How to Tell If Your Computer Has A Virus

Unknown error messages and system crashes making your life a misery?

Pop-ups erupting all over the place?

Or is your web browser loading like you’re on dial-up?

If you’re sitting around asking yourself: “Does my computer have a virus?” then you just might be on to something.

No computer is immune to malicious software (malware) or viruses.

That includes you, Mac owners.

The truth is that if your computer suddenly starts acting funny (like slow performance) it might have a virus.

This blog post covers the various types of computer viruses and how you can protect your PC against malware, hackers, and other cybersecurity threats.

What Is A Computer Virus?

Let’s start with the basics.

A computer virus is a self-replicating computer program that makes changes or modifications to existing programs by inserting its code into the host program or application.

Once inserted successfully, the computer or mobile device is now compromised.

Most viruses target Microsoft Windows and use deceptive tactics to slip past antivirus software.

Viruses themselves are created for a variety of reasons, including extorting cash, political messaging, economic sabotage, identity or financial theft.

Sometimes, it’s just kids (script kiddies) looking for a cheap thrill.

But malware and viruses are no joke.

In fact, they cause billions of dollars’ worth of economic damage every year due to stolen or corrupted data, system failures, and wasted IT resources.

Perhaps the costliest malware outbreak in the history of computer viruses is the infamous MyDoom virus, which caused $38 billion in damages since it was first located in the “wild” in January 2004.

What Types of Computer Viruses Are There?

Here’s a list of some of the most common types of computer viruses and a short explanation of how they work:

  • Boot Sector Virus: Infects the master boot record
  • Direct Action Virus: Attaches to a type of file (usually COM or EXE) before spreading to other files in the directory once launched.
  • Resident Virus: A file infector that installs itself on a computer and can attach to antivirus software.
  • Polymorphic Virus: A virus that changes its signature with every replication, making it difficult to detect
  • Overwrite Virus: A virus that deletes the contents of any file that it infects

Common examples of computer viruses include CryptoLocker, which is an infamous form of ransomware that demands money in exchange for a decryption key,

Another is Storm Worm, which is a Trojan horse that infected thousands of computers back in 2007.

Warning Signs Your Computer Has A Virus

Fortunately, there are clear, tell-tale signs that give away whether a computer has a virus.

If your computer is experiencing any combination of the warning signs listed below, then your PC may be infected:

  • Your computer is suddenly running slowly
  • Your see a sudden increase in pop-ups and ads
  • Program and operating system crashes
  • Your contacts have received weird messages from you
  • Unfamiliar error messages appear
  • New icons or toolbars installed

Now that you know what to look for it, let’s take a look at how to identify the exact virus you’re dealing with.

And most importantly how to remove it from your computer.

Investigate the Causes

So, what can you do about malware after you’ve been infected?

First, run some diagnostic tests to determine what’s going on.

Check the Cause of The Slowdown

More often than not, significant performance drop-offs are the result of running out of RAM.

Use Windows Task Manager to view the Memory column under the “Processes” tab.


Here you can view which programs are using up your system’s memory.

Alternatively, it could be that there’s no storage space left on your hard drive disk (HDD).

Under the “Disk” section, you shouldn’t see any numbers exceeding 50-60 percent. If you do, it can be a telltale sign that rogue programs are running in the background.

Upgrading to a faster or bigger hard drive won’t fix the problem, by the way.

Check Your Browser

In ‘Task Manager’, check your web browser and see how it’s affecting your CPU and memory.

If it’s eating up a whole pile of your system resources (RAM and CPU) then that’s a sign something is wrong.

So you can start by getting rid of unnecessary and outdated browser add-ons or Chrome extensions.

If you don’t want to ditch extensions that you use every day, try temporarily disabling them.

Other things to watch out for are:

1. Your browser now automatically opens on a new homepage…and you can’t change it back.

2. You start seeing warnings that your “default browser settings have changed.

Either of these is a very strong hint that you have a virus or malware sneaking around inside your PC.

Run A Security Audit

There are plenty of freeware antivirus software programs to help safeguard your PC against the threat of malware and hackers.

Or to clean it up if it’s already infected.

If you want to find out how to prevent computer viruses from taking hold of your computer, your first step is to run a scan to detect any existing viruses.

Once detected, your antivirus software will give you the option of either cleaning, quarantining or deleting the infected files.

” If it’s some random download you don’t care about then delete it.

” If it’s a file you’re not certain about then quarantine it.

