Six signs your computer is infected

Computer Virus Detected

Viruses – both real and virtual – have a lot in common. For starters, they both suck to catch. Smallpox, Stuxnet, Conficker, or the common cold – we can all agree that regardless of whether they’re in your body or your PC, viruses are universally awful. Second of all, while both types of viruses can be avoided with the proper precautions, odds are you’ll still pick one up at some point in your life. And lastly, just like recognizing a viral infection in your body, knowing if your PC has been infected is all about knowing the symptoms. So, as netizens concerned for the well-being of the community, we’ve put together this list of computer virus symptoms to help you diagnose any problems you might be experiencing.

Telltale signs of an infected PC

Pop-up ads

Remember these things? Dear god were they annoying back in the day. One minute you’re minding your own business, talking with your buddy through this newfangled online chatroom thingy, and then BAM! a flashy window appears to inform you that you’re millionth visitor to this site, and you absolutely must CLICK HERE TO CLAIM YOUR PRIZE! 

Virus hit page counter

Luckily, those days are behind us. Most modern browsers now include robust popup blockers, so pop-ups shouldn’t really be a problem anymore if your browser is up to date. The occasional pop up might still happen if you’re clicking around a shady site, but it’s highly unlikely nowadays that you’ll encounter a lot of them online. If you’re getting a lot of pop-ups while you’re surfing the Web, it’s likely just a poorly-configured browser. Adjust your settings and they should go away.

What you should really worry about is if you’re still getting pop-ups while your browser isn’t even open. If that’s the case, chances are good that you have a virus on your system. The most common ones are ads that say something like “Alert! your computer might be infected with a virus,” and then offer up free software to fix it. Please don’t be a numbskull and fall for this – you’ll only be downloading more malware.

To get rid of the virus, get your hands on a malware removal tool. We recommend using Spybot Search & Destroy (free) or Malwarebytes Virus Removal ($25).

Hijacked accounts and messages you didn’t send

Just like real-world viruses, computer viruses are on a mission to spread and infect as many machines as possible, and often they way they do this is by hijacking your email, IM, or social media accounts and sending malware-laden messages to your contacts. This is hard to detect sometimes, since most of us keep a close watch on our inboxes, but rarely stop to check our outboxes. More often than than not, you find out about these phantom messages from your savvy friends who see them in their inbox, realize something’s phishy, and let you know you might’ve been hacked. Just keep an eye on your Sent messages on every platform and make sure you change your account password if you notice anything you didn’t write yourself.

Lockdown warnings

So you’re on your PC, doing your thing and putting the finishing touches on the most adorable kitten GIF of all time. Suddenly, an official-looking message appears on your screen, informing you that your computer has been locked due to your illegal activity, and that you must pay a fee to regain control of it. Don’t worry, these types of messages are complete bullshit. You weren’t doing anything illegal – kitten GIFs are not illegal! –  your computer is just infected with ransomware.


Sometimes these messages aren’t even official-looking; they’re just plain old ransom notes that say, “we’ve taken control of your computer, pay us and we’ll let it go free.” Whatever you do, do not enter any kind of payment information. Chances are slim that it’ll give you back control. What’s worse is that you probably won’t be able to remove the virus with your normal antivirus software either – you’ll need to get your hands on a rescue disc from AVG or Kaspersky.

Crashing, freezing, and general slowness

While system crashes, frozen screens, and painfully slow operation could be caused by poor configuration, these can sometimes also indicate that your PC is infected with malware. The best way to tell if it’s one or the other is how quickly things got bad. If your computer has gradually been getting slower over time and has now reached a point where it occasionally comes to a halt, it might be simply because you haven’t been performing regular system maintenance. Check out our guide to speeding up your PC to help speed things back up.

If your computer was running smoothly one day, and suddenly became laggy, slow, and unresponsive overnight, then there’s a chance that malicious software is the cause. Viruses often run tasks that take up a lot of resources and make your system run more slowly than usual. Try opening up Task Manager to see what’s running. If that doesn’t work, keep reading. 

Essential functions don’t work

Most major operating systems come standard with a task manager that allows you to see what your PC is doing at any given moment. For Windows users, this can be accessed with control+alt+delete, whereas Mac users can simply open Spotlight (command+space) to find/open the Activity Monitor program. These tools will provide you insight into what programs are currently running on your computer, and you should always be able to access them. If for some reason you can’t get your task manager (or other diagnostic tools) to open, there’s a chance your computer is infected with a virus that doesn’t want you to find it.

