If you’re reading this on a healthy desktop computer or laptop, you can enjoy this article (and many others on our site) at your leisure.
Prevention is always better than cure, and a computer with up-to-date antivirus software and a modern web browser should be able to fend off the daily barrage of online viruses.
If you’re reading this article on a smartphone while your PC refuses to function properly, you are probably battling a PC virus.
Viruses have been around since the early 1980s, and were initially created for sheer devilment – a chance for programmers to show what they could accomplish.
Today, viruses are also referred to as malware – malicious software – and tend to have an ulterior motive.
Malware may be designed to lock you out of your computer until you pay a ransom, to steal personal information, or simply to spread to other devices while causing maximum havoc.
Symptoms can include numerous browser windows opening, pop-up messages featuring multiple exclamation marks, new programs on the desktop or very slow performance.
It’s common for a message like “Warning! Your computer is infected!” to urge you to click a link and install ‘security’ software. This almost inevitably does even more damage.
PC viruses are scary, but they can often be overcome, since they only affect software. They can’t physically damage your computer’s hardware, or attack its peripherals.
Below, we consider key steps which could help to restore your computer to full health.
Winning the war on PC viruses
1. Keep calm. It’s tempting to panic when your computer begins behaving irrationally, but any damage has probably already occurred, so don’t do anything hasty.
2. Try the basics. Turn the computer off – at the wall if you’ve lost control of the mouse or operating system – and reboot it to see if the problem persists.
3. Enter Safe Mode. Turn the PC off again, turn it on and keep tapping F8 to enter Safe Mode with Networking. This reveals useful utilities like Disk Cleanup.
4. Google the symptoms. If the virus is still present, use a different device to Google the symptoms – for instance, new web browser windows opening all the time.
5. Try to update software. If your operating system and antivirus software don’t automatically update (which they should do), try updating them now. Then…
6. Disconnect from the internet. Malware is often made to access personal data or harvest the PC’s resources. Taking it offline prevents this, and also stops it spreading.
7. Consider possible causes. Have you opened unsolicited email attachments or installed new programs from unknown companies? Can you undo this?
8. Try to run antivirus packages. Malware often stops these from working, but it’s worth trying to run antivirus software in case it’s able to find and tackle the problem.
9. Download tools. Using another PC, download a virus removal utility like Malwarebytes. Put it on a data key, transfer it onto the PC, and try to run it.
10. Erase your internet history. Viruses often hide on compromised websites. Deleting your web history, cookies and TMP files might flush out the malware.
11. Seek remote assistance. Use another device to search for IT firms who can remotely take over your device. Trained professionals may know how to erase a virus.
12. Perform a factory reset. If your data is stored in the cloud, this nuclear option should erase malware, but you’ll lose any installed programs and C-drive documents.