In the scheme of things, having a hacker compromise your system (and potentially crash it) might not be the absolute worst thing that can happen to you, but when it happens it certainly feels that way. It’s hard not to feel violated (and really annoyed about it) as you work at getting your system back up online. If this is the first time you’ve ever had a compromised system, this could even be pretty scary.
Before you run out and buy a whole new machine and start from scratch, here are the things that you can do to get your current system back up, running safely and keep it safe from future threats.
1. Restart your computer in Safe Mode.The easiest way to do this is to push the F8 key as the computer is booting up (you need to get into Safe Mode before Windows loads). Safe Mode will allow you to do all of the basic things you need to do (virus scans, Google searches) but it only loads the systems your computer absolutely needs to be operational.
2. Go into your startup menuand make sure that the only programs and system tools that boot up when you start up your computer are things you actually want and need. You can find instructions on how to figure out what boots when and how to get into that menu by following Microsoft’s instructions. Turn off automatic startup for anything that doesn’t actually need to run at startup (you can Google this list ahead of time to make sure you don’t accidentally turn off anything important or necessary).
3. While you’re in the menu, write down everything that you don’t immediately recognize as necessary and then go to Google and look each of those things up (you should still be in Safe Mode). If Google tells you that something is nefarious, get rid of it manually.
4. While still in Safe Mode, run all of your malware detection programs. Since you’re in Safe Mode, none of the threats should be running and your malware and anti-virus programs should be able to find them pretty easily. These scans might take a while and it is okay to walk away while they are running. When the scans are completed, delete the threats the scans have turned up.
5. Go through your computer and clean up your hard drive. Clear out your temporary folders. Defragment your hard drive. Run your registry cleaner. Open your web browsers and get rid of the cookies and other saved data. Now you can reboot your computer in regular mode and, with any luck, things will start the way they are supposed to. Repeat the cleaning, defragmenting and scanning again now that you’re in normal startup mode, just to make sure you’ve covered your bases.
6. When those are done, upgrade all of your malware, anti-virus and other security solutions. Make sure you have the absolute best cyber security solutions on your machine to help protect you against incoming threats and hacking attempts. You’ll want security (according to TrendMicro.com, a leader in the cyber security market) that can “detect, analyze, adapt and respond to targeted attacks.”
It’s important to understand that keeping your computer and information safe isn’t just a hardware issue. To keep your personal information and private data safe online, you’ll want to take the following measures:
Choose the safest passwords possible.
Keep anything you wouldn’t want online on a portable (aka unhookable) hard drive.
Use two-step verification whenever it is offered to you.
Don’t log in to your accounts on networks that aren’t protected (aka, don’t check your bank balance while you’re on Starbucks’ Wi-Fi).
Are we missing anything? What are some of the other things that you can do to get your machine running properly again and protect your data online?