And if it’s a file you really need, well let’s hope that your antivirus software can clean it.
Upgrade and Maintain Your PC Security
Once your antivirus software has detected any existing viruses and removed them from your system, start thinking about how to proactively protect your computer against future infections.

You can do this by making sure your antivirus software is up to date, and then make sure it’s set to update automatically.

While you’re at it, make sure there are now outstanding updates for your operating system or web browsers.

Most viruses exploit Windows computers that haven’t been patched against known security holes in them.

As a rule, take a more proactive role in your cybersecurity by using pop-up blockers, regularly changing your login passwords, and only download files from trusted sources.

You can also choose to upgrade from using free antivirus software to a paid option – there’s a reason why the paid option costs money.
The Bottom Line
The sad part of all of this is that people wait until they wind up with a computer virus before they take action.

I’ve seen this happen with personal friends and in big businesses.

The key is buy a brand-name antivirus package and keep it updated.

Don’t download files from sources you don’t recognize, especially files that end with .exe.

Hackers can only exploit vulnerabilities that you leave open to them.

So you can protect yourself from 99% of these problems by simply installing a good antivirus package that includes malware protection.

Wired vs. Wireless Keyboards: Which Should You Use?

Wireless keyboards might be almost the norm now for computer users.

But are they really a better choice, or are you using one because it looks cool?

You probably never stopped to ask yourself that question, right?

Wireless = Modern and therefore = Good.

That’s not necessarily the case, and I’m going to explain why.

Bluetooth vs. RF Keyboards

We need to cover this before going into any further detail.

Bluetooth is a form of communication technology that was very popular in the early days of the new millennium.

But it was never really used extensively in computer peripherals.

An RF keyboard is what’s used in the majority of peripherals described as being “wireless”.

They use radio waves to communicate via a radio frequency (RF) with the dongle plugged into your computer.

Most modern wireless keyboards communicate in the 2.4GHz frequency range, which allows them to communicate with a PC that’s up to 30 feet away.

Okay, so that’s the technical stuff taken care of.

Let’s look at the pros and cons of owning and using a wireless keyboard.

Reduce Desk Mess

The real selling point for wireless peripherals is that you don’t have to worry about cables snaking across your desk, behind your screen, etc.

That means you could free up some extra desk space by not using a wired keyboard.

But how many times did those cables actually get in your way?

Sure, they might mess up the visual Feng Shui of your desk, but do they actually get in your way…or do you just “feel” they do?

If you’re a total neat freak, then you’ll opt for no wires.

If you’re not then those cables might be kinda ugly, but how big of a deal is that in a home office?

Are you trying to create a pretty working environment, or a productive one?

Wireless Device Range

Wired keyboards usually come fitted with a 6-foot cable, which should be more than enough for the 99.9% of people who sit at arm’s length from their computer.

Bluetooth devices have a range of up to 33 feet, but line of sight is a factor here.

Wireless peripherals, such as a keyboard, have a range of between 6 and 30 feet, depending on the communication technology driving them.

The question to ask yourself here is how far away do you need to be from your desktop or laptop computer?

Do you know anyone who sits more than 6 feet from their computer while they’re working?

If so, drop me an email to explain why.

Interference Problems

Any type of wireless technology can suffer from signal interference, no matter what the manufacturers say.

These devices communicate using radio waves, and radio waves can and do get scrambled.

What can cause interference with RF devices?

The problems usually come from other RF devices like headphones, printers, or anything else sharing the same 2.4GHz frequency.

Now if this is just a signal drop while you’re listening to Spotify, then you won’t care.

But when you have the same “signal” problems with a wireless keyboard it’s beyond infuriating.

It means fiddling around uninstalling and reinstalling drivers, looking for updates, disabling other devices, etc.

That’s the position I found myself in two years ago, and it’s also the basis for writing this blog post – I explain all that in detail shortly.

Keyboard Response Times

Tech product “reviewers” always bring this up.

Why?

Because there is a lag (delay) between what you type on a wireless keyboard and when that information appears on your screen.

This delay is measured in milliseconds, so the average human being won’t notice.

Unless something goes wrong, in which case you’ll find yourself shouting at the screen because the keyboard is duplicating everything you type.

Or you have to wait for the PC to catch up with the data wobbling over the RF connection to the dongle.

Wired keyboards don’t have this problem unless they’re completely borked.

But the honest truth is that unless you’re a pro gamer talking about response times is silly.

Power usage

One of the single most frustrating aspects of owning a wireless keyboard is you need to have spare batteries on hand at all times.

The same thing applies to computer mice – wireless mice can be a real pain in the ass.

