you can restart your computer into its regular mode. If you’re still having problems with your computer, you might need to repair your OS. Otherwise, you should be malware-free after this.