What to Do When Your Computer Has Been Hacked

Hollywood hasn’t given us the most realistic portrayal of hackers and what hacking actually means. Yet, no matter how they’re portrayed, the fact is there are people out there who specialize in getting access to your computer and all the data contained on it. With technology becoming so commonplace in our lives, the idea of someone getting into your computer or mobile devices is jarring, to say the least—a digital break-in.

Sometimes, the break-in is harmless. We’ve all seen posts where people have “hacked” their friends’ Facebook page and left goofy messages. The real threat is people who carry out these actions for more harmful reasons, such as identity theft, access to personal and financial information, or getting personal photos. Fortunately, you don’t need to be a Hollywood hacker or even a master of cybersecurity to counter this kind of digital break-in.

The First Step Is Finding the Point of Entry

Like finding a leak in a boat, finding the proverbial point of the leak and stopping the intrusion should be your number one priority. TeamViewer is one example of software that can allow someone easy access to a computer. TeamViewer is remote access software that can give someone complete control over your computer. It’s typically used so someone can FIX a computer rather than infiltrate it. A hacker who aims to do serious damage can use software like TeamViewer to get into your machine, run programs, and leave a backdoor to get back in later. While you are in Sherlock Holmes mode to find out exactly how the hacker got in and where you need to stop the entry, it’s best to be disconnected from any kind of network connection. Most of these programs and methods operate off network connections. When you’ve been hacked, you can’t trust your computer. Talented attackers try to be as discreet as possible so it takes you a while to notice something is wrong. It helps if you’re familiar enough with your machine to know what processes are normally running. You can use the Task Manager or Activity Viewer to monitor the running processes and spot anything that seems out of the ordinary. The best time to do such monitoring is immediately after booting up. Viewing your network traffic with programs like Wireshark can also help you identify abnormalities.

If your computer won’t boot, boot it in Safe Mode or access it outside of its normal environment to do repairs. If you don’t know how to boot your PC in Safe Mode, now would be a good time to learn—BEFORE you’ve been hacked.

What If I’ve Contracted a Virus?

Some hackers who do gain access to your computer will leave viruses, worms, and other malicious software behind. The best thing you can do in this situation is make sure your antivirus and anti-malware programs are up to date. Then, disconnect your machine from the Internet. Run a full system scan of your machine and wait for the results. You should have separate antivirus and anti-malware programs so they can do a more complete scan and catch things that otherwise might have been missed. Even if you use software like MalwareBytes to remove the bulk of the problem code, keep in mind that there are other areas that can be affected, such as browser plug-ins that will continue to keep downloading the malicious software. If you see programs like WeatherBug or something claiming to be a PC cleaner out of the blue, it’s safe to assume your computer needs a thorough inspection and cleaning.

With that done, now you should change all your passwords – yes, all of them. Once they’re changed, log out of every one of your accounts from email sessions to social media. Then, set up more secure authentication methods where applicable.
After you’ve completed all of the above, keep an eye on your computer and watch for suspicious activity going forward.

If All Else Fails, Use the Nuclear Option

The nuclear option refers to reinstalling your operating system from scratch and wiping out the malicious software or connection. Doing this often results in the loss of important files and programs, but that can be avoided by doing regular backups. Backing up everything on your computer regularly is vital to protect your files, settings, and work. Using the nuclear option is a last resort. Knowing this option and doing the regular backups that would help you perform it successfully will help you be prepared for the absolute worst.

The Best Thing You Can Do Is Be Informed about Prevention

The user is always the weakest link in the security chain. Whether it’s is keeping passwords on a Post-It™ note or leaving an open session, human error is what makes it possible for hackers to gain access. So, what can you do?

First, set secure passwords. Second, be wary of public wi-fi networks. They’re often unsecured and open to anyone fishing for public information. Third, if you get a message that your password has been changed without your permission, immediately change it to something stronger. Fourth, pay attention to the content of emails. Never give out personal information online at the request of someone or some organization you don’t know.

Prevention and protection starts with you. Get to know your computer, back up files and systems regularly, and always be on the lookout for suspicious activity. It’s easy for one careless mistake to cost you more than just an embarrassing Facebook post.