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How to know if your computer got hacked – what to do next | #hacking | #cybersecurity | #infosec | #comptia | #pentest | #hacker


Have you ever had that sinking feeling that something’s not quite right with your computer? Maybe it’s running slower than usual, or there are new icons on your desktop that you don’t recognize. Well, you might not be just imagining things; you could have been hacked.

While the first reaction may be to panic, the best possible first step if you think you’ve been hacked is to disconnect your computer from the internet and take a deep breath. If you’ve got antivirus software already installed, run the scan immediately. But don’t worry just yet. Before you start fretting about cyber-thieves and lost data, let’s take a moment to walk through some crucial steps together. From running a trusty antivirus scan to the nitty-gritty of browser settings and remote access—this is your go-to guide for outsmarting those pesky hackers.

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Were you hacked?

1. Run Antivirus Software ASAP

When you’re running any antivirus scans or troubleshooting, start from the actual antivirus software program. Don’t follow pop-ups or notifications. If there is indeed a compromise, it should show up on the dashboard of the antivirus software program.

Preventative:

  • Keep your antivirus software updated – hackers are coming up with new viruses often so if you are up-to-date you’re less likely to be compromised. Or the virus is more likely to get caught.
  • Be familiar with your antivirus software notifications and alerts so if you ever get a pop-up or notification, you’ll be more apt to notice fake ones.
  • Write down the contact information of the antivirus software you’ve installed and have it near the computer.

If you feel pretty confident that you’ve unfortunately been hacked but your antivirus scan comes up empty, take a break and call customer service of antivirus software directly. Do not follow links to have a rep call you. Use the number you’ve written down, and call them directly so you know you’re not being duped.

If you don’t have antivirus software installed, make sure to install one and do a computer scan.  You can find our top recommendations here with our top recommendation being TotalAV.   Their product is full of features to keep you safe from malware and protect you when browsing the internet including ransomware protection, real-time antivirus protection, elimination of viruses and malware, a tool to free up your computer’s space, plus more.  Protects Windows, Mac, Android & iOS Devices. Limited time deal for CyberGuy readers: $19 your first year (80% off).

Get my picks for the best 2024 antivirus protection winners for your Windows, Mac, Android & iOS devices.

Best Antivirus Protection 2024

 

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HOW TO RECOVER A HACKED FACEBOOK ACCOUNT 

 

2. Reformat or reset to factory settings

Sometimes a virus or other nefarious entities have overrun the computer so badly that you might need to simply reformat or reset it to factory settings. If you’ve uninstalled or deleted suspicious programs or applications only to have them reload upon restarting your computer, you may simply need to start from scratch. This is why it is crucial to have recent backups of your data. Our article, “How to securely get rid of your old PC or Mac” outlines how to reset to factory settings or reformat your computer.

 

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3. Delete settings or extensions on browsers or uninstall and reinstall browsers completely

There have been many times I have gone to help my mom with her online accounts, only to be inundated with pop-ups, redirects, or random links on her browser bar or menu. It turned out that she had either accidentally downloaded extensions that embedded themselves in the browser or, worse, changed the browser setting to open a spammy website as her main search engine or landing page. You can go to settings or preferences and delete extensions you do not recognize. But if these settings or extensions keep reappearing after deleting and restarting the browser, it is likely a bigger problem. Then, uninstall the browser and see if you can reinstall it. If that brings up the same settings again, then it could be a much more invasive virus or malware that needs to be addressed with an antivirus scan or assistance from a professional.

 

HOW TO OUTSMART CRIMINAL HACKERS BY LOCKING THEM OUT OF YOUR DIGITAL ACCOUNTS 

 

4. Turn off or restrict remote access

While it is harder for hackers to access your computer if it is completely turned off, if you have allowed remote access, a hacker just needs your computer to be hooked up to a network or the internet in order to take over your device and turn it on.

To prevent remote access to your PC:

  • Click the ‘Windows Start button’
  • Input “Remote Desktop settings” in the search bar
  • In the Remote Desktop settings, ensure that the slider under “Enable Remote Desktop” is set to Off
  • Review your current processes in Task Manager (Ctrl+Alt+Del) for any unusual or suspicious activities

To prevent remote access on Macs:

  • Click the ‘Apple logo’ icon on the top left corner
  • Click ‘System Settings
  • Tap General 
  • Click the ‘Sharing’ icon
  • Scroll down and uncheck the boxes next to Remote Login and Remote Management to prevent unauthorized remote access

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5. Review your activity monitor on your computer and network traffic patterns

Periodically, checking your computer’s activity monitor to check which programs are running and what is using up the most bandwidth is a healthy practice. It will teach you to spot any programs or traffic that is unusual or if someone else is connecting to your computer remotely.

To review this activity on your PC:

  • Go to ‘Control Panel’
  • Click ‘Administrative Tools’
  • In ‘Event viewer’, look for the events that are related to startup and shutdown. Any shutdown will be listed there and which program or user-initiated that startup or shutdown.  This way you can see if these actions are that of a virus, or an update process

To review this activity on your Mac:

  • Go to menu bar on the top left when you first log on to your account
  • Select ‘Go’
  • In the drop-down menu, select ‘Utilities’
  • When a menu pops up, one of the first options should be ‘Activity Monitor’

Or

  • Go to your ‘Applications‘ folder on your dock (usually located on the bottom or right-hand side of the screen)
  • Go to ‘Utilities’ folder
  • Select ‘Activity Monitor’

 

Top 3 preventative measures to not get hacked

1. Turn on two-factor authentication

While it may seem like a pain to enter a code received via email or text each time you sign in, this extra step is crucial for security. By activating two-factor authentication, you create a barrier against unauthorized access. Even if a hacker discovers your email or username, they won’t get far without the unique code.

