Windows 11 system tray icons

If a random icon appears on your system tray on Windows and you don’t recognise it, malware could have snuck onto your device to steal personal data.

When cybercriminals use malware to infiltrate your computer, they try to hide the malicious software’s presence. Sometimes, it comes as an icon that appears in the system tray, making it harder for users to spot it before it causes damage.

Of course, random system tray icons can also pop up if you install a new app or program, appear when startup programs automatically launch or show up after a software update.

While random icons in your system tray might be harmless companions for newly installed apps or automatic startup programs, the occasional one could mask a lurking cyber-villain. This guide helps you navigate the cluttered tray, demystify suspicious icons, and equip your PC with the ultimate antivirus shield.

Random System Tray Icons on Windows: Quick fixes

If you spot a random system tray icon and want to get rid of it, follow the steps below in order.

While it’s simple to hide or get rid of icons in the tray, we recommend following each step, as a virus or malware could be lurking around on your PC.

  1. Hide system tray icons

    Windows Settings hide System Tray icons

    The system tray is located on the taskbar (bottom-right corner) and shows apps or programs you commonly use. This can get overcrowded if you install new software, like a utility app or gaming client. 

    If you recognise all the apps but want to get rid of random icons that appear, all you have to do is head into settings and hide the icons. Moreover, you can hide the menu to clean up the space. 

    In the search box on the taskbar, type “Settings” or press Windows Key + I to open Settings. Head into Personalisation > Taskbar > Other system tray icons. Here, toggle the switch to turn off any icons you don’t want showing up in the system tray. 

    You can also switch Hidden icon menu off to remove the menu that pulls up more icons from different apps or programs. 

    While you’re at it, under Taskbar items, turn off any apps you don’t want clogging up space on the taskbar. 

  2. Remove startup programs

    Windows settings disable startup apps

    Some apps on Windows start up automatically when you turn on your computer. These can add icons to the taskbar and the system tray, causing random items to appear. 

    To stop this from happening, you’ll need to open Task Manager. Press CTRL + SHIFT + ESC or right-click on the taskbar and select Task Manager to open the app. 

    Select Start-up apps in the left-hand sidebar and search for any apps you don’t need running. Then right-click and select Disable. This will remove any random system tray icons on Windows. 

  3. Uninstall unwanted or suspicious programs

    Windows Settings uninstall apps to remove system tray icon

    You may notice icons in the taskbar or system tray that you no longer need or are unfamiliar with. If this is the case, you need to uninstall any apps or programs that aren’t required. This will remove the program’s icons from the system tray. 

    Go to Settings > Apps > Installed apps. Find the apps you no longer want on your device and those that showed up unexpectedly without your permission. Click the menu (horizontal three dots) next to the app and select Uninstall

    Additionally, you can head to Apps for websites to see if there are any unwanted apps you don’t need and toggle the switch to off. 

  4. Change your passwords

    Norton 360 Password Manager

    When you see a random system tray icon that you haven’t previously installed, chances are your PC has been infected with a virus or malware, and your online accounts and devices are at risk of being compromised.

    To help mitigate potential malware threats or hackers taking control of your accounts, change your passwords and use a strong password to stop suspicious activity. 

    Using password managers such as LastPass or 1Password can help manage all your passwords in one place, create a complex, near-unbreakable master password and encrypt your information. 

    Changing passwords will stop hackers from trying to steal any sensitive information and your online accounts. 

  5. Use antivirus software to detect and stop malware

    Norton 360 Security and Settings

    Getting a random system tray icon may mean malware is installed on your device, and it needs to be removed the right way. Using one of the best antivirus software like Norton 360 (from $19.99/year) will keep you safe from any malicious software, like ransomware, adware, spyware, phishing and more.

    That’s not all; antivirus software can provide extra features like VPNs, dark web monitoring and more. Norton 360 has all these features and extra security tools that can backup your data, prevent online identity theft and stop malware. 

    What’s more, Norton 360 comes with monitoring features to identify all suspicious activity on your device. It will help detect and notify you about any unusual activity, including strange system tray icons, and stop it using it’s protection tools. 

    Check out our Norton 360 review and Norton 360 Platinum review to see which antivirus package suits you best.

What are the random icons in my system tray on Windows?

The system tray on Windows is a section of the taskbar that gives you easy access to apps or programs via their icons. It’s usually where the Wi-Fi, sound, battery and system clock are.

The apps that appear are often your most used apps. However, installing new apps, especially if they automatically launch when you turn on your computer, can often appear as icons in the system tray.

These can overcrowd your system tray if you don’t hide them in settings. This isn’t a problem if you rarely use the system tray to access different apps, but hackers can take advantage of this by hiding malware that appears as icons in the system tray.

Malware can sneak onto your device through different methods, including users mistakenly clicking a suspicious link in an email or going to a dodgy website, thanks to phishing attacks.

To identify and remove malicious software and prevent infections from happening, it’s best to use an antivirus like Norton 360 to detect any malicious activity and stop the malware from causing more harm.

Windows 11 laptop show taskbar for system tray icon

How do I get my taskbar back to normal?

Depending on the issue, it’s easy to hide or delete icons on your taskbar or system tray and get it back to normal.

For example, if you install new software or have startup programs that always appear as icons on your taskbar, head into Settings and hide icons, disable startup apps or uninstall programs you no longer need.

However, if it’s a virus or malware infection damaging your PC, it’s best to perform a system scan using a reliable antivirus that can identify the issue and eliminate a virus or malware. Once it’s done its job, you can customise your taskbar and system tray however you want.

Can any antivirus software stop viruses and malware?

