What to do if you're hacked

By Eleanor O'Neill & Alex Burden, Student Blog

14 May 2018

So you think you've been hacked? The following security measures can help you navigate your way out of digital security issues and recover data or accounts.

Maybe your friends have reported getting strange messages from you, you can't login to your online accounts, pop-ups are cluttering up your screen or, in the worst case scenario, you have been confronted with a 'ransom note' for your data.

Having your privacy invaded is a horrible experience and can put you at risk of identity theft and financial fraud. Your priority should be trying to limit the damage.

1. Scan and update

The first step is to scan your computer for malicious software or viruses such as credential stealing programmes (these essentially copy out all saved passwords you may have). You may need to update or download new security software to make sure it is configured to ward off the latest sophisticated threats, such as AVGNortonMcAfeeBitdefender and Webroot.

Depending on how compromised your system is, a hacker may have blocked your access to any software you currently have installed. You will have hopefully invested in appropriate software prior to the hack, such as RKill, which terminates all rootkit software which can prevent you from running security software. Malicious rootkits can self-replicate when you rollback computer settings, allowing it to be embedded further into the system, so it's a good idea to prevent such processes before they happen.

2. Reclaim any blocked accounts

Find yourself locked out your accounts? This happens when someone else has gained access and changed the login details.

GoogleMicrosoftFacebook and most other platforms have processes in place to help you get your profiles back under control. Gmail, for instance, lets you nominate a recovery account in security settings, and Facebook allows you to nominate trusted people they can contact to verify your identity. Two-step verification is always recommended, so if this has not been previously set then update your settings as soon you gain access again.

3. Reset your passwords

It is imperative you change your passwords for the affected website and any others that use the same login details. Failing to take action can leave your contacts at risk as well.

4. Spread the word

Once you have established that your system is no longer secure, warn contacts and social media connections to be suspicious of any emails or messages that supposedly come from you. Phishing emails and prompts to follow malicious hyperlinks can put your family, friends and colleagues' data at risk.

5. Check all your details

When you regain access to your accounts, doublecheck any saved addresses, billing information, names, and locations, which may have been altered in your online accounts. Also look at settings such as automatic forwarding of your emails.

6. Last resorts

Have you been subjected to a ransomware attack? At this stage, it's essential to take an image of the ransom note, switch off all power to your system and contact an IT professional. Paying a ransom does not guarantee that your data will be safely returned, and some demands are astronomically high. The ransom note can be given to police for potential investigation.

If you are ever in doubt as to whether your data is at risk or suspect a severe data breach, you should always consult a specialist.


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