Help! I Think My Computer Has a Virus!

Few things are as panic-inducing as the thought of some unknown prowler – human or computer code – in your personal PC. How can you tell if your computer has a problem? And what should you do if it does?

Is It a Virus?
For the computer savvy, an unexplained drop in PC performance rings alarm bells. If your computer has become molasses-slow, scan it using your internet security program of choice. (It helps if you have one installed and fully updated; there are a number of great free anti-malware programs available online.)

Thanks to those clever antivirus professionals, most internet security programs update themselves, regularly scan your computer, and monitor background activity without bothering you about it. So your first intimation that something is wrong might be a message from your program that tells you – urgently, with exclamation points and red lettering – that is has found a problem.

As the Hitchhiker’s Guide says, don’t panic.

What Does This Box Mean?
First, read the box carefully. It may be telling you that your security software has blocked some unethical attempt at hacking into your domain. In that case, relax. It’s done its job, and all you need to do is say thanks. And press the OK button.

Now, if the box says that some file has been corrupted or is highly suspicious, look closer. Find the name of the program that is causing those alarming boxes to spring up. Unless you’re trying to install a trusted program and that program is setting off the antivirus, follow the recommended action, which generally involves quarantining or deleting the problem file.

Virus Removal, Level 1
As good as anti-malware programs are, there are always a horde of new viruses that come out daily. (That’s why updates are so important.) So what do you do if you suspect a virus? Once again, don’t panic. Follow these steps.

1. Make sure your anti-virus program is on and fully operational.
2. Run the updating software and check to see that the updates have been installed.
3. Run a full system scan.

Problems still persist? You’re not at a loss yet.

Virus Removal, Level 2
If your anti-virus has failed to remove the problem-causing malware, go directly to the manufacturer’s site and download a virus removal tool. Install and run this; you may need to run it more than one time. Then restart your computer and follow the Level One procedure.

Occasionally, some stubborn bits of malware can survive even this process. You’re not defeated yet, but the next step is more involved.

Virus Removal Escalates
At this point, dig out your restore CDs or DVDs and get ready to do battle. (You did keep the restore discs that came with your system, right? Or at least made one when your PC was young and innocent? It’s as important as saving data and installing internet security software.) If you can, transfer or back up online anything on your system that you don’t want to lose. Once you complete this step, anything that was on your hard drive will be gone.

Insert the disk and hold your breath: you’re going to be reformatting the hard drive, a sort of mega-deletion. Follow the prompts as they appear on the screen, and your computer will be returned to its original state, wallpaper and all. You’ll have to re-load every program you installed and every bit of data you saved – first scanning the data for viruses, of course – but it’s cheaper than buying a new laptop or desktop.

Honestly, though, this step is just too intense for most PC users. It’s okay; help is on the way.

Professional Virus Removal
Few computer users are comfortable with anything beyond Level One virus removal. And that’s not a problem. There are a slew of professionals that are ready, waiting, and qualified to take over the task. It many cases, virus removal can even be done remotely, so you don’t have to pack up your computer and haul it to the nearest big box PC store. What you save in time and frustration will cost your wallet some money, but for most folks, that’s a small price to pay for peace of mind.

If your computer has a virus, it needs to be dealt with as soon as possible, but it’s not the end of the world. It’s probably not even the end of your computer. Whether you choose to try the removal yourself or leave it to the pros, it doesn’t have to be more than a minor bump on the information highway.
by S. Bailey

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