When most people think of an infected computer, their brain screams “VIRUS!”. That is usually not the case, and almost all the infected computers that are brought to our shop do not have a virus. Most affected computers, instead, have a case of the malwares.
What is the main difference?
Viruses are programs that replicate themselves and try to spread through your computer and network. Once you have a virus in your computer, it is usually rather difficult to get rid of it. Using an antivirus will usually try to block it from entering, but once it’s in, it gets complicated.
A computer virus is very similar to an actual virus, like the flu. Once you get infected, the disease wants to spread—you start sneezing and coughing, spreading influenza. In a very similar way, once your computer gets infected, it can start sending data to other computers in your network, or to people’s email addresses that you have saved on your computer. The virus replicates itself in order to try to become as powerful as possible. Because of this mechanism, it is important have your computer professionally cleaned.
How can I contract a virus?
The most common way of contracting a computer virus is opening an email attachment or downloading something suspicious on the web.
It should be noted that viruses are getting more advanced, so it might be difficult to differentiate between a real program and a virus. For example, an increasingly popular method of spreading a virus to different computers is to leave a USB-drive lying around in a crowded place. What would you do if you found a USB stick at a café, for example? Most people would plug it into their computer to see what’s on it, in hopes of finding the owner, then return the stick to them. That is a bad idea, since once you plug the USB into your computer, it can immediately start unpacking the virus and you would be done for.
Sometimes the user doesn’t even realize they have been infected. We had a case recently where a client had a Cryptocurrency Miner Virus on their computer, but it was very much hidden. We realized there was a virus on the computer by the extreme usage of the Graphics Processing Unit. The fans on the computer went crazy, even though nothing was being done. On closer inspection, it turned out that the culprit was WinZip. But how can that be? WinZip doesn’t use your GPU. We had to dig deeper and realized that a virus was pretending to be WinZip, so that the client wouldn’t get suspicious. In this case, someone was just using our computer for their own gain, but the consequences might be much more severe.
Remember the WannaCry ransomware from 2017? That ransomware was dangerous since it encrypted files on the PC and thus made it impossible to get to them. A ransom was then required to decrypt the data. Not only did the virus affect more than 300,000 computers, it also affected huge systems of sensitive data, such as health services.
Takeaway: computer viruses are rare, but severe. If your computer is acting suspiciously, using a lot of resources for no apparent reason (you can check your hardware usage in Task Manager for both Windows and Mac) or if you’re getting a notification that your files have been encrypted, you should immediately turn your computer off and disconnect it from the network, then get it professionally cleaned. To avoid getting a virus infection, do not open attachments or download any files that look even slightly suspicious.
The other types
Most of the malicious software we see at our shop is mal- or spyware.
A very common type that we see often is adware. Adware is usually not dangerous by itself, but it can get very frustrating to have tens of pop-ups show up on your screen, or ending up on a strange advertising site when you’re just trying to Google something. The goal of adware is to secretly collect data about your habits online, so the makers can direct more specific ads for you and get you to buy something. They can also earn money for each click you make on an ad.
Most commonly, you will start seeing click-bait ads, your homepage changes to something odd or you get constant pop-ups that you can’t close using the “X” button.
Adware is only one category of malware in a long list.
Other categories include worms, spyware, scareware and many others. Let’s take a closer look at one of the most common types of malware – spyware.
You can “contract” spyware much the same way as you can catch a virus. Oftentimes you get it when you are downloading a bundle of other programs or streaming videos. Ever notice that when you’re about to download a file, you see several different options for “download”? You have to be very careful when downloading anything online, because it can be rather difficult to choose the correct, actual download.
Some spyware is more obvious than others, showing up at the bottom of your screen at the taskbar, in the Task Manager or just making your computer noticeably slower all of a sudden. Most of the time, though, spyware is hidden, secretly recording every keystroke and click. After sending the information to a third party, the criminal can get access to your bank account, email credentials, and pretty much everything else you do on your computer.
Do not trust just anyone that offers a not-so-well-known free anti-spyware scan or tool. They tend to be spyware (or adware) in disguise, or they might point out a bunch of extremely malicious software that you might not even have, so a little caution goes a long way.
You should also beware of very intrusive ads — ads that move around a lot, that blink constantly or the ones that don’t have an “X” button to close it out.
Takeaway: The most common malicious software you might find on your computer is adware. To avoid getting infected with that sort of malware, we recommend to always be a little suspicious on anything you click online. If you get a rogue pop-up that will not close on its own, that (sometimes) has audio and has big flashing “Warning!” signs, you can open your Task Manager and close the ad from there. If you keep seeing pop-ups everywhere when using your browser, you might want to go over your browser extensions and clean the place up.
You can do a lot to protect yourself from online baddies. The most important thing is to always be critical about what you click on and especially download. Better safe than sorry! Check the sender email address when you get an odd email, try not to click on clickbait-y advertisements and before you download something, make sure it is a legitimate site and product.
If you have think you might have been infected…
In just over 17 years, PRO has grown from another ‘dime a dozen’ corner shop with humble beginnings in Andersonville into the most trusted computer repair and technology services company in Chicago.