Wake Up! A Sluggish PC Might Be a Sign of Malware Infection

sluggish pc

Every computer user will eventually have to accept that their once lightning-fast PC has slowed down. This tends to happen because you’ve downloaded files and installed new applications that consume more of your system resources; but adding programs and old age aren’t the only causes of slow machines.

Different strains of malware may execute different tasks; but almost all of them freeze up operating systems, reduce internet browsing speeds, and affect application load times. In fact, between July 2015 and June 2016, Australia’s Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT) responded to 14,800 cybersecurity incidents affecting Australian businesses; a majority of which involved malware attacks that brought their systems’ performance to a crawl.

If you’re experiencing the same sluggish speeds, the tips below will help you confirm whether your PC is infected.

Check your computer’s status

When malware infiltrates your system, they’ll often run various resource-burning programs and download more viruses from the internet. This constant activity puts a strain on your processing power and bandwidth, resulting in unresponsive and lagging systems.

As soon as you notice a sudden drop in speed; close all active programs and run Task Manager; (which can be found when you press CTRL + Alt + Delete) on Windows to monitor your system performance. If there is high CPU and RAM usage; even with all your applications closed, malware is the likely culprit; performing malicious activity in the background.

While you’re checking your computing resources, keep track of your available hard drive space. If your physical storage is running out of space quickly; malware could be attempting to overwhelm your computer with useless files, causing it to slow down and, in worst cases, crash.

You should also invest in bandwidth-monitoring tools to look for any huge spikes in internet activity. High bandwidth usage is often an indicator that; spyware and Trojan horses are using your network to grant remote access to an attacker; allowing them to either steal data from your hard drive or further damage your machine with other cyberattacks.

Look for other signs

A slow computer, however, shouldn’t be the only sign to look for. Malware will often evade detection by disabling built-in security programs that could identify and delete it. So; if you open your Windows Defender or antivirus software and notice that real-time threat detection settings are turned off; malware could be lurking in your PC.

Different programs might install new toolbars and display unwanted websites in your browser; and most of the time, they’re usually a temporary annoyance. But if you can’t remove them, or they keep coming back; you may be a victim of browser hijacker malware.

Now what?

When these symptoms show up and you’re certain that malware is indeed the cause of your problems; here’s what you can do to remove the infection:

  • Enter safe mode – before you do anything, enter safe mode in Windows 10 by going to System Configuration > Boot options and select ‘Safe boot’. This will make Windows load critical processes only, thereby preventing malware from running or connecting to the internet. Since most files aren’t active in this mode; malicious programs can easily be removed with antivirus software.
  • Perform a disk cleanup – to speed up the malware scanning process, you need to delete temporary files from your PC. Simply right click on your C:/ or D:/ drive, select properties, and click on ‘Disk Cleanup’. Doing this will free up disk space; and may even get rid of other forms of malware you haven’t detected.
  • Run antivirus software – if you already have antivirus software installed, assume it has been compromised and use a different virus removal tool like ESET security products. Once installed, run a full system scan and remove or quarantine any identified threats.
  • Tidy up your browser – remove any chances of reinfection by deleting unwanted toolbars from your web browser; and ensuring that your homepage is set to the right website.

After you’ve cleared your PC of malware, it’s up to you to keep it that way. Remember to update your applications and antivirus software regularly so they can defend your computer against the latest strains of malware. And whenever a new update rolls out, make sure to conduct a full system scan on the same day.

In addition to antivirus software, you should take preventive measures. Tools like OpenDNS, for instance; protect your employees by blocking access to malware-infested sites. Meanwhile, host intrusion prevention systems (HIPS) can scan inbound and outbound traffic for malware; block that traffic from entering your PC, and prevent malware from giving remote access to hackers via the internet.

The best preventive measure, however, is security awareness. Malware infections are usually the result of employees clicking on random links in unsolicited emails. To prevent this from happening; your staff needs to undergo periodic security training and develop a healthy scepticism of emails, free software, and other online scams.

Run your business at peak performance

Slow computers are a huge source of stress for most people. It prevents them from accessing their files, opening applications, and doing their work. This leads to huge downtime costs for your business. Taking the time to remove malware and maintaining a clean machine may seem like a lot of work; but it’s well worth the effort if you want to keep your business running at its best.

Malware can be an extremely nuanced cybersecurity topic, and defending against them requires a special set of skills. When you partner with Empower IT; you get access to our world-class team of security-minded professionals; who will provide comprehensive recommendations and solutions to make sure your systems run at top speed. Meet with us today about your unusually slow computer; and we’ll handle the rest — whether it’s running a full system scan, cleaning up your computer, providing security training, or backing up your data in the cloud.