Sunday, June 24, 2012

Three Warning Signs That Your Computer Could Have A Virus

A computer virus is a classic example of one of those things in life that we hear about all the time but don't think it will happen to us. Because of this we tend to dismiss taking any preventative action and then become overtaken by regret and profusely wish we had when we become affected.

For the majority of us, a computer is a daily essential in our lives. Many of us rely on a PC all day at work and then store some of our most precious documents such as photographs of our loved ones and important documentation on our home computers. The effect of having such fundamental features of our lives eaten away or corrupted by a virus can be devastating so why do so many people fail to protect themselves and ignore the signs?

Unfortunately, ridding your computer of a virus can often be a complex procedure. This can often become even more extensive the longer the virus infects your computer. Just like you protect your own health, you should not ignore the symptoms that your computer has been infected because the sooner you detect a potential virus, the more chance you could have of saving your computer's life.

1) The performance crash

We've all been there - the loading cursor whirling round and round taunting you with its lack of urgency. A sluggish computer can make even the most simple of tasks difficult and extremely frustrating. This is not to suggest that a slow-performing computer means that you have definitely got a virus as there are a number of reasons which can cause computers to slow down however it should definitely be a trigger sign that you need to investigate.

A virus can drain a computer of its CPU resources. The central processing unit (CPU) is the 'brains' of a computer - the area where all processes are executed. Therefore by tying up vital resources, viruses can cause your computer to work significantly slower than normal. Although it can take around 6 months for an unidentified virus to completely shut a computer down, the effects are normally visible from around 3 weeks of infection. The first signs can often be web pages loading slowly but over time, you may find applications such as word processors responding more slowly.

You can check your CPU usage in task manager - if it is of a high or full percentage, you should look at the individual processes that are taking up the most resources. If there is a file name which you do not recognise, this could be a cause for concern. You may also start to notice web pages or browsers start to crash altogether or you are directed to a new homepage.

2) The curse of the start-up

That painful frustration when your computer takes so long to start up that by the time it has you've forgotten why you even turned it on in the first place.There can be a number of reasons that a computer takes its time to load as often a number of applications are programmed to automatically load on start up of your computer. However if you do not have any applications set to load, the slothery may be a sign that the harmful malware starting up.

In order to check the applications set to start up automatically, run Start > Run > "Msconfig">Startup - if you notice any applications listed which you did not configure to start up, you should investigate these further. However it may not be wise to make any rash delete until you are certain as they could just be a third party application working on behalf of a trusted system.

3) Access denied

In order to corrupt your computer system to their fullest ability, viruses often implement processes in order to disable certain functions to stop you being able to control your system. This makes it extremely difficult for people to attempt to resurrect the effects of the virus when they start to realise something is not right.

Often the first thing that may become inaccessible is your Task Manager. Viruses often do this to try and make it difficult for users to identify and stop the running process. A number of important files and folders may also be prevented from your access - often viruses make these read-only or hidden so you can not easily access or change them. You should look out for any unidentifiable files ending in '.exe' and consider their origin.

Windows Registry Editor often also becomes affected by the virus. This is the 'headquarters' of your computer system and the place that application and operating system preferences are controlled. This is a fundamental tool for the administration of your computer as operations like 'System Restore' which allows you to revive your computer system to previous points are carried out from here. Viruses often deactivate the Windows Registry Editor to prevent this.

If you suddenly become unable to access areas of your computer system that you previously had access to, you could potentially have contracted a virus.

If you are experiencing one or more of the listed symptoms...

You should seek professional help immediately - do not leave it too late as often the sooner a virus is detected, the better it can be for your computer. This does not necessarily mean that your computer has a virus but a full health check could help to diagnose the problem.

If you are not experiencing any of the symptoms...

You should ensure that you have a good active anti-virus package which is kept regularly updated. These are almost always significantly cheaper to buy than the cost of fixing a computer which has been affected by a virus. If your computer does contract a virus, you could lose everything including photographs and files which may be irreplaceable.

Businesses should be especially vigilant about anti-virus protection as a virus may not only corrupt one computer but all computers on your networking putting your important files at risk. An IT Support company will be able to provide you with full anti-virus guidance and support and a regularly updated and well-maintained system to protect your company's technology.

- John T. Hughes writes for Competent Solutions, a full-service Bristol IT Solutions company offering expert support and an extensive range of technology services including Cloud IT to help your business move forward.

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