Malware (malicious software) is a file or code that has been intentionally designed to exploit or damage devices, services, and networks. Cybercriminals create and spread malware to launch denial-of-service (DoS) attacks, steal data, destroy files, and even hold a victim’s device for a ransom. Over the years malware technology has become more sophisticated, making attacks both more frequent and more successful on average. According to AV-Atlas, over 450,000 new malicious programs are detected every single day, leading to 1,172,000,000 in total as of April 2022.
In fact, it is more than likely that you’ll unfortunately come face to face with malware at some point, especially if you’re a regular internet user. Malware can be incredibly sneaky and hard to detect, therefore, it’s imperative that you understand the warning signs of malware to look for, so you can act as fast as possible to start removing it from your device before any irreversible damage is caused. We’ll also describe what steps you can take to reduce your chances of falling victim to a malware attack in the first place. If you understand what to look for when online and take the proper precautions, then you can steer clear of even the most common forms of malware such as trojans, viruses, worms, spyware, and ransomware. It’s time to find out how to detect and remove malware in 2022!
The key signs of malware on your device
It’s crucial to understand the key warning signs of a malware infection so you can take action quickly and reduce potential damage. Here are six signs that are easy to detect and can indicate that your device has been infected with malware –
- Redirected browser – Search engine or browser redirection is a common sign of a malware infection. If you are constantly being redirected to other advertisements, programs, or websites after searching for a URL in your browser, then your device may have been infected with a browser hijacking virus. If you perform a search in your default search engine then you may also notice that the results are displayed from a completely different search engine that you’re not familiar with. This is another clear sign that your device is infected with malware.
- Faster battery depletion – Of course, any device’s battery will gradually degrade over time. However, if you notice that your battery is suddenly draining quicker than normal, then it may be a sign that malware is hijacking your device to perform malicious background tasks. You also may notice that your device starts overheating and feeling hot to the touch due to malware overworking its CPU.
- Recurring pop-up ads – A specific form of malware known as adware (short for “advertising malware”) is much easier to detect than other forms. Adware will usually creep into a victim’s device through an installable program and will begin flooding the victim with pop-up advertisements. One of the main aims of adware is to trick users into clicking on a pop-up to generate revenue for attackers, therefore ads will be repeatedly spammed on a user’s device, even when no apps, programs, or browser tabs are open.
- Changes in file names – Another common sign of a malware infection is the gradual changing of file names on your device. If you’re unlucky enough to be targeted for ransomware, then an attacker will start encrypting files on your device which will make the file names appear differently. Some files and data may also be completely deleted. However, with most ransomware attacks, attackers will try to remain undetected for as long as possible so they may start encrypting smaller files to begin with, making it harder for a victim to detect that malware is infecting their device. After a malware infection, victims may also notice new applications unexpectedly appear on their devices which can contain even more malware.
- Frequent crashes – A slowed-down performance and frequent crashes are sure signs of a malware infection. If your device takes much longer to complete even simple tasks or will crash randomly, then there’s a significant chance that it has been infected by malware. A malware-ridden device’s processor will typically be overworked, meaning that any tasks, such as opening browsers or apps, can take much longer and even cause the device to temporarily shutdown.
- Increased data usage – After a successful malware infection, an attacker may perform actions in the background to generate revenue for themselves. This can consume a significant amount of data, so if you notice an unusual spike in data usage then it may be a tell-tale sign of a malware attack. We also recommend that you regularly check your monthly mobile bill or bank account for any unauthorised charges that may be a result of an attacker using malware to abuse your mobile data.
How to remove malware from your device
If you have noticed one or more of the above warning signs, then it’s possible that you’ve fallen victim to a malware attack. If this is the case, then here are a few things you can do to remove the malware from your device. Remember, the key here is to act as fast as possible!
- Install an antivirus – We recommend that you always have a fully updated antivirus installed on your device. However, even if you do not use any antivirus software but you’ve noticed several warning signs of a malware attack, then we suggest you install one immediately. Antivirus software will have real-time or on-demand malware scanners that can detect and remove any malware from your device. The sooner you complete a malware scan with your antivirus, the less damage a malware attack can do on your device, so, again, the key is to act quickly. You can find out what to look for in an antivirus software and find out our top antivirus recommendations in 2022 here. You can also discover the best antivirus software for Android, macOS, and Windows 11 using our helpful guides!
