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Hacked? Now What?

photo illustration of hacker

​By David Williams

Maybe you opened an email attachment you shouldn’t have, and now your computer has slowed to a crawl and other strange things are happening. The news of the Heartbleed security flaw has you nervous. Or perhaps you’re running an out-of-date or unpatched operating system software (such as Windows XP) and have started to see “antivirus warnings.” Perhaps your bank called, informing you that there has been unusual activity on your account. Your friends and family start complaining about spam messages they are purportedly receiving from you.

These are all signs that your computer may have been hacked.
If your computer system has been compromised and infected with a virus or other malware, you need to act to protect your data and prevent your computer from being used to attack others.
How to Secure Your Computer
Ensure your computer is current with all available patches, fixes and upgrades. If you do not have your operating system set to automatically update, do so by visiting your operating system’s website and following the instructions. Links are provided here for Windows users and Mac users. (In addition, note that support for Windows XP ended effective April 8, 2014. The end of support for Windows XP means that Microsoft will no longer provide new security updates, and XP will therefore become a significant security risk. It is recommended that anyone using Windows XP migrates to products that are supported, such as Windows Vista or Windows 7 or 8.)
Your computer’s security software should also be up to date. To check its status, click on the icon for the security program on your system. If an update is needed, it will be indicated here. If you don’t have security software installed, you need to get it. Make sure you have anti-virus and anti-spyware software installed and a firewall enabled.
Confirm that your browsers are up-to-date. Tools such as Qualys BrowserCheck or WhatBrowser can help assess status.
Secure Your Accounts
You probably access many online accounts, including social media, banking, shopping and news sites. If you’ve been hacked, there is a chance that passwords have been stolen. Reset your passwords for your critical accounts first, starting with your email account, followed by financial and other critical accounts. It is important to start with email accounts because password resets for your other accounts are typically sent to your email.
Use separate and unique ID/password combinations for different accounts, and avoid writing them down. Make the passwords more complicated by combining letters, numbers and special characters and by changing them regularly. If you are unable to log in to one of your accounts, contact the service provider or website immediately. Most online providers include an online form, an email address to contact or a phone number to call.
Secure Your Mobile Device
Our increased reliance on smart devices, including mobile phones and tablets, has resulted in more hacking attempts against these devices. As we do with our personal computers, we have to ensure that the proper steps are taken to protect our information and devices. This includes installing security software, where available, and keeping all installed software up-to-date.
For More Information
You’ve been hacked, now what?
Hacked: Now What?
I’ve Been Hacked! Now What?
You’ve been hacked! Now What?
Davis Williams is chief information and privacy security officer for DCCCD.