I can guarantee that at least a few of you reading this have taken that 1am drive to a grocery store because your keyboard died just as you were in the middle of something important.

What most people suggest is buying two sets of rechargeable batteries and a battery charger.

That’s an environmentally friendly option…as long as you remember to keep your spare batteries charged.

Which most people don’t.

So maybe get a charger with a digital readout so you know exactly where you stand.

Wired keyboards never need to be recharged (nor do wired mice), and more importantly, they never run out of power at midnight on Sunday.

USB Ports Used

Every wired device needs its own USB port to work properly.

So your  keyboard and mouse will take up two ports out of however many you have.

Most modern desktop PCs come with more USB ports than you’ll probably ever need, so this usually isn’t a huge issue.

But if you’re using a laptop, or a PC without a ton of free ports, then being able to connect both your keyboard and mouse via the USB dongle is a better solution.

Your dongle only takes up one  port but connects two devices.

Wireless devices win in this category because they can actually reduce the number of USB ports you use.

Fewer Moving Parts

When you’re troubleshooting issues with a PC, you have to take every component in a device chain into consideration.

What this means is that if I have to troubleshoot a wireless keyboard I need to consider the following:

  • USB dongle
  • Driver software
  • Battery/power
  • Physical device
  • RF interference

When I compare this to a wired keyboard my troubleshooting gets a lot easier:

  • USB driver issue
  • Physical cabling issue (is it plugged in)

Don’t get me wrong – most modern wireless keyboards are rock solid, and probably won’t ever give you a day’s trouble.

But if they do, that’s when the real work starts, and it’s never, ever fun.

Overall Cost

At face value, there’s very little price difference between the two.

You can get a basic wired keyboard for about $14, and a similar wireless keyboard costs around $18.

So, there’s no point in splitting hairs on price, right?

Well…you kinda forgot to include the rechargeable batteries and a charger for them.

That adds an additional $14 to your overall costs, so the wireless keyboard now costs at least $32.

And you can keep going – you can even get solar powered wireless keyboards if you have $100 to spend on a keyboard and mouse, that is.

What About Security Risks?

Did you ever stop to ask yourself can wireless keyboards be hacked?

If you haven’t, then the answer to the question is “Yes…yes they can”.

Any wireless device can be hacked.

Anyone telling you otherwise either doesn’t know what they’re talking about, or they’re an idiot.

Wireless keyboards can most definitely be hacked.

And it can be done from hundreds of feet away if the hacker used a drone to bounce their signal off.

Here’s a pretty exhaustive whitepaper on the subject of RF device security risks from the team at Bastille.

Data entered with a wired keyboard can also be hacked, but that means using a virus to do that, a physical device like a key logger, or a combination of the two.

Software Requirements

Something else you probably didn’t consider is the additional software you need to install to get your wireless keyboard up and running.

Windows 7 onward does a pretty decent job detecting cabled devices, but that’s not always the case with their wireless equivalents.

They usually need some kind of proprietary (custom) software installed, which then results in a stack of bloatware on your PC.

A wired keyboard only needs to be plugged in to a functioning USB keyboard, and Windows will set it up with the standard HID (Human Interface Device) driver.

I prefer to keep my Windows install as lean as possible, and that includes installing the bare minimum of drivers and other software.

Plus, I always had to keep a wired keyboard around for reinstalling Windows on my PC…because wireless keyboards are just paperweights without their drivers.

Why I Swapped To Wired Keyboards

I’d exclusively used wireless keyboards for years but a few recent experiences made me rethink that.

Basically, my beloved Logitech wireless keyboard died late one night while I was working on a huge project.

It went from functioning properly to freezing, repeating what I was typing, and basically making my life miserable.

So, I rebooted the PC, changed out the batteries and tried again.

Same result.

Next up, I did a full virus scan, while checking for updated drivers, and going through ‘Device Manager’ for any potential issues there.

Nothing.

I removed and reinstalled all the driver software, moved the dongle to a different USB port, but still had the same result.

In the end I broke out my “emergency” Logitech wired keyboard and got on with work.

But I’d spent 2 f***ing hours troubleshooting a single tiny problem.

I replaced the busted wireless keyboard with a brand new one a few days later.

After a few months of using it I ran into the same basic problems again – performance drops, random disconnects etc.

This time around I even tried a fresh install of Windows, but nope, another “faulty” wireless keyboard.

That was when I stopped using RF keyboards and mice.

And the thing is, I’ve never looked back.

So I had to ask myself the whole “wired vs. wireless keyboard” question.

I have my answer, and hopefully now also given you some food for thought.