The best antivirus software will stop malware in its tracks. Not all antivirus software is equal, as some don’t have high malware detection and protection rates or have accredited lab scores to back them up.

However, many high-standard AV protections offer near-perfect scores when detecting and protecting against malware, meaning even complex malicious software can’t go unnoticed. No malicious app can hide from a thorough antivirus scan, including suspicious system tray icons.

Services, including Norton 360 (from $19.99/year) and Bitdefender (from $19.99/year), include device monitoring features to help uncover suspicious activity early and offer the tools to fight off cyberattacks. Whether its a phishing attack, ransomware, spyware or infostealer malware, these security products have the tools to protect you.

These services have protection features that block malicious activity on your device. To make sure your device is ready to identify and block malware damaging your system, set yourself up with an antivirus.

Best antivirus to prevent viruses and malware

1. Norton 360 🥇From $19.99/year
Best overall antivirus of 2023

Norton 360 on Laptop scaled

“Norton” and “antivirus” are synonymous these days, as the well-established cybersecurity brand has successfully fought against malware, viruses and nasty software threats since 1990. 

Norton 360 offers excellent antivirus protection and extra features that make for a valuable, all-in-one security product. Its Norton 360 Deluxe and Premium package may cost a pretty penny. Still, with security across multiple platforms, a full-blown VPN, Dark Web Monitoring, Parental Controls and more, it will have a household free of cyber threats. 

Norton’s certainty of its antivirus software’s capabilities is clearly defined by the brand’s 100% Virus Protection Promise. If a device protected by Norton 360 can’t get rid of a virus, the user receives their money back. It’s a big claim, but unquestionably, no one should expect to get that refund.

If you have the money for it, you can also check out the premium Norton 360 Platinum package for even more online protection, including from identity theft. Without a doubt one of the best antivirus to get.

Read our full Norton 360 review

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2. Bitdefender 🥈 From $19.99/year
Best security features and tools

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Bitdefender takes the spot as best antivirus, and for good reason. It’s not enough that it boasts near-perfect lab test scores across the board, as it goes the extra mile by giving users access to a plethora of advanced security features.

Bitdefender goes above and beyond in the features department, all while keeping known malware, ransomware, and viruses at bay. It will defend your device against new attacks, provide security for online transactions, keep you safe with a reliable VPN, and protect your accounts with a password manager.

It’s a no-brainer when it comes to defending your devices against virtually any form of cyberattack, and its top-notch protection extends to its most affordable package, too. Protecting your PC and smartphone, from Windows and macOS to iOS and Android, is becoming even more necessary, and Bitdefender is the tricked-out shield you need. 

Read our full Bitdefender review

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3. Malwarebytes 🥉 From $44.99/year
Best antivirus for Windows PC

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Hundreds of malware emerge every minute, and it’s Malwarebytes’ mission to detect and conquer them all. Does the antivirus do this successfully? Yes, but there’s wiggle room for improvements.

Malwarebytes’ no-nonsense approach to protecting your devices from the onslaught of malware and viruses is effective for those who need a reliable antivirus that will detect and remove malicious software, especially with its free version. However, while its premium service provides 24/7 real-time detection, conveniently blocks vicious ransomware and shields users from malicious websites, it doesn’t go beyond on the feature front.

That’s no bad thing, as sometimes a user only needs a powerful antivirus to keep them safe from cyber threats. But considering its competitors add a few more security tools, such as data breach monitoring and a firewall, there’s room for improvement. 

Read our full Malwarebytes review

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4. Avast One 🙌 From $39.99/year
Best antivirus for beginners + free plan available!

Avast One logo on laptop

With Avast One, you can protect your device from viruses, malware and ransomware for free. That’s right, and you don’t have to pay a dime for the extra security features the antivirus throws in, including its VPN, firewall and more.

Avast One will safeguard your device from malware, comes with ransomware protection, blocks harmful websites and downloads from the web, scans your emails for malicious attachments, stops hackers from infiltrating your device through Wi-Fi with a firewall – the list goes on. That’s a lot of tools for software that’s free, and the included VPN and the ability to speed up your PC are a welcome bonus.

It’s the ideal antivirus software for home use, as it takes the hassle out of staying wary of cyber threats lurking around, even if you’re not a tech whizz. What’s more, if you are looking for added precautions, its paid Individual and Family packages still boast great value. Hard to go wrong with this best antivirus.

Read our full Avast One review

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5. AVG👍 From 4.99/month
Best antivirus for + free plan available!

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You can never go wrong with free antivirus protection, but some deliver even better detection and protection rates, along with extra security features, without costing a dime. This is where AVG antivirus shines.

AVG provides reliable protection and only a small impact on performance for Windows, Mac, iOS and Android. It safeguards your devices against malware, viruses and zero-day exploits, along with blocking malicious links and attachments in emails. Throw in phishing protection when surfing the internet and extra security features such as its SafePrice browser extension and Network Inspector, and you’ve got yourself a do-it-all antivirus.

Sure, you can find all of these perks with Avast, but if you like a slick, darker user interface that’s easy to navigate, then AVG is for you.

Read our full AVG Antivirus review

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Darragh Murphy
Darragh Murphy is fascinated by all things bizarre, which usually leads to assorted coverage varying from the mischievous world of online security to washing machines designed for earbuds. Whether it's connecting Scar from The Lion King to two-factor authentication or turning his love for laptops into a fabricated rap battle from 8 Mile, he believes there’s always a quirky spin to be made. When he's not checking out the latest devices and all things tech, he can be found swimming laps, watching terrible shark movies, and trying to find time to game.  Previous Editor at Laptop Mag and News Editor at Time Out Dubai, specialising in food culture, nightlife events, gaming, tech and entertainment.

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