As your gadgets store more and more of your personal information — bank details, health records, and work files — it becomes a bigger and bigger target for hackers looking to score a quick buck. Spyware, malware, and computer viruses are just as big of a problem today as they’ve ever been, but cybercrooks are better at hiding what they do, and now they’re targeting your smartphone too, which means it’s time to educate yourself on the warning signs.
This one is one of the most telltale signs: You’re trying to click a link from one site and make it to another and your browser ends up heading in a totally different direction. Sometimes it’ll land on an advertisement, while other times it’ll hit a page claiming you have a virus and need to act quickly by downloading a special tool to fix it. These are big, big red flags that you’ve got a malware infection on your phone or computer.
You’re in slow-mo
If your computer is suddenly running extremely slow it could be a sign that you’ve been hit with a virus or other malicious software. These bad-news apps spend a bunch of your system resources doing nasty things like logging your keystrokes and even acting as zombies to do the bidding of the hackers that are controlling them, and all that work kicks your own computer or smartphone tasks to the back seat, leading to freezing and crashing.
So many pop-ups
If you’ve enabled pop-up blocking on your phone or computer and see a bunch of random ads taking over your screen anyway, you might have adware or malware that is bypassing your settings to show you annoying ads anyway. These can be hard to detect, since there’s so many ads online that you might just assume it’s the fault of the website when it’s really your own gadget with the bad ad habit.
I’m infected! Now what?
The good news is that the vast majority of malware, spyware, adware, and all the other bad “wares” out there can be killed off one way or another. Here’s three solutions that will work in most cases:
- Remove unwanted programs, apps, and features – Head into your big long list of software and see if there’s anything you don’t recognize. On Windows, it’s “Programs & Features,” on Mac it’s simply “Applications,” and on iOS and Android it’ll be on your home screen or in your apps folders. If you see something you don’t use or, better yet, don’t even recognize, it’s a prime candidate for deletion. If you see a familiar name like “Microsoft” or “Google” in the name, it’s almost always safe to keep, especially on Windows in particular, which likes to list a lot of its functionality in the programs list. Sometimes deleting the programs that have been secretly running rampant on your computer is enough to calm the insanity.
- Install antivirus and anti-malware software – There’s plenty of really great choices when it comes to security software, and names like Norton and Mcafee are usually solid options. MalwareBytes is also a stellar choice, as it’s light weight and won’t bog down your system while it does its job. These programs will search your files for signs of bad actors and delete them, and then keep your computer safe from intruders in the future. Most have lengthy free trials of a month or more, and if you just want a quick scan it can usually be done in minutes, and for free.
- Wipe your device – This is really the last-ditch effort to save an infected device, but it’s also sometimes the only solution. Completely wiping and restoring your phone, PC, or Mac to its original condition will scorch the vast majority of bad wares and stop them in their tracks. If you’ve tried the above options and still can’t find relief from hijacked web pages, ads, and other signs of infection, wiping your gadget can be a small price to pay for having it back in tip-top condition.