Computer viruses can be big business for the developers at the other end of the infection. That’s because today’s viruses are designed to steal personal information that can be sold on the black market. The more data a cyber-thief has about you, the more valuable your information becomes. A credit card number will bring a good price, but it’s the extra details like your birthdate, social security number and mother’s maiden name that really pay off for criminals.

Recognizing that you have a virus

According to Microsoft’s Online Safety and Security Center, there are a number of key indicators that you may have contracted a virus on your laptop. Some of these include:

  • A system that runs slowly, freezes, or stops responding

  • A machine that restarts on its own after crashing

  • Unusual error messages, missing drives, or non-working applications/peripherals

These problems may not always be virus-related. The difficulty might be the fault of a hardware or software mishap. However, there are other telltale signs that can narrow down your suspicions.

One of these is when your friends start responding to messages you never sent or social media posts that you never shared. Such “phantom messages” often include a link to trick your friends into uploading malicious code.

There are other viruses that can lock your laptop and hold it hostage. These programs are called “ransomware.” Messages instruct you to pay to unlock your machine. Meanwhile, the virus is encrypting your files and destroying your system.

Not all viruses are this overt. Some viruses work quietly in the background using your laptop as one of an army of machines that’s been commandeered to send spam or facilitate denial-of-service attacks.

Recovering from a virus

There are a few likely scenarios at this point:

(1) your laptop still works well enough to update and run your anti-virus software,

(2) your laptop is locked and prevents access to your anti-virus program,


(3) you don’t have any anti-virus software.

The first scenario should provide a hopefully easy fix. The best way to avoid a reoccurrence is to set your anti-virus software for automatic updates based on new threats.

However, if you can’t access an anti-virus program from your laptop, you’ll need to download a new or trial version of your preferred software on another computer. Then, copy the program to a flash drive and try to install and execute it on your laptop. If that tactic fails, you will need to recover your system from your most recent backup files.

Choosing an anti-virus program

Anti-virus software reviews are prevalent on the Internet. A number of industry publications run comparison studies to help buyers make the right choice for their needs.

Each year, PC magazine tests dozens of different anti-virus programs to deliver their top recommendations. The best programs will be those that clean thoroughly, block effectively and constantly evolve to meet emerging threats, while also providing always-on technical support via phone, e-mail and chat.

There are a number of companies to choose from when looking for anti-virus software. Some of the more popular brands are Norton, AVG, Panda and Kaspersky. Viable products are also available from BitDefender, F-Secure, G Data, BullGuard, and several other lesser-known vendors.

With prices ranging from 20 to 60 dollars, the cost is minimal when weighed against the aggravation of contracting and recovering from a virus. You might also want to investigate backup software for extra protection, in case of a catastrophic failure due to a virus or other means.