October is Cyber Security Month, and a computer virus is often the result of not taking the right Cyber Security precautions. Viruses can disable your computer but more often they just slow down your computer or steal your data. People often blame this issue on slow internet, but it is more likely a computer virus or router issue. The good news is there are steps you can take to avoid getting a virus or boot a virus off your machine.

Computer viruses mimic the real world, disease-causing viruses like the flu. They are highly contagious and can easily jump from computer to computer. Your computer may act “run down” and have difficulty performing even the simplest task. Also, like real viruses, computer viruses replicate themselves, spreading through your operating system wreaking havoc, damaging programs, deleting files, and making devastating changes to your hard drive. Viruses can also give their cybercriminal creators a backdoor to destroy or steal your sensitive data and documents.

The idea of having a virus on your computer is scary, but these tips on how to prevent, detect, and defeat computer viruses can help you wake up from that computer virus nightmare!

How does your computer get a virus?

Downloading or installing infected file is the most common reason your computer gets infected. Pirated media and free games are common culprits, as are phishing attacks where you click on a bad link, button, or email attachment. Once clicked, the virus or other malware installs itself. Similarly, viruses can infect your computer when you visit scam websites. Sometimes, you can unintentionally install a virus from an infected external drive, like a USB stick.

How can you tell if your computer has a virus?

If you notice any or all these symptoms, your computer might have a virus and you should act:

  • Suddenly slow computer performance
  • Problems unexpectedly shutting down or restarting
  • Missing files
  • Frequent system crashes
  • Frequent error messages
  • Unexpected pop-up windows
  • New applications that appear without you downloading them
  • Overworked hard drive (device’s internal fan seems to be working harder)
  • Emails that send automatically from your accounts without you sending them
  • Lagging web browser, or your web browser constantly redirects
  • Malfunctioning antivirus programs or firewalls

I think my computer has a virus, what should I?

If you think your computer has a virus, you should act fast to try to irradicate the malicious code. Try these steps, and if it is not too late, you might be able to save your computer:

  • Run a full-system scan
  • Restore to an earlier back-up
  • Delete temporary files
  • Go Safe Mode
  • Reinstall your operating system

How do I prevent a computer virus?

Just like with your immune system, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Follow the Core 4 or four basic cybersecurity behaviors.

  1. Use complex passwords that are at least 12 characters long and are unique to each account; use a password manager to securely store all your passwords.
  2. Turn on multi-factor authentication (sometimes called 2-factor authentication) for any account that permits it.
  3. Turn on automatic updates for your hardware, software, and apps.
  4. Learn how to identify phishing – don’t take the bait!

Other things you can do to stay safe online:

  • Be careful on public wi-fi: Public wi-fi in cafes, airports, and other businesses can be convenient, but these networks are often unsecured and leave your phone, tablet, or computer susceptible to viruses. Using a personal mobile hotspot or VPN (virtual private network) is a more secure way to connect when you are on the go.
  • Get your software fresh from the source: One of the oldest tricks in the cybercriminal’s book is to sneak viruses and malware into software and files people want to pirate. Always download software from verified sources and get all your apps from your device’s official app store. You might think your saving money by pirating software, movies, or other media, but you are also putting your expensive device and network at risk!

Remember… the best thing you can do is to prevent your computer from getting a virus by following the Core 4 steps and practicing safety measures like complex passwords and 2-factor authentication. If you think your computer has a virus, act fast…. don’t panic …  try the steps suggested and hopefully you will not have to deal with the nightmare of losing your data and computer to a virus.