Each login attempt triggers a notification, alerting you to potential threats. Repeated failed attempts will secure your account by either locking it or sending you an alert. In the event of suspicious activity, you can swiftly use a trusted device to reset your password and inform the service provider. It’s a small price to pay for significant protection against cyber threats.

 

 2. Have strong antivirus software

The best way to protect yourself from clicking malicious links that install malware in an attempt to get access to your private information is to have antivirus protection installed on all your devices. This can also alert you of any phishing emails or ransomware scams. Plus, think of it like having a digital bodyguard—always on the lookout, always ready to defend you from cyber threats.

My top pick is TotalAV, and you can get a limited-time deal for CyberGuy readers: $19 your first year (80% off) for the TotalAV Antivirus Pro package.  

Get my picks for the best 2024 antivirus protection winners for your Windows, Mac, Android & iOS devices.

Best Antivirus Protection 2024

 

3. Configure your email settings

If you configure your email settings to not automatically load content such as images or attachments, then it is harder for viruses or other malware from being automatically downloaded or accidentally opened. If you also have emails received first in rich text format, you can choose which emails load fully with images once you realize it is from a trusted source.

Gmail desktop:

  • Click the settings gear icon
  • Choose “See all settings”
  • Under the “General” tab, scroll to the “Images” section
  • Select “Ask before displaying external images”
  • Scroll to the bottom of the page and click “Save Changes”

Gmail mobile:

  • Tap the hamburger menu (3 horizontal lines)
  • Select Settings
  • Choose the account you want to manage
  • Scroll to the “Images” section and select “Ask before displaying external images”

Apple mail:

  • First, click on Mail in your dock at the bottom of your screen
  • Then, click on Mail in the upper left of your screen
  • Click “Settings”
  • Go to the “Viewing” tab
  • Uncheck “Load remote content in messages”

Outlook desktop (PC):

  • Click File
  • Choose Options
  • Select Trust Center
  • Click Trust Center Settings
  • Under “Automatic Download,” check the option that says “Don’t download pictures automatically in standard HTML email messages or RSS items”

Outlook desktop (Mac):

  • Open Outlook
  • Click Preferences
  • Under “Email,” select “Reading”
  • Choose “Security”
  • Select “Never” to prevent image downloads

Yahoo Mail desktop:

  • Click “Settings.”
  • Choose “More Settings.”
  • Click “Viewing email.”
  • Under “Show images in messages,” select “Ask before showing external images.”

Start Mail desktop:

Please note that the exact wording of the menu items and options can vary based on the version of Start Mail you are using. 

  • Open Start Mail
  • Click on the ‘Settings’ icon
  • Navigate to the ‘Email’ section
  • Look for the ‘Images’ or ‘Privacy’ settings
  • Choose the option to ‘Ask before displaying external images’ or a similar setting that controls the automatic downloading of pictures

These steps should help enhance your email security by giving you control over which images are displayed, thereby reducing the risk of malware being automatically downloaded or opened. Always ensure your email application is updated to the latest version for the best security practices.

Looking for private and secure email solutions? See: Best Private and Secure Email Providers 2024

 

Data recovery: Protecting your information against loss

This may not seem relevant to an article about hacking, but having your data off your computer and safely on an external hard drive or the cloud will give you more options if you think you’ve been hacked. If you need help deciding what type of data backup would be best for you, please take a look at these articles:

If a hack is bad enough, sometimes a complete wipe of your system is the only way to salvage your computer. If you have a safe copy of your data, while it might be inconvenient, you will not lose all your data. Also, if you keep more sensitive data off your more frequently used computer, then your data is less likely to be compromised if you get hacked.

 

Kurt’s key takeaways

At the end of the day, being hacked is a massive inconvenience and can potentially lead to data loss or theft. But don’t lose hope – there are steps you can take to outsmart those pesky hackers and keep your devices secure. The key is staying vigilant and taking preventative measures like using strong antivirus software, enabling two-factor authentication, and regularly backing up your data. That way, if you do get hacked, you’ll have a recent backup to rely on and can simply wipe your device clean without losing everything.

It’s also crucial to keep an eye out for any suspicious activity on your computer or network. If something seems off, don’t hesitate to run a full antivirus scan and review your activity monitor for any unauthorized access or programs running in the background. Remember, hackers are always coming up with new tricks, so it’s an ongoing battle to stay one step ahead. But by following the tips outlined here, you’ll be well on your way to keeping your digital life secure and hack-free. Stay vigilant, my friends.

Can you share a personal story where being proactive about computer security paid off or, conversely, where neglecting it led to issues? Let us know in the comments below. 

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Copyright 2024 CyberGuy.com.  All rights reserved.  CyberGuy.com articles and content may contain affiliate links that earn a commission when purchases are made.



   

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