- Update all software – Make sure that all your device’s software is up to date including the operating system, apps, programs, and any security software. We suggest that you always have automatic updates enabled to ensure that malware cannot exploit any security vulnerabilities on your device. Whilst updating software, it’s also a good idea to check for any suspicious or unfamiliar apps and uninstall them accordingly. You can remove apps on Windows by right-clicking on the taskbar and selecting Task Manager. Scroll through your PC or laptop’s apps whilst paying attention to any that are consuming a lot of memory or any that you do not remember downloading. Right-click on any suspicious apps, select Open File Location, and delete the file from its root location. You can then open the Control Panel, find the app, right-click, then select Uninstall.
- Reinstall your operating system – If you’ve followed the above steps but still notice signs of malware on your device, then the safest thing you can do to completely remove all traces of malware is to reinstall your operating system (OS). To do this, head to your device’s manufacturer’s website and follow the steps. Additionally, remember to back up all files you want to save as they will be erased along with the reinstallation of your OS. We suggest following the 3-2-1 rule which indicates that users should have their data backed up three times on two different devices with one being in a separate location (either uploaded in the cloud or in a different physical location). .
How to prevent malware from entering your device
Of course, we’d always rather prevent malware than have to deal with removing it from our devices. Since malicious software is so advanced nowadays, this can be easier said than done. However, there are still some precautions you can take to significantly reduce your chance of infecting your device with malware. Check them out –
- Keep your device updated – To reduce your chances of falling victim to a malware attack, you should ensure that your device and all of its software are updated to the latest versions. Attackers will typically exploit security weaknesses in software and outdated systems, so companies will regularly update their software to patch any vulnerabilities. With most apps, tools, plugins, and operating systems you can enable automatic updates to ensure that your device is up-to-date. This will significantly reduce the amount of exploitable entry points that an attacker can use to inject malware into your device.
- Don’t click on suspicious links – Phishing is a dangerous social engineering technique that is used by cybercriminals to distribute malware. Attackers will disguise themselves as trustworthy sources and circulate emails, instant messages, and texts that are loaded with malware. Over the years, phishing has become much more sophisticated, making it difficult to distinguish between legitimate and senders. To avoid potentially infecting your device with malware, we suggest that you express extreme caution when opening emails and avoid opening any links or attachments. If you receive an email or message asking you to follow a link, even if it is from a company that you trust, you should instead enter the sender’s website URL into your browser, log in to your account, and follow any instructions directly through their website.
- Use a VPN – VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) are security tools that can benefit you in a number of ways, whether you want to conceal your online activity, spoof your location, or browse the web anonymously. Not only this, but VPNs can also protect you from malware attacks. Since a VPN encrypts your internet traffic in an impenetrable tunnel, it makes it much more difficult for cybercriminals to launch an attack and infect your device with malware. It is important to note, however, that a VPN cannot protect you from malware that is spread through phishing attempts. This is because phishing attacks rely on human error to successfully spread malware and a VPN cannot prevent you from opening a malicious link or email attachment.
But, this doesn’t mean that it’s not worth using a VPN to increase your online safety as these tools ultilise helpful security features that can help defend against malware. For instance, many reputable VPNs have built-in ad blockers that prevent ads from loading on your browser whenever you enter a new website. Since pop up, banners, and autoplay ads can contain malware and are usually spammed on compromised websites to trick users into accidentally clicking on them to trigger the installation of the malware, an ad blocker can drastically reduce your chances of infecting your device. You can find out more about ad blockers and discover the best VPNs with built-in ad blockers in 2022 here!
Additionally, VPN providers usually offer some form of online threat protection that automatically compares websites against a database of blacklists and blocks users from entering them if they have been flagged for hosting malware. Overall, VPNs can significantly increase your online safety and protect you from malware that is lurking in online ads and compromised websites. If you want to learn more about the benefits of using a VPN, then check out our helpful article that outlines the top five uses of a VPN and find out how to prevent malware using a VPN in 2022!