There's no easy way to tell that while you were having cyber sex with DpntGayMsl, your computer caught something nasty, whether it's a virus or some nasty spyware lurking about your hard drive's innards.
You may not know what that means exactly, but you can feel it in the click. Your computer is slow. Pop-up windows overcrowd your monitor even when you're not connected to the Internet. You can just tell there's something wrong.
''There's a number of ways that viruses and spyware can get into your computer,'' says William Cesarei, owner of Arlington-based Ask1expert, explaining that spyware collects information, usually without appropriate notice and consent.
''A virus actually spreads software, usually malicious in nature, from computer to computer. A lot of spyware is now spread by viruses.''
You don't need to be a computer wiz to diagnose the problem, says Larry Elpinter, owner of a similar local business, Computer Weenies.
''Other than obvious things, like your computer doesn't start or it has a blue screen, the more subtle signs of a virus attacking are: slowing down for no reason; software that you can't remove; hardware that won't start, like you put a flash drive in [and it's not recognized].''It should be noted that experts agree -- for the time being -- that users on Macintosh (Mac) systems don't have to worry about viruses and spyware as do users of PCs running on Microsoft Windows systems.
Says Cesarei: ''Mac is only a small percentage of the computing community. So when these spyware software engineers [write viruses/spyware] for Windows, [the virus] doesn't recognize the [Mac] operating system and it can't install. It just doesn't do anything.''
Elpinter says that while the bulk of spyware/viruses are written for Windows, that may soon change.
''As Macs are getting more and more popular ... it's only a matter of time that they soon will be targeted as much as PCs are now.''
Back in the present, non-Mac users with infected computers needn't panic. There are a few things you can do before surrendering your computer to the experts.
Elpinter says first turn off your computer and turn it back on.
Next, Cesarei says run a full scan on your computer with an anti-virus program in an effort to catch and delete any viruses lingering on your computer. Cesarei suggests AVG Anti-Virus, which is free. Next, run an anti-spyware program. You can trust Lavasoft's Ad-Aware, Cesarei says, which is also free.
If you've done all that and you're still having problems, you might want to consider paying an expert to do a more thorough cleaning.
''When smoke starts coming out of your computer, that's a very good time to call,'' Elpinter laughs. ''Unplug it and then call.''
Ask1expert charges $75 for one hour and offers services such as cleaning your computer of viruses and spyware. Computer Weenies offers similar services for $90 an hour.
The best way to avoid spyware and viruses once your computer is cleaned is to click cautiously and to avoid those free, shady porn sites.
''Don't think that just because you have anti-virus that you're protected,'' Cesarei says. ''Because you're not.
''Just don't go there. Unfortunately if you're going to visit sites that are more prone to that type of activity, then you have to just at least understand that.''
Call Ask1expert at 571-283-2095, or visit www.ask1expert.com. To reach Computer Weenies, call 202-543-7055 or visit www.computerweenies.com. For AVG's free software, visit www.avg-antivirus.net. For Ad-Aware, visit www.lavasoft.com.