A laptop with a question mark on the screen in a red background, surrounded by pop-ups with bugs, worms, and viruses.

If your computer is loading slowly, deleting files, running suspicious programs, or filled with annoying on-screen pop-ups, you might have a virus. If so, the best course of action is to install a reliable antivirus software solution, reboot your system, and run a full virus scan. 

Stick around as we discuss how to find out if your computer has a virus, the nastiest recent variants, and the steps you can take to get rid of them.

Table of contents

    10 signs your computer has a virus

    As of 2023, there are more than 1 billion malware programs in circulation globally, with around 560,000 bits of malware detected every single day. While viruses remain a consistent and unyielding threat, there are ways to combat them and protect your system from online attacks. But before we get into that, we need to know the symptoms of an infected device.

    If you’re wondering, “do I have viruses on my computer?” here are the ten tell-tale signs to help you find out once and for all. 

    1. Slow-running computer: programs freeze or take a long time to load; 
    2. Screen pop-ups: including endless spam, error messages, unsolicited, unwanted ads, and redirects to weird websites;
    3. Disappearing files: files get randomly damaged, deleted, and/or encrypted;
    4. Antivirus software not working: the program or firewall deletes or disables itself;
    5. Suspicious programs: consistently appear, along with toolbars/icons you’ve never installed;
    6. Email spam: with added attachments and/or links flooding your inbox; 
    7. System blocking: you’re unable to access your settings, files, or system preferences;
    8. Battery draining: your computer overheats and/or quickly loses power; 
    9. Homepage switching: randomly replacing and redirecting your homepage to other websites;
    10. Mass email send-outs: spam messages sent from your account to your contacts. 

    How does a computer get infected with a virus? 

    A virus will target your computer’s “immune system,” i.e., programs, files, memory, etc., and multiply. Though there are different types of viruses, they all share the same core function — taking over your computer in an attempt to extract money and information for identity theft, commit fraud, and other crimes. 

    For the most part, viruses spread through executable files, downloads, and links. Some of the more common ways to pick up a computer virus include:

    • Visiting an untrustworthy and/or infected website;
    • Opening an attachment or link from an unsolicited email address;
    • Downloading free plugins, games, media players, videos, or third-party software;
    • Installing unvetted or pirated software applications;
    • Conducting malware-ridden searches online. 

    Types of computer viruses

    Viruses come in all shapes, sizes, and threat levels. Some will slow you down, while others will destroy your entire system if given half a chance. Here are some of the more common computer virus types making their rounds in 2023. 

    Four pop-ups with different computer virus types: trojan horse, a virus, a worm, and a man in a hood.

    Overwriting virus

    An overwriting virus will copy onto executable files (.exe), slow down programs, and overwrite data in the process. The most common way this virus spreads is through opening corrupted email attachments or downloading movies, photos, and/or games from dodgy sites. 

    Network virus 

    A Network virus doesn’t need a file attachment to spread like wildfire. It moves directly through online networks and replicates to destroy data, slow down performance, and extract personal information.

    Browser hijacker virus

    A browser hijacker virus, also known as a browser redirect virus, will alter your web browser settings and redirect you to sites you never intended to visit. These websites are typically malicious and set up to capture, store, sell, or steal your personal information.

    Polymorphic virus

    A polymorphic virus is one of the hardest to combat as it frequently changes its code to avoid detection. These viruses alter your computer’s governing rules and input patterns to steal information and corrupt memory. Polymorphic viruses typically spread through spam, malicious websites, or other malware.

    Virus archive: The ILOVEYOU virus hits the scene

    Here’s a fun (or, in this case, not so fun) fact: On May 2000, the ILOVEYOU virus was released into the world. The virus went to user mailboxes as an attachment labeled “love letter.” Once opened, it would systematically erase and destroy important files.

    What looked like a simple email attachment caused 50 million infections within days of being released into the world and, by the end of its rampage, the ILOVEYOU virus caused upwards of $10 billion in damages

    This is a textbook example of an overwriting virus in action.

    Find out more about different types of malware and how to scan for viruses. 

