Getting infected with malware is like catching a cold. At first things seem a little off. But if you know your body well, you go straight for vitamin C at the first sign of trouble. Working on your machine is no different. It's easy to overlook small glitches and irregularities if they're not really impacting your work, but they're usually the first symptoms of a bigger problem.
Just like when you start noticing those first cold symptoms, you should do the same for your computer and your network if you notice any of the following 7 "symptoms" while you're on your computer. Otherwise, you could be in for a struggle.
Your computer is much, much slower
The first symptom that usually catches people's attention is a noticeable drop in the speed of their operating system. There are three things that could start to behave sluggishly if targeted by malware and they are, (1) the time it takes for your computer to boot up when you restart or turn it on, (2) the time it take for applications to open, (3) and your internet speed.
If you don't use a lot of applications that are particularly resource-heavy, or if your internet speed takes a sudden nosedive that can't be attributed to the usual suspects, it's time to dig deeper and see if malware could be the problem.
Programs start opening and closing on their own
If programs or applications start to take on a life of their own by opening and closing automatically, you could have a bug. Some programs are intended to do that and some are not, so make sure before assuming it's malware.
Your computer is working harder than it should be
Your computer could be showing increased activity for a few different reasons. It makes sense for your computer to show increased network activity if you're running a lot of programs, your operating system is updating, large files are being downloaded from or uploaded to the internet, or one or more applications are updating.
If not, then you should scan your computer for viruses immediately to see if its been compromised by malware.
Friends (and strangers) start complaining about the spam you didn't know you were sending out
Of all symptoms, this one is the most worrisome, not only because it's embarrassing but because it means you may have inadvertently infected your friends, colleagues, and acquaintances too. Be suspicious of emails with unknown senders or messages you receive through social media, and do not under any circumstances, send or share any messages unless you know for certain they are from trustworthy sources.
Your browser homepage is different
You could have malware if things aren't the way you remember them in your internet browser. Are there new toolbars that weren't there before? Is your starting page different? Are you being redirected to different websites when you try and access your favorite news site or blog? Are pop-ups showing up out of nowhere?
If any of these things start to happen it could mean that you clicked on a pop-up that planted a virus or unintentionally downloaded malware onto your computer when you installed a free program. This is when it counts to be extra diligent and make sure the sites you instal or download from have integrity.
You suddenly have less space
If your PC is warning of low disk space when you were sure there was plenty more, yep, that could mean malware too. Some malware works by loading your hard drive with strange files. If you don't recognize a lot of files that may be the cause. Avoid opening any files you don't recognize and run your anti-virus software instead.
Your computer crashes
This is one of the most frustrating signs that you've been infected. You're in the middle of something important and then out of nowhere you see the dreaded Blue Screen Of Death. Ugh. There are two reasons this could happen. Hardware and software incompatibility is one of them, and comparatively easier to fix. The other is a malware infection, which will require a little more work on your part. Your anti-virus software will highlight the issue but you may have to get more help from IT support or online security forums created specifically to help people with this kind of issue
All of these symptoms are frustrating and none of them alone point to a malware infection. Make sure you take the time to really understand what's causing any strange activity before jumping to the conclusion that it's malware. This will ultimately save your time and your sanity.