When you discover that your computer has been hacked, the first response is generally one of panic; then comes anger and outrage. The sooner you can gather your wits about you again, the faster you can act in hopes of minimizing the damage.
First Five Actions
The first five actions are always the same. What actions you take after that are up to you, depending on your proficiency and preferences, but always take immediate action.
Secure Online Accounts: If you have ready access to a phone during business hours, call your bank. Talk to a customer service representative as quickly as possible and ask that your account be temporarily secured against changes. Outline what automatic payments due soon would be authorized, but reverse changes to passwords and security questions noted in the recent past. Initiate a vocal pass code that must be correctly given during any future inquiry or change contact, whether in person or via the phone or Internet.
If the information has already been changed, explain what happened. They’ll ask a series of questions that you must answer correctly. Once they’re reasonably sure of your identity, work with them to reset passwords and clear security questions. If you have an additional online pass code key, change that, too. Be sure to note all the new information. Repeat the process for each online account you have for services or bill-pay options.
Email: Change passwords, security questions and associated answers. Do not note answers factually. Adjust the responses to reflect something similar to the truth for easier recall. Do not store the passwords and security questions and answers on your computer. If needed, send them from an email address no one knows to an email address no one else knows, even if it’s the same email address.
General Settings: Immediately discontinue saving any passwords in computer programs. Delete macro programs that store your information. Discontinue using master passwords for program overrides.
Computer Permissions: Disconnect from the Internet and change your computer passwords for every administrator and user account that exists. Turn off a guest account. Do not allow file sharing. Commonly used items such as printers and Internet access may be permitted, but keep files separate per user account. If possible, revert your system to an earlier time, eliminating most in-computer changes that may have been made without your knowledge. If the system is unable to complete that due to a fault, use a saved back-up, if the break-in did not result in serious damage or loss.
Other Contact: If the hacked computer belongs to your company, notify the network administrator and your supervisor and follow their instructions. If it was a personal computer, notify friends and family—and your ISP if you haven’t already. The latter may have IP records through your modem and may be able to track the perpetrator. If important information was stolen, contact the police or local FBI office for cyber crimes.
Ensuring your security programs are kept current is one of the best ways to avoid being hacked, but sometimes a hacker is more dedicated and more talented than expected. Changing passwords and security questions and answers to email and online accounts often minimizes the odds of having your accounts hacked and taken over. But if you do get hacked, remember the first five actions you should take and take them immediately to salvage and protect as much as you can from malicious users.
About the Author
JC Ryan is a freelance writer for MyCollegesandCareers.com. My Colleges and Careers helps people determine if an online education is right for them and helps them understand which online courses and career training programs they can choose from to reach their goals.