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My Computer Has Been Hacked, Now What?

Did you know October is National Cyber Security Awareness Month? We understand how important it is to protect your personal and/or business information from any cyber threats, so our Seacoast Information Security Officer has prepared some insights, tips and information for you. 

First and foremost, simply having anti-virus software or similar programs does not 100% ensure there will never be a cyber security incident on your machine. Just like driving a car, no matter how safely you drive, sooner or later you may have an incident. The information below will teach you what to look for to determine if your computer is hacked, and if so what you can do about it. Ultimately, the quicker you detect your computer has been hacked and the faster you respond, the better you can mitigate any harm to your machine and personal information.

Indicators of Compromise
It's important to understand that in many cases there is no single step you can take to determine if your computer is hacked. Instead there are usually several indicators. Identifying a combination of these symptoms listed below implies your computer is hacked. 

  • Your anti-virus program has triggered an alert that your computer is infected, particularly if it says that it was unable to remove or quarantine the affected files.
  • Your browser’s homepage has unexpectedly changed or your browser is taking you to websites that you did not want to go to.
  • There are new accounts on your computer that you did not create.
  • There are new programs running that you did not install.
  • Your computer is continually crashing or running very slow.
  • A program on your computer requests your authorization to make changes to your system, although you’re not actively installing or updating any of your applications.
  • Your firewall alerts you that a program you do not recognize is requesting permission to access the internet.

How to Respond
If you believe your computer has been compromised, the sooner you respond, the better.

  • Back Ups
    The most important step you can take is to prepare ahead of time with backups. Specifically backup your data regularly, and periodically check that you are able to restore files from your backup. Quite often when a computer is compromised, the only option you have is wiping the system hard drive and reinstalling the operating system, or purchasing a new computer. Either way, you need your backups to recover your personal data.
  • Change Your Passwords 
    Be sure to change all passwords. This includes not only the passwords on your computers and mobile devices, but all of your online passwords. Be sure you change all your online passwords from a different computer that you know is trusted and secure.
  • Anti-Virus
    If your anti-virus software informs you of an infected file, you can follow the actions it recommends. This usually can include quarantining the file, cleaning the file or deleting the file. Most anti-virus software will have links which you can follow to learn more about the specific infection. When in doubt, quarantine the file. If that is not possible, then delete it.
  • Re-Installing
    If you are unable to clean the computer with anti-virus, one of the most secure ways to recover is to rebuild the computer from scratch. Follow your system’s manufacturer instructions, in most cases that means using the built-in recovery partition to reinstall the operating system. If the recovery partition is missing, corrupted or infected, then contact your manufacturer and request that they send a recovery DVD. Also, if your computer is old or outdated, it may be simpler (and perhaps even cheaper) to purchase a new computer than attempting to spend hours rebuilding it.
  • Professional Help
    If you are concerned you have been hacked, but feel like you do not have the skills or knowledge to fix it, you may want to turn your computer over to a professional. For example, after being hacked you may realize that your backups are incomplete or outdated. You may be tempted to transfer critical files such as photos, documents or videos between your infected machine and a new machine. However by doing this you can inadvertently transfer malware and infect your new computer at the same time. A far safer alternative is to take the infected computer to a qualified technician who can safely recover these files without risking transferring the infection.