Is your computer haunted? No, it’s probably malware

A person sits at their laptop wondering “is my computer haunted?” The reality is it is probably not a ghost. It is probably malware.

Unexplained pop-ups, messages from the beyond, disabled security systems – it almost sounds like something out of a horror movie. But chances are your computer isn’t haunted – it’s probably malware. Read on to learn the signs and what to do about it.

Have you ever felt like there's a ghost lurking inside your computer? Unwanted pop-ups, inexplicable slowdowns, and other strange behavior from your device may feel like an otherworldly occurrence. But before you call an exorcist, you might want to consider a more tangible culprit: malware.

What is malware?

Malware is malicious software that is specifically designed to harm, exploit, or perform other nefarious activities on a device, network, service, or computer program. Cybercriminals deploy malware in different ways, often with the end goal of either stealing information or damaging a computer system for monetary gain.

There are a number of different types of malware you should know about so you can better protect your devices form these spooky threats and recognize them if they do appear:

  • Viruses – Viruses can take the form of a piece of code that can be stuck into an application or software in order to perform nefarious actions in a system. For example, a virus may steal data, launch attacks, and send copies of itself to your contacts to infect their devices.

  • Worms – Worms are similar to viruses and can perform many of the same types of functions. But worms don't need to be attached to software and can be sent via email attachments or even direct messages. 

  • Trojans – Trojan malware is a type of malicious software that is made to look like a legitimate application or piece of software. Like viruses and worms, trojans can steal your data and wreak havoc on your computer system.

  • Ransomware – Ransomware can take over or lock you out of your device, then allow a criminal to demand that you make a payment or take other action in order to regain access.

  • Spyware – Spyware is software that is designed specifically to "spy" on you without your knowledge, so it can be especially dangerous. For example, spyware can record your keystrokes and copy your bank account information, passwords, and private messages, passing all of these on to a cybercriminal that can use them to commit ID theft and other crimes.

  • Bots or botnets – Bots or botnets seek out online vulnerabilities that allow them to infect internet users' systems or even hack devices, allowing cybercriminals to take control remotely.

A good antivirus or anti-malware software can protect your computer, phone, and other devices from these scary threats.

Signs your computer may be "haunted" by malware

  1. Unexpected pop-ups: Unexpected and unwanted ads that appear out of nowhere and can often startle or scare you by "speaking" to you.

  2. Slow performance: Sudden and unexplained slowdowns, even if you aren’t running heavy programs, may fill you with dread.

  3. Suspicious hard drive activity: An overactive hard drive, even when the computer is idle, can be a sign that something nefarious is lurking in your system.

  4. Unauthorized emails or messages: Friends or contacts may receive suspicious emails or messages apparently sent from you. Getting contacted about the mystery messages you supposedly sent (but know you didn't) can be quite unsettling.

  5. Disabled security solutions: Your antivirus or firewall may get turned off without your intervention, making it seem like it was done by a ghost.

  6. Modified files or programs: Unexplained changes in files or program behavior can leave you wondering what kind of malevolent entity is lurking in your system.

How malware finds its way to your device

Malware can get onto your device in various ways. Watch out for these common methods cybercriminals use to infect your devices with this spooky software designed to access, disrupt or damage your system.

  1. Phishing emails or texts: Cybercriminals who perpetrate phishing scams send deceptive emails or texts to lure you into clicking on malicious links that can infect your device with malware.

  2. Drive-by downloads: In a drive-by download, a hacker may trick you into downloading malware or may cause your device to get infected when you visit malicious websites or legitimate sites that have been compromised in some way.

  3. Infected USB drives: You can accidentally transfer malware onto your devices when using portable storage devices.

  4. Software downloads: Cybercriminals can hide malware within seemingly legitimate software installations.

  5. Fake antivirus messages: Some scammers create pop-up messages that trick users into thinking their computer is infected with a virus or other type of malware, then recommend downloading a (malicious) solution that may actually contain a virus.

Protection against the digital "ghosts"

Here are five ways to protect yourself against these threats that can give you goosebumps and take over your devices:

  1. Regular updates: Make sure to update your operating system, apps and software regularly. These updates often fix loopholes that cybercriminals can exploit to gain access to your devices and personal data.

  2. Install a reliable antivirus product: Choose a well-reviewed and regularly updated antivirus software to protect the computers, tablets and phones in your household from getting infected with malware.  It’s smart to consider trusted security software like Norton 360 Deluxe to help protect your devices and online privacy.

  3. Use a firewall: Install a firewall to protect your computer or wifi network from malicious traffic or software. You can set up your firewall, which can be hardware or software, to block certain types of data and let other data through.

  4. Be wary of suspicious messages with links: Never click on links or download attachments from emails, texts or other messages. Scammers are becoming more sophisticated, and often can disguise "phishing" emails to look like legitimate emails from a real company. Norton Genie is a handy tool that can help you detect scams.

  5. Do regular backups: Perform regular backups of your system and essential files to protect against ransomware attacks.

While haunted computers make for an entertaining tale, the real threats are much more spooky. Being informed and vigilant can keep the "ghosts" at bay and ensure that your computers, tablets and phones run smoothly and securely.

Norton technology blocked 142 million threats a day.

Norton™ 360 brings real-time protection for your PCs, Macs, smartphones or tablets against ransomware, viruses, spyware, malware and other online threats.

Try Norton 360. Post, bank and shop from your device. We’ll keep it secure.

Allie Johnson
  • Allie Johnson
  • Freelance Writer
Allie Johnson is a freelance journalist who covers cybersecurity, privacy, and consumer topics. She has written for Bankrate,, and Discover.

Editorial note: Our articles provide educational information for you. Our offerings may not cover or protect against every type of crime, fraud, or threat we write about. Our goal is to increase awareness about Cyber Safety. Please review complete Terms during enrollment or setup. Remember that no one can prevent all identity theft or cybercrime, and that LifeLock does not monitor all transactions at all businesses. The Norton and LifeLock brands are part of Gen Digital Inc. 


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