Identifying and dealing with malware Ryan Mintoff
No matter how careful we are when using our computers online, we can still get hit by some sort of malware.
This can be caused by many factors, such as a corrupted installation of an antivirus software which does not get updated and therefore leaves us vulnerable or else a slight moment of distraction that leads us to accidently compromise our systems. So how can we identify whether we have some sort of malware on our computer or not? What are the signs to look for and what can we do once we have been infected?
Not every malware infection might show immediate symptoms of its presence. Some can be very obvious and will be noticed immediately but other malware infections might reside in our system and work in the background or else sit idle until they are triggered by the creator of the malware. Some common signs are the inability to open any documents from our computer, frequent pop-ups, and sudden slowdown of the computer.
The current biggest threat is known as ‘ransomware’ and one will immediately notice if they have been hit by this malware as all the files on a computer system will be encrypted and converted into an illegible format usually showing a different extension such as “.locky”. There will also be ‘Help’ files everywhere that contain instructions advising to pay a ransom in order to get one’s files back, however we should not fall into the trap of paying the ransom as we have no guarantee that the data will be given back.
The source of sudden slow computer performance can be trickier to identify. If it is not to do with a cluttered browser cache or a fragmented hard drive then, in many cases, it will be caused by malware. Malware could be running tasks in the background that take up a lot of resources, thus slowing down our computer. If you generally keep your computer clutter free and you are not running any particular heavy tasks or software, this should immediately raise an alert.
Popups are one of the most annoying signs of malware. Unexpected popups are a typical sign of a malware infection known as ‘spyware’. These popups are usually very difficult to remove and one should never try to click on them. Some popups might try to trick you by looking like legitimate security software alerts and asking you to buy or upgrade, claiming that your system is infected. Knowing which antivirus you have installed is important to identify as it might also be from your own antivirus software.
If you notice that your browsers homepage has changed, notice additional toolbars or if your browser is automatically redirecting you to websites that you have not chosen to visit, this might be a sign of malware. Browser homepages and toolbars might be caused by installing freeware and choosing express installation which often causes the installation of what is known as ‘adware’. Even though it is not as critical as other malware, adware can be a problem as it slows down your computer and might also be collecting data about your whereabouts on the internet and possibly selling that data to third parties.
Malware can even send messages on your behalf either via email or on Social Media. If any of your contacts advise you that they have received a strange message from you which you do not know about, this should be a cause for concern. Not only does it mean your computer is infected but such messages could contain malicious code that can spread the malware onto the computer of whoever opens the message, creating a hard to deal situation.
One great way to keep yourself safe is to always check to ensure that your antivirus or security software is up to date. If you find that this software is disabled, then it is possible that you have been hit by malware. There could be other technical issues of course, but malware is one of the most popular causes of disabled antivirus software.
What can one do to deal with the unfortunate situation of being infected by malware? Once you have identified or even suspect that your computer has been hit by malware the wisest thing to do is to disconnect your computer from the internet/network and to also disconnect any storage devices connected to your computer. A restart might also be beneficial in some cases as it could stop processes from running but some malware will still run upon reboot. Stopping the process from running is very important in order to limit any potential damage caused by malware.
Unfortunately, it is not always easy to remove malware. Sometimes, a complete rebuild of the Operating System is required. In many cases, malware can be removed using regularly updated antivirus and other security software. Restoring data from backups might sometimes be the only solution in some more aggressive malware infections such as ransomware.
There are some well-known and free anti-virus software solutions available on the internet. Malwarebytes is one that will scan and remove many of the major malware infection that it encounters. Popular security software companies such as McAfee and Kaspersky offer free tools to scan for generic or even specific malware infection. You can always install a trial version of a premium antivirus to be able to get rid of a malware infection, which may even convince you to invest in the solution itself. However, if a malware infection cannot be removed by such readily available virus-scanning software, it is advisable to seek expert advice as trying to fix such problems on one’s own can get complicated.
Even if your computer is running perfectly normal you might still have a malware which is resident on your computer waiting for instructions from its creator; therefore, it is very important to ensure that your system is up to date. This can be done by regularly updating any software, operating system and the antivirus solution and by ensuring that regular scanning is a part of your ongoing process to protect from those pesky threats on the internet.