How can I tell if I have a virus? What do I do if I think I have one?

If your computer is taking you to unexpected Web sites, giving you suspicious looking alerts or running more slowly than normal, there might be a virus or other malware on your computer. Malware is a blanket term meaning viruses, worms, Trojans, adware, spyware, keyloggers, rootkits and other scary sounding threats. Malware can do damage to your computer or be an attempt at identity theft. Sometimes, there are no “symptoms” at all. Other times, a frightening warning may itself be the culprit, called scareware.

If you think you have a virus, and you do not have an anti-virus software program, get one. Some are free, others offer a free trial period or online scan, and require you to pay to continue using it. Some are programs you install, others are offered over the Internet. See How do I select a good anti-virus program? for advice on selecting a program. If you have a current Microsoft Windows system, you can get free protection. See What kind of anti-virus protection does Microsoft Security Essentials offer?

Once you have anti-virus/anti-spyware software, run the program and pick “Full System Scan.” This will check every folder for viruses and other potentially harmful software. It may take up to an hour for this scan to be completed. If a virus is found, it will be quarantined. You will be asked to take action. Select “Clean” to remove the virus from the file. If clean doesn’t work, choose “Erase” to delete the infected file from your computer.

Be sure to set your application to run a daily quick scan of the folders you add content to on a regular basis as they are more susceptible to viruses, or a full system scan if you have a fast Internet connection and PC. Most software programs will allow you to set these to run automatically, but you have to do a little searching to find these options.