Computer virus infections and other forms of malware are all too common and can affect the functioning of your computer in any number of ways. The good news is that they are usually not that difficult to avoid and, with the right tools, can be readily removed.
In my experience, one of the most common manifestations of a computer virus is that your machine is running much more slowly than it should. However this is only one of the possible symptoms of the presence of a virus. You may have unwanted pop-ups, or find that your attempts to access the internet are impeded because your browser’s home page has been changed, or your search engine is no longer Google, Bing or whatever you were previously using. Your computer may even begin talking to you and giving you warnings and instructions. Once when assisting a client remotely, I could hear the relentless ‘voice’ of the virus in the background telling the client what she needed to do. Worst of all are the ransomware viruses, which encrypt the files on your computer (and any attached storage), and demand the payment of a ‘ransom’ in order for you to have your files restored.
Having worked with many clients whose computers have been infected by viruses and malware, I’ve often found that they have inadvertently installed software which has resulted in the issues they were seeing. Always be careful when downloading and installing software from the internet, particularly with software which is free. There’s a lot of good free software out there which you can use to do all sorts of things, but there’s also a lot of junk. When installing something you’ve downloaded, keep an eye on each stage of the installation process as you may well be asked whether you want to install additional software during the process. It’s very easy to just keep clicking Next without paying much attention to what’s on the screen.
Viruses can also come in to your computer through emails. Often there’s nothing you can do to stop the email arriving in your inbox (or junk folder), but the problem occurs when you choose to open the email, or any attachment included with it. Many times suspicious emails are easy to spot as they contain poor English grammar or spelling mistakes. However, other times the email may look completely genuine. It may appear to have come from your postal company, your bank, or your electricity or gas provider. If in doubt, don’t open the attachment. This has often been the ploy used by the creators of the ransomware viruses and it’s a heart-stopping moment when you attempt to open an attachment only to see your computer go into meltdown.
Computer viruses and malware can generally be removed fairly easily. The most rigorous virus removal method would be to erase your computer’s hard drive and start all over again. By doing this there is no way in which any trace of the virus can be left behind. Whilst I may use this method from time to time, it also means having to reinstall the operating system and whatever software you were using, and potentially restoring your files, in order to get your computer back to the way you want it to be. This can be a time-consuming process.
More often I would use a number of scanners to scan your entire system, to root out whatever has taken hold of your computer. In particular I’m a big fan of Malwarebytes which is available on a 14 day free trial and is very effective in removing most viruses and malware.
Following either of these approaches to virus removal your computer should be back to normal. The only exception would be if you’ve been infected with ransomware, in which case the virus can certainly be removed, but there is no guarantee of being able to restore your encrypted files. The good news is that ransomware has been on the decline over the last couple of years and only affects a small minority of users now.