Malware refers to any software that is developed for the purpose of infecting a system and doing things that are contrary to the interests of the system’s owner. This includes spying on a user’s activity, stealing bandwidth or data, damaging the system, or shutting it down altogether. Most people think that viruses are synonymous with malware. However, viruses are just one type of malware. Others include adware, spyware, worms, Trojans and ransomware.
Knowing whether your device is infected
The first step of recognizing a malware attack is noticing its effects. This is not always easy, though, because many malware are designed to operate stealthily, at least until after the damage is done. Below are some common signs of malware infection.
- Your device becomes noticeably slow
When your device slows down, there’s a good chance it might because it has been infected by malware. However, there are many other possible causes of slowed performance, so you might need to use the process of elimination to find out whether a malware infection is the actual cause. For example, having too many apps/programs on your device can cause it to become slow.
- Your Internet connection becomes slow
Many malware are used to hijack Internet bandwidth. They might be using your device to facilitate DDoS attacks or replicate and spread to other users to steal personal data. However, as with CPU performance, there are many causes for slow Internet, such as background downloads or poor connection. Rule these out first when investigating whether your device has been infected by malware.
- Unaccounted for data usage (on mobile devices)
If your data usage suddenly increases far beyond your usual levels and you’re not a heavy Internet user, then there’s a chance that your device might be under attack by malware. The best case scenario is that an updated app setting is automatically syncing your data with a cloud database. This is common with photo and music apps. However, unexplained high data consumption might be a sign that someone is using malware to steal your data.
- Suspicious notifications and popups
If your browser doesn’t have a popup blocker, as any good browser should, seeing occasional popups as you browse is expected. However, if they start appearing while you’re offline, there might a malware problem. The best case scenario is that you recently downloaded and installed an aggressive piece of software that employs invasive tactics to demand payment. However, such pop-ups are typically the result of infection by malware.
Ironically, such popups typically claim to warn you about virus infections and advertise bogus antiviruses that can further harm your device. Also, if you see popups on websites that previously did not have them, that’s a sign that your device has been compromised. To be sure, find out from the website admin whether they’ve recently started allowing popups.
- Your device crashes
Malware of a more dangerous variety can gain root access of your device and make system changes that disrupt other device processes and (intentionally or inadvertently) cause it to crash. If device crashes become frequent, especially following the installation of a new app, it’s likely that your device is under malware attack.
- Your contacts start receiving messages you didn’t send
Some malware is designed to impersonate you and send messages on your behalf. If your friends and family start replying to messages you didn’t send, then your device has definitely been hijacked by malware that may spread by sending files or links which infect the device of the recipient once opened. Some request from your contacts to send money to the hackers’ accounts.
- You find programs/apps you didn’t download in your device
Some programs sometimes piggy-back on other legitimate programs and install themselves surreptitiously. Although they’re usually harmless, they can’t be ruled out as potential threats. If you notice unfamiliar icons on your PC’s desktop or phone’s home screen. If you don’t need the program/app, simply uninstall it.
- You’re unable to access your files and receive a ransom message
Most malware sneaks into your device. In contrast, ransomware announces its attack. It works by encrypting a user’s files, making them inaccessible. Thereafter, the hackers send a ransom message which demands payment in order for the victim to regain access to their files. You’re completely at the mercy of the hackers whether or not you make the payment. Such attacks can be devastating, so you need to take measures to prevent them.
- Your system does not respond to your commands
Once some malware find their way into your system, they prevent you from removing them by blocking you from accessing system tools or settings. These include your Mac activity manager, Windows task manager, built-in security scanners, and regular control panel or settings. If system changes occur without your permission or access to certain administration tools is restricted, your device might be under malware attack.
- You’re forcibly redirected to certain websites
When browsing, it is advisable to always watch the address bar when a page is loading. If your device is infected by malware, it could redirect you to dubious websites. In some cases, hackers could impersonate legitimate websites (phishing) to collect your login details. Make sure that the URL on the address bar is correct when visiting sensitive websites such as payment services. Many malware also change your browser’s home page.
- Your security tools have been disabled
It’s advisable to always check the status of the security tools on your device. These include built-in firewalls, antimalware and other security software that come pre-installed in your device. If you discover that they have been disabled without your knowledge, find out whether malware might because of it.
- Discrepancies in your phone bill
Some mobile-specific malware surreptitiously send messages to costly private numbers and charge unusually high amounts. In case your phone bill far exceeds your usual amount, carefully review your call and SMS history and get in touch with your service provider to determine whether your phone might have been compromised.
Removing all malware from infected devices
You’ve noticed some of the above signs and found that your device is infected after investigating by scanning your device for powerful antimalware. Different malware are used to target different devices. Therefore, the process of removing malware varies from one device to another.
The following are the basic steps for removing malware from different devices.
- Switch off the Android device to prevent further damage by the malware.
- Boot the device in safe mode, in which only default apps are allowed to run, and remove all suspicious apps.
- If booting in safe mode fails, perform a factory reset.
- Switch off the iOS device to prevent further damage by the malware.
- Restore a backup from iCloud to a date before you installed a suspected app.
- If restoring the backup fails to remove the malware, perform a factory reset.
- Use a powerful antimalware to scan and remove malware.
- Shut down Windows and boot the PC in safe mode.
- Browse your list of programs and uninstall suspected programs.
- If the problem persists, the malware may have taken root deep in the Operating System and you may have to reinstall Windows.
- Shut down the PC to prevent further damage.
- Boot it up in safe mode and remove suspicious programs.
- Remove suspicious browser extensions.
Preventing malware infections
Once you rid your device of all malware, the next step is ensuring that it’s protected against malware infections. The following are measures you should take to keep your device safe from malware.
- Set up powerful antivirus and antimalware software
Download and install powerful antivirus and antimalware software from a reputable vendor. Premium security might seem costly but it is worth the investment. The best antivirus and antimalware software are backed by dedicated developer teams who continually monitor the latest threats and quickly respond with updates. Good security software scans new files and software before they’re opened, stored and installed in your device. They also run periodic system-wide scans to determine whether the malware found its way into the device.
- Use a VPN to secure your online traffic
Of all security software, VPNs are among the most effective when it comes to providing security and privacy. A VPN routes your online data through an encrypted tunnel between your device and a remote VPN server. As a result, hackers, your ISP and intelligence agencies cannot see the contents of your online traffic, which means they can’t monitor you. You can even protect all the devices on your network by installing the VPN on your Wi-Fi router.
- Maintain vigilance when online
Be wary of signs of malware online and suspicious websites that distribute it. Never click popups and make sure you click the real “X” to close them. User reputable browser extensions to block ads and popups. When clicking unknown, suspicious links, keep an eye on the address bar to see whether you’re being redirected.
- Make sure your software is up to date
Avoid canceling or delaying requests from your apps/programs and operating system to update the software. In addition to improving the performance and adding new features to the software, updates typically patch security vulnerabilities discovered by the software developers. These patches can respond to a fast-spreading worldwide bug or they can be pre-emptive fixes. Either way, you should install the updates are soon as possible.
- Secure your passwords
Make sure all your important accounts online and offline are protected by passwords that are strong and unique. After detecting and removal of malware, it is advisable to change your passwords in case the malware was used to access some of your accounts. Use two-factor authentication for supported accounts to further protect your logins.