16:17 PM

Management Matters: Houston, we have a problem ... top 10 signs your computer has a virus or malware

Vol. 77, No. 4 / July - Aug. 2021

Kevin Payne
Kevin Payne is a document management system consultant at Affinity Consulting Group and has a background in technology startups and client-facing roles. He believes technology’s role is to improve and streamline our clients’ lives, and he strives to do so from his hometown of Columbus, Ohio.


In today’s workplace, an infected workstation can mean much more than the occasional annoyance. It can mean the spread of a virus to your workplace’s network or clients, along with the loss of valuable data. There are even viruses that hold your data ransom, with it being encrypted until you meet the demands of the virus’s maker.

While the following situations might not always be the result of a dire virus, they can be signs of an infected computer and should be investigated.

Pop ups
To start, let’s talk about the most prevalent and recognizable sign: those pop ups. These can come from downloading seemingly benign programs or visiting a webpage that asks for more permissions than usual. While an ad for cheap medicine or singles in your area may seem harmless, that ad represents unwanted software on your computer that could be doing more than it lets on. If you’re seeing an influx of these ads, it would be wise to contact an outside technology expert.

New programs
Are you noticing strange programs or apps running in the background? If you’re seeing new software that you did not knowingly download, that’s a good sign your computer was infected and is now compromised. These programs can appear in many forms but are usually named something innocuous to escape notice. When shutting down your workstation for the day, if you notice a program or service that doesn’t close, that would be worthy of concern.

Slow performance
It can be frustrating when your computer starts performing sluggishly or is slow to react to requests. The cause? Background processes are busy with other tasks. If you’re not running an abundance of programs intentionally, slow speed may be a sign that somewhere along the way, your computer was infected and is now silently following the commands of a malicious program. This not only affects your daily workflow but can signify serious issues.

Memory issues
Your computer requires a certain amount of memory to run efficiently; a sudden spike in memory usage during daily tasks is another giveaway of an infected machine. Should you see this behavior, a simple check of your computer’s memory could save time and money down the road. This is also a good time to contact a tech pro, because even if it is not a virus, a slow computer can make the workday twice as long.

Error messages
Have you experienced sudden malfunctions in the programs you use every day? If you notice error messages appearing in a program that never had issues before, take note. These errors can also result in programs crashing or not responding, a major problem that can result in work loss.

Missing Files
Lost work? If the files you saved yesterday no longer appear today, you should absolutely inquire as to why. Malware can encrypt and rename files, as well as cause unexpected program failures that will result in the loss of your work and data. It is important to call attention to this immediately before more files go missing.

Browser Issues
A common sign of an infected machine is issues with your internet browser. Being redirected from your usual home page to another search engine you have never heard of should always give you pause. Any website that appears on its own should cause concern.

Sometimes, malware comes from a trusted source like your email. It might be disguised as a message from a prospective client or a harmless-looking attachment. While email filters are quite advanced, always err on the side of caution when it comes to suspicious messages. This is one of the more common methods of infection and should be something to keep an eye out for; when in doubt, reach out to your contact directly to confirm they did send an attached document. Also, avoid forwarding messages you suspect are harmful. Learn more about protecting your firm against cyber attacks, like phishing schemes, at news.mobar.org.

One of the signs of malware can be detected in a decidedly low-tech way. If you can hear your computer’s fan or disc working overtime, it can be an indication it is working on something it shouldn’t be. The same goes for an overheating device. Ask a tech expert to take a look “under the hood.”

The Most Important Sign
The most important sign is simply that if somethings feels or looks wrong to you, it probably is. Malware comes in all shapes and sizes and there is always something more advanced around the corner. Some of these viruses don’t have any of the telltale signs listed above.

Being on the offensive is always the best defense. Missouri Bar members have access to white papers on antivirus and anti-malware software, law firm ransomware defense, two-factor authentication, and much more. Do you have questions about protecting your practice? Email them to a practice management expert or set up a no-cost consultation at mobar.org/LPM.