The internet can be a wonderful place for entertainment, learning, and communicating with friends. But there also are bad things to be aware of, such as malware and computer viruses. If your computer isn’t performing well, it may have a virus. Here’s how to get rid of a virus before it does the most damage.
What is a computer virus?
A computer virus is a piece of code or an executable program that gets downloaded onto your computer through an email, software download, or an outside storage device. It's a contagious element that can go from computer to computer, causing your device to perform poorly.
Like a human virus, computer viruses can cause great harm if left untreated. Viruses can destroy files and even steal or broadcast your most sensitive data.
Where do they come from? Hackers and criminals create and spread them through the things we do on our computers every day. You may have no idea that the free software you downloaded had a virus. The email attachment you opened could have one too. That's why it is important to protect yourself and know what to do if a virus gets through to your computer system and files.
Signs you have a computer virus
How can you know that your computer has a virus? While a good security software product should alert you to problems and remove them automatically, it’s smart to know the symptoms of a sick PC. Some of the most common signals that you have a virus include:
- Frequent loss of internet connection or unstable connection speeds
- A computer that freezes or crashes often
- Pop-ups and other disruptive ads
- High resource usage, as seen in the task manager
- Inability to remove unwanted programs or applications
- Files that appear out of nowhere and can’t be deleted
- Unauthorized changes to your settings, internet IP, or computer permissions
- Unwanted spam messages sent to your family and friends without you knowing
Symptoms vary by virus and may not affect computers in the same way.
How to get rid of a computer virus
Similar to a cold or flu virus in humans, the best way to rid yourself of a computer virus is not to get one at all. Prevention is the best medicine for anything. If you've found that your computer is infected, there are things you can do to remedy the situation. Take action fast to get rid of the virus before it does the most possible harm.
Antivirus software is the single most effective and least complicated way to remove a virus. This type of program is designed to stay connected to the internet and continually update its library of possible viruses so that it’s aware of new ones as they are discovered and reported.
The software’s frequent scans should catch and delete most viruses before you’re even aware of it. You can also choose to specifically target files or places on your computer that you think are infected, such as your hard drive.
How to prevent getting computer viruses
It can’t be stressed enough that preventing viruses is the best strategy. While no security product is 100% fool-proof, following these practices can keep you safer. They are generally good enough for most consumer computers:
1. Use a firewall
All computers that come with major operating systems installed should have a firewall product. Microsoft Windows, for example, includes a firewall as part of its Windows Security Center. If you purchased a third-party product, such as McAfee LiveSafe antivirus
, this should have a firewall by default. Adjust the settings to get the protection level that’s best for you.
2. Adjust your browser settings
Whether you use Microsoft Edge, Google Chrome, or another browser, adjusting the security settings can help. You can require that your browser asks for permission before loading certain pages or sending personal information. Some software products also come with safe browsing features to handle these settings for you.
3. Surf smart
Your computer can be less susceptible to viruses if you engage in safe practices. These include the following:
- Only visit websites you trust, and only accept downloads or programs from those you can verify
- Avoid websites that don’t have a URL starting with the secure https:// format or that prompt your browser to issue a security warning
- Don’t accept the terms of service for new programs or games without reading them first. Understand what software or apps will do to your operating system. Don’t automatically accept terms or allow programs to make changes to your computer without careful examination
- Don't open an email or social media attachments from someone you don't know. If something seems suspicious - like an email from a friend with a weird attachment - start a new email or social media message chain to ask your friend about it
- Before downloading free software or tools, search the web to see if it’s legit. Many antivirus software providers have published guides or come with specific removal tools designed to verify the content you download. See if others have experienced issues with these tools before you put your PC at risk
4. Keep software updated
Even the best antivirus software won’t work if you don’t regularly accept updates. The same is true for your operating system and other software programs. Because many of the new updates specifically address security flaws, it’s essential to allow your PC to perform updates and that you keep your antivirus program connected to the internet to accept them.
Prevention is key
Computer virus removal is something all of us do at some point. Even so, whether a virus causes performance or security issues often depends on how long you wait to handle it. If you don’t have antivirus software on your computer, don’t wait another moment. It’s still the best way to proactively protect yourself and remove a virus if one is found.