If this happens, run your antivirus program if you can. If you can’t (presumably because the virus is blocking this too), then you’ll likely have to resort to a separate virus removal tool. 

Nothing’s wrong

Even if everything seems peachy and your computer runs without any problems, there’s always the chance that your system is harboring a malicious piece of software that you’re totally unaware of. As a general rule, the more advanced the virus, the lower your likelihood of discovering the infection. Think about it – if you were a world-class cybercriminal, would you design a virus that people could easily detect and shut down, or would you take time to make it practically invisible? Exactly. 

Some of the most sophisticated viruses in the world have been found to include software that actually deletes other malicious files that might get cause virus scanners to send up red flags. As cybercriminals continue to step up their game, it’s increasingly likely that you won’t even notice your computer has a virus, so keeping this in mind, you shouldn’t always assume that you aren’t infected simply because your system runs smoothly. At the end of the day, the best way to keep your PC malware-free is to give it regular checkups with a good antivirus program, and always make sure that your operating system is up to date.

Looking for a good antivirus program that won’t break the bank? Check out our lists for the best free antivirus sofware, and the best free antivirus software for Mac OS X.


Cloudflare’s privacy-enhancing DNS service comes to iOS and Android

Cloudflare's DNS resolver service has been ported to mobile devices, and now anyone with an Android or iOS device can download it for free to take advantage of its speed and privacy-boosting features.

Common Chrome OS problems, and how to fix them

Is something irking you about Chrome OS? Find your problem on our list of bugs, issues, and general complaints about the OS, along with easy solutions to any issues that might arise.

Why constrain yourself to one OS? Try one of these great virtual machine apps

Buying a new computer just because you want to utilize another operating system isn't necessary. Just use the best virtual machine applications to emulate one OS inside another -- no matter what your platform or budget is.

Sending SMS messages from your PC is easier than you might think

Texting is a fact of life, but what to do when you're in the middle of something on your laptop or just don't have your phone handy? Here's how to send a text message from a computer, whether you prefer to use an email client or Windows 10.

How to remove Android malware from your phone or tablet

Did you download an infected app? You need to remove Android malware as soon as possible. Here's the process to uninstall, along with some recommendations on how to safeguard your phone.

The plug-and-play PC Classic joins the retro console bandwagon

Gaming company Unit-e is creating the PC Classic, a plug-and-play retro console that will come bundled with around 30 of the best DOS games. The system will support gamepads and keyboard setups.

Mozilla’s built-in price-tracking extension makes it easy to shop with Firefox

Mozilla has heard those worries about Black Friday shopping, and is now introducing a new set of experimental extensions which aim to make it easier to find the best deals online.

Is your PC slow? Here's how to restore Windows 10 to factory settings

Computers rarely work as well after they've accumulated files and misconfigured settings. Thankfully, with this guide, you'll be able to restore your PC to its original state by learning how to factory reset Windows.

Best Buy’s pre-Black Friday deal takes $330 off the 2017 Surface Pro bundle

If you don't need the latest Surface Pro, Best Buy has a heavily discounted rendition of the 2017 model available in its pre-Black Friday sale. For just $1,000, you can get the tablet with a Core i5 CPU.

If you've lost a software key, these handy tools can find it for you

Missing product keys getting you down? We've chosen some of the best software license and product key finders in existence, so you can locate and document your precious keys on your Windows or MacOS machine.

Buying a laptop on Black Friday? Don't make one of these rookie mistakes

Shopping for a laptop on Black Friday can win you some excellent deals, but you should also avoid making common mistakes. Check out what to avoid when buying a laptop for Black Friday and what danger signs to be wary of.

The Mac mini's price jump has crept into iMac territory. How do they compare?

Apple announced a long-awaited update to the Mac mini. Thanks to the updated specs and increase in price, it's begun to creep up to the base model iMac. In this guide, we now put up the specs on the newest refreshed Mac mini against the…

Our favorite Windows apps will help you get the most out of your new PC

Not sure what apps you should be downloading for your newfangled Windows device? Here are the best Windows apps, whether you need something to speed up your machine or access your Netflix queue. Check out our categories and favorite picks.

Ray tracing not an option until it comes to all graphics cards, says AMD

Although Nvidia already supports the ray tracing feature on its high-end new GeForce Turning series of chips, AMD seemingly hinted it doesn't feel like ray tracing is ready until it comes to all level of graphics cards.