    How to check for and get rid of viruses

    While today’s topic of conversation is ever so slightly doom and gloom, rest assured — existing viruses can be removed pretty easily. If you suspect your device is infected, the steps below will help you solve most virus-related issues. That said, some viruses are harder to get rid of, so if the steps below don’t help, you may need to speak to an IT guru. 

    A hand pinning down a worm with its index finger.
    1. Download and install legitimate antivirus software

    A good antivirus helps you detect and remove viruses that are already on your device. It also prevents future malware infections. Surfshark Antivirus provides the protection you need to keep your devices safe.

    1. Disconnect from the internet

    Some viruses use networks to multiply. To prevent it, make sure to disconnect from the internet and shut off Wi-Fi so that your device wouldn’t reconnect automatically. For mobile devices, mobile internet should be turned off as well. 

    1. Restart in safe mode

    Turn your computer off and reboot it in safe mode. Check out these guides for safe mode Mac or safe mode Windows

    1. Scan your system and delete any unnecessary files

    Look through the files on your device and see if there are any that you don’t recognize or haven’t used in a while. You can also use Storage Management for Mac devices or Disk Cleanup on Windows to optimize your storage.

    1. Run an antivirus scan

    Open your antivirus app and run a malware scan. It should be able to detect and remove most viruses from your device.

    1. Reboot your computer

    Restart your computer to exit safe mode.

    1. Change all your passwords

    Even with the malware removed, bad actors may still have access to the information that they managed to steal. Change all your passwords to make sure they can’t use all data to connect to your account.

    4 tips to protect your devices against viruses

    Once you get rid of a virus, you certainly don’t want to get it again. Here are some of the best ways to protect yourself from viruses and malware

    • Get an antivirus 

    Getting reliable antivirus software is the best thing you can do to protect yourself from viruses. It’s all in the name. It will protect you from being infected with new threats, and it will scan your device and help to get rid of viruses that may currently be on your computer. No other software does it better than an antivirus.

    If you don’t have an antivirus yet, Surfshark Antivirus offers reliable and affordable protection for your devices.

    • Update your software

    Software updates often solve known security issues or to protect it from new threats. Make sure to keep your software, browser extensions, and operating system up to date for optimal security.

    • Use a cookie pop-up blocker 

    A cookie pop-up blocker is a great way to clean up your system and eliminate unwanted pop-ups for added malware protection. 

    • Download files only from trustworthy sites

    Be careful when downloading free software programs, content, plugins, or programs from unfamiliar sites. If it looks too good to be true, it most likely is. Bad actors often disguise malicious files under trustworthy names, but what you’re actually downloading is malware.

    Wrap up: here’s how you win the war on malware

    By now, you should be able to tell if your computer has a virus and have the knowledge of how to get rid of it. Time to clear your device and carry on with good security practices to make sure that no virus infects your computer ever again.

    Cure viruses for good
    Get real-time protection online and offline


    What is the most common computer virus? 

    An overwriting virus is still one of the most common (and threatening) computer virus types out there. Once it makes its way into your operating system, it will delete your important data and replace the code with a malicious replica. 

    These viruses can infect Windows, Mac, and Linux systems and are hard to route out and eradicate. The best way to fight an overwritten virus head-on is by using reputable antivirus software. 

    How do I prevent a computer virus?

    To get rid of viruses on your computer with malware protection, invest in a strong antivirus solution like Surfshark Antivirus. Also, ensure that your software is always updated and that you never download files from sites you don’t know or email addresses you don’t recognize. 

    What is malware vs. computer viruses?

    Malware is a group of malicious threats, and computer viruses are just part of that group. It also includes trojans, worms, ransomware, and bots. Once activated, malware can lead to theft of sensitive information, cause operational damage, corrupt your computer files, and more. 

    How do you get a virus on your computer?

    Clicking on malicious links, visiting infected websites, and downloading files from unreputable sources are the most common ways that users get viruses on their computers. Don’t click on any suspicious links, and avoid downloading files from sketchy websites to significantly lower your chances of being infected with malware.

    How do I clean my computer from viruses?

    Using reputable antivirus software is the best way to get rid of viruses on your computer. Simply download and install the software, then run a malware scan. Such scans are able to detect and get rid of a vast majority of viruses; no manual cleaning is needed.