Signs your computer has a virus and what to do about it

What is a computer virus?

A computer virus is a small software program that spreads from one computer to another and interferes with computer operation. A computer virus might corrupt or delete data on a computer, use an email program to spread the virus to other computers, or even delete everything on the hard disk.

Computer viruses are frequently spread by attachments in email messages or by instant messaging messages. Therefore, you must never open an email attachment unless you know who sent the message or you are expecting the email attachment. Viruses can be disguised as attachments of funny images, greeting cards, or audio and video files. Computer viruses also spread through downloads on the Internet. They can be hidden in pirated software or in other files or programs that you might download.

How to tell if your computer has a virus?

There are numerous signs to look out for that indicate your computer may have a virus. Some of these signs are:

Unexpected pop-up windows and random sounds

Unexpected or unusual dialog boxes and windows can be a bad sign. Fake virus warnings claim you have security threats on your computer and usually prompt you to click a link or call a number. Legitimate protection software, such as Windows Defender and virus-scanning programs, will never prompt you to call a customer service number.

Infected computers are often programmed to respond with an audio signal to things you can’t control. If you regularly hear chimes and bells from your computer that seem phantom, your computer may have a virus or malware infection.

Unexplained file or folder changes

Your files might be missing, or the icons and content of your files may be different. Your computer won’t make these types of changes to your files unless you have a virus or technical problem, though corrupted browser bookmarks shouldn’t be regarded as a warning sign. It’s common for bookmark icons to become jumbled by a browser such as Chrome. 

Inability to download antivirus programs or updates

Computer viruses aren’t living things, but some are programmed with a self-preservation instinct. For the average computer user, the best way to kill a virus is via an antivirus scan. If you’re having trouble downloading and installing the antivirus software, or you’re unable to update your existing program, the virus may be defending itself. Some antivirus software solutions provide rescue disks to scan and clean an infected PC.

What can you do when your computer is infected?

Download and install a virus scanner

Download a virus scanner or complete internet security solution. But make sure you only install one because if you have more than one antivirus software program installed on your machine, you run the risk of having them cancel each other out because each thinks the other is a virus. This can result in limited antivirus protection at best or file corruption at worst.

Note that the integrated Windows Defender utility preloaded onto PCs is designed to run alongside third-party software from firms like McAfee, Kaspersky and AVG. 

Disconnect from internet

When you are removing a virus from your PC, it is a good idea to disconnect from the internet to prevent further damage: some computer viruses use the internet connection to spread.

Reboot your computer into safe mode

To protect your computer while you remove the virus, reboot it in ‘Safe Mode’. Are you unsure of how to do this?

Here is a simple guide:

  • Turn your computer off and on again
  • When the screen lights, press F8 to bring up the “Advanced boot options” menu
  • Click “Safe Mode with Networking”
  • Remain disconnected from the internet

Delete any temporary files

Next, you need to delete any temporary files using ‘Disk Clean Up’.

Here’s how to do this:

  • Click the Windows logo on the right bottom
  • Type “Temporary Files”
  • Choose “Free up disk space by deleting unnecessary files”
  • Find and select “Temporary Internet Files” in the ‘Files to delete’ Disk Cleanup list and click OK
  • Confirm “Delete Files” selection


Some viruses are programmed to initiate when your computer boots up. Deleting temporary files may delete the virus. However, it is not safe to rely on this. 

Run a virus scan and delete or quaratine the virus.

Now it is time to run a virus scan using your chosen anti-virus or internet security software.

If a virus is found, it may affect multiple files. Select “Delete” or “Quarantine” to remove the file(s) and get rid of the virus. Re-scan your computer to check there’s no further threats. If threats are found, quarantine or delete the files.

Let XEOX help you

RMM tools help you detect viruses easier and faster than monitoring your devices on your own. XEOX’s Configuration Management Database (CMDB) is an Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) database, which enables you to store all your information about hardware, software and user assets in one central location. You can easily track if something is wrong with your devices here.


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