Signs You’ve Been on a Dangerous Web Site

I often get calls from family and friends about something "going on" with their computer. Something just doesn’t “feel right.” There’s a reason for this, and it is important to ensure the symptoms are not indicative of a bigger problem. This article has great advice to help friends identify the warning signs and take action.

Is your PC getting old and sluggish? Don’t send it into retirement yet. Like a whale encrusted with barnacles, PCs sometimes slow down because they’re loaded with unwelcome passengers in the form of malicious software (malware) like viruses and spyware.

You probably know not to open file attachments in suspicious emails. But these days, that’s not enough to avoid malware. Innocent-looking Web sites can be stealth delivery systems that allow malicious code to do damage.

A simple search on Google may lead you to a dangerous Web site. There, you might download music, videos or software files that are infected with malware — sometimes this can even happen without the site owner’s knowledge.

How can you tell if you’ve been on a bad-news Web site? Look out for the symptoms below. If you notice any of these symptoms, perform a full virus scan right away, either with trusted tools from software vendors like Norton, or our own Staples EasyTech diagnostic and antivirus services.

Running Like a Sloth

Is your PC starting up slowly or running slowly after startup? There are many possible culprits, but you can fight back. Start by defragmenting your hard drive. This can be achieved with the tools included with your Windows operating system (for example, here are the instructions for defragmenting Windows XP) or by way of a professional in-store service consultation. Also, confirm that your computer has enough memory (RAM) to run your applications. Sometimes this check is as simple as consulting the side of the software box you’re using, or visiting that company’s Web site (since many applications are downloaded online these days, and not picked up in a store). Then you can watch this official Microsoft Windows video to learn how to determine exactly how much RAM your PC currently uses. If neither step solves the problem, you may have a virus or other malware.

Programs or Parts of Programs Not Working

Are you unable to open certain programs? Are some program features not working? Does your computer crash when you try to open specific programs or files? These may all be signs that a virus is doing its dirty work. It’s important to keep track of which files or programs aren't working correctly. After you’ve determined the source of the problem, you may need to restore the files or reinstall the programs.

Masters of Disguise

Viruses have many dirty tricks, but disguising themselves as antivirus software is one of the worst. So be sure to know which antivirus software is on your PC. Note what it looks like when it's running and whether it ever launches pop-ups. And if you ever see pop-up ads claiming you have a virus and telling you to “click here”? Don't do it. Click Control+Alt+Delete on your keyboard and then End Task. .This will safely and quickly kill the offending pop-up.

Change Isn't Always a Good Thing

Is your browser starting at a new home page when you open it? Does it have a new toolbar that you didn't install? Is there a new bookmark in your Favorites list that you don’t remember adding? If these things happen without your knowledge, you may have an invader. Check your operating system with Microsoft’s official Update tool and make sure it has all the latest updates installed; these updates often contain patches for security loopholes that hackers have found and exploited.

Other Odd Behavior

Is your browser opening up by itself? Is your screen changing colors? Are files missing? Try restarting your PC when you observe unexpected actions like these. If the trend continues, you may need a virus cleanup.

Emails You Didn’t Send

If your PC is infected, you might just find out via email. That is, some malware allows hackers to send copies of the virus or requests for money, in your name, to your email contacts. If you learn your contacts are getting these messages, change the password for your email program right away.

It's hard to tell safe Web sites from dangerous ones, so the best strategy for safe browsing is to keep your PC defended. Make sure you’re using quality antivirus software that updates regularly and scans your PC often. And always keep an eye out for all of the above symptoms so that you can run a thorough virus scan in a timely manner. You may also need spyware protection, either separately or as part of your anti-virus software.

This all may sound like a lot of work, but remember: it’s easier to protect yourself from a virus infection than to recover from one.

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