SUMMARY: Computer security experts estimate that over 1/3 of personal computers contain malware. If your computer is infected with malware, criminals can potentially steal your private information.
According to statistics, Americans spend over six hours each day online. It is virtually impossible to get through a day without a good internet connection so you can hop onto your favorite webpage or social media account. Regardless of whether you are on a computer running Microsoft Windows or on a Mac or Apple device running IOS, unless you take proper security precautions, you are at risk of a malware attack.
Malicious software can cause a host of problems for your computer. If you start to notice a lot of annoying pop-up windows or pop-up ads, your web browser is running slow, or you realize you are a victim of a phishing scam, your PC may have been compromised with a computer virus. Follow these six steps to help limit the information hackers can access and to recover your infected computer.
1. Don't Sign In to any Websites that Access Your Personal or Financial Data
A type of malware called keyloggers are designed to record everything you type and send the information back to cybercriminals. If you have malware, and you sign in to a website, such as your bank or email accounts, the keylogger can capture your login information. Once cybercriminals have your login info, they can access your personal accounts to commit fraud or send copies of the malware to people in your contact list.
As long as you don't sign in to any site on the web websites, the cybercriminals won't get the information they need to commit fraud.
2. Update Your Anti-Virus Software
Malware comes in many different forms — e.g. spyware, ransomware, Trojan Horse — but anti-malware or anti-virus software can only recognize the malware it knows about. Criminals constantly make new types of malware to infect computers, and while Norton and other anti-virus programs release new versions to try to stay ahead of them, they are only effective if you have them loaded on your computer. So, it is critical that you are downloading the latest versions regularly.
Updating your anti-virus software will make it easier to prevent a malware infection. Not all software developers, however, know about the same threats. It's a good idea to use at least two types of anti-virus software to make sure you're protected.
You can also use free scans from companies like ESET to get a second opinion about any malware that's currently on your computer. Getting a second (or even a third) opinion is an especially good idea when you suspect your computer has a virus that your security software can't find.
It's also a good idea to keep your operating system and applications updated. Many programs are updated when the publisher becomes aware of potential exploits, so your security solution must include regular software updates.
3. Run Anti-Virus Software in Safe Mode
Sophisticated malware knows how to embed itself deep in your computer's system. When this happens, running an anti-virus program may not solve the problem completely. Even if the software finds some of the malware, other pieces will remain hidden on your hard drive and in your operating system and other applications.
The best way to eradicate troublesome malware is to boot your computer in Safe Mode and run your anti-virus software. You can enter Safe Mode by going to the start menu of your Windows computer, selecting restart, and repeatedly pressing the F8 key (this may be F4 on different Windows versions) while your operating system loads. When you do this, you'll see a menu that lets you choose what boot option to use. Choosing Safe Mode will prevent third-party applications, including any malware, from running.
Once your computer reboots in Safe Mode, launch your anti-virus software. The malware won't have as many defenses to protect itself, which makes it easier for your software to locate and succeed at the malware removal.
4. Boot Your Computer From an Anti-Virus CD, DVD, or Flash Drive
Running anti-virus software in Safe Mode will usually solve any problems. On some occasions, though, you may have to get more aggressive. If you have caught a particularly smart piece of malware that knows how to defend itself in Safe Mode, then you should try booting your computer from an anti-virus CD or DVD. If your computer doesn't have a disc drive, then you can put the software on a flash drive.
Note that you should make your CD or flash drive on a computer that hasn't been infected, which may mean using a friend's computer.
When you boot your computer next, insert the CD, DVD or flash drive to give the anti-virus software a chance to work in a clean environment. The malware won't have a good way to hide, so this approach almost certainly ensures that you'll fix your computer.
5. Disconnect from the internet
Disconnecting from the internet blocks communication between your computer and the attacker that planted the malware. It’s essential that as soon as you have your anti-virus software updated you disconnect from all networks. This immediately limits the amount of personal data that can be lost and will break any remote access for the attacker. If you’re using ethernet, this can be done by pulling out the cable to your computer. Alternatively, if you’re on WiFi, use the button on your keyboard or in the taskbar to turn off the WiFi.
6. Change all your passwords
If your computer has been compromised, it’s best to change all the passwords for your online accounts. There’s no telling what information the malware has managed to collect, especially if you aren’t sure how long it’s been there, so secure everything to be on the safe side. This is best done from another computer or mobile device so that the malware isn’t able to log your keystrokes as you type in the new passwords.
The amount of malware in the world won't decline anytime soon, so it's important to learn how to protect yourself and your computers.