The signs that tell you if you have a virus or spyware may be easier to spot than you think. Nothing takes the place of good anti-virus or anti-spyware, but before you even start scanning there are warning signs that something is amiss.
When a client comes to me and describes the problem they are having with a system, often a few quick questions can help me spot the culprit.
It almost brings a sort of sad smile to my face when they describe not just strange pop ups or changes to their browser, but whole pieces of software they never knew they owned suddenly and joyfully offering to help fix the problems.
A large majority of virus and spyware (the line between the two is thinning) often try to represent themselves to users as a part of the operating system. Copying the style of the windows XP update alert bubbles at the lower right of their screen, they helpfully warn that a virus threat or spyware may be affecting your system. Don’t be fooled, however, these will often entreat you to go to some external website and get you to ‘purchase’ an anti-virus/spyware program. It is all a part of the malicious software.
A sure sign of a fake is poor spelling or exceptionally poor grammar, including words repeated twice.
I have also seen whole fake programs designed to look like anti-virus software. They suddenly appear on startup and run, inviting you to download ‘definitions’ and updates, some of which they try to convince you are necessary to pay for. Every click you make also repopulates the software on your system somewhere, or may even just bring up an onslaught of pop up windows.
Other signs that something is ‘bugging’ your system are mysterious links appearing in both your favorites menu, and in your windows start menu.
Your desktop background will be replaced with what appears to be a website or other click-able variant you never asked for. The home page of your browser changes, and can not be changed (forced). The whole look of your browser may change, usually with link filled menu bars and search options.
More subtle hints include irregular behavior on start up or login, sudden and repeated rebooting of the system, and internet connection errors upon trying to visit any other site not included on your forced home page.
If you seem to experience any of these (or even if you do not), you should definitely look further by scanning your computer for both virus and spyware infiltrators. There are even free utilities for detecting and removing them, such as AVG Free and Ad-Aware (which I feature in some of my other articles).
If its free, why not right? At the very least, it might save you from having to pay a guy like me to do it for you.