Technology Exam: How Infected Computers Behave

If you notice your computer is acting differently, it might be calling in sick.  Learn how to spot a virus-ridden PC and where the bugs may live.

Much like somebody who is ill, a computer that’s stricken with viruses can exhibit varying symptoms of sickness. The PC can seem slightly “off,” as if fatigued, or it might try to infect other machines maliciously.

Do you know if your computer needs a checkup or a major antivirus booster? Read on for some symptoms worth noting.

Sluggish Performance

The computer seems to be dragging along, taking longer than usual to start up or open programs. While saving changes to documents, it may “spin” for awhile before completing the task.

This “tiredness” can seem even worse when new software is installed. The system might restart unexpectedly, or the applications won’t work as promised. Or, you start receiving error messages about lack of memory, even though the computer has sufficient RAM.

This type of slowdown is one of the major signs of an infection. Since many viruses run in the background without the user's knowledge, they hog all the available processing power and slow down normal function. Also, by damaging parts of the system, they throw the whole operation into disarray. As a result, it takes longer for your computer to figure out how to function.

Work Avoidance

When a virus or other security issue takes hold, it seems like the computer just wants to call in sick. Sometimes, Windows doesn’t even start, despite the fact that there haven’t been any system changes or software installations. Other symptoms: the computer doesn’t respond to double-clicking on icons, or certain files get shifted to different folders.

Often, programs that used to run fine will stop responding or prompt error messages. You can’t start Windows Task Manager to figure out the problem. A disk utility scan reports multiple errors. Viruses and other infections make applications stop working, disrupt printer functions, or cause system crashes, frequent restarts and other headaches.

Bad Behavior

Illness can turn even the sweetest person into a cranky, disgruntled worker. When viruses are present on a computer, that spiteful demeanor can progress to actual sabotage.

The computer may be infected with a keylogger program, a stealth application that records every keystroke you make. With this information, a hacker would be able to see what Web sites you visit, and also what you input into username and password fields on these sites.

Keyloggers are spyware, a classification of viruses designed to spy on users and report back to the person who launched the attack. These viruses can get on a computer in multiple ways, but the most common method is through pop-up ads that entice users to click on them. When they do, malicious software downloads into the system.

Beware of any ad that asks for a clickthrough. Also, be wary of email attachments with extensions such as .exe or .vbs, since they may contain viruses that will automatically download.

Spreading the Infection

When people get sick, they often don’t realize they could be infecting others. The same is true when computer viruses strike. Hackers use targeted machines to create a network of zombies that do their work for them.

Unlike the lumbering, flesh-eating creatures in movies, these zombies attack with deliberation and precision. They might send viruses to everyone in your address book, or simply work undetected to keep infection spreading to other computers.

No matter what type of symptoms you see, it’s important to get your computer healthy again with a strong dose of antivirus protection. Run a security scan that looks for multiple types of threats, and implement the security software's recommendations right away.

As with many other types of sickness, a good dose of care and attention can go a long way when battling an infection in your computer.

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