Worried you've been hacked? Here are our tips on what to do if you think you've been the victim of a security breach
The type of hacking that hits the news typically targets major corporations. But hacking can hit you at home too, with personal details lifted from people's PCs, email accounts compromised, or infected PCs being turned into botnets for launching further attacks.
These sort of attacks are more than just an inconvenience - they can put your personal information, and potentially your bank details, at risk of fraud.
By taking the right steps to protect yourself, you can secure your PC against hacking attacks. And by browsing safely online and knowing the warning signs to look out for, you can keep your personal details locked up tightly.
Here, we'll guide you through what to do if you think your PC has been hacked. For example, your email address might have begun sending out spam messages, or your PC could be running slowly or otherwise behaving suspiciously.
Want to make sure your computer is protected? Read our Which? reviews of the best antivirus software.
Repair a hacked PC
Update your security software and scan
Click on the settings on your security software to select an update to make sure that latest virus threats are in its database. Next, manually choose to run a thorough scan right of your entire system.
With luck, this will pick up any nasties that may have infected your PC and allowed hackers in.
Reset your online passwords
An essential thing to do when you've been hacked is to change passwords on the affected accounts, and any other accounts with similar user names or passwords.
You can check to see if your email address has been caught up in a breach by typing it into Have I Been Pwnd?, which is a database of compromised accounts run by Troy Hunt, one of the biggest names in the security industry. You can also check to see if your password has turned up in a breach on the same site by typing it into this page (it's perfectly safe to do so).
However, you mustn't take this step until you have run a full and up-to-date virus scan. Changing your passwords before ensuring that your system is secure is a risk, as key-logging malware could capture your new passwords. You should always use different passwords for different accounts.
Want some more help with security? Our friendly tech team can help you with one-to-one support on a range of tech issues. Find out more here.
Reclaim your online accounts
Email and social network hackers might often lock out the rightful account owner, but Google, Microsoft, Facebook and others all offer tools for letting them know the account is yours, with a process of security questions about the account allowing you to prove you are the rightful owner.
Check for changes to your accounts
Study the settings in your accounts to make sure they haven't been changed. For, example, check that there's no automatic forwarding set up in your email which would continue to send copies of emails – included password change notifications – to the hacker.
Prevent online attacks
While there's little you can do to stop the companies you use from being hacked themselves, setting strong and unique passwords for every site you log onto is always a must.
Setting passwords on your smartphone, tablet and laptops can also help, because if these are stolen the crooks can peruse your data or use unsecured apps to make purchases.
On your home machine, you might want your browser or individual websites to remember your user names and passwords and to fill them in for you, but you should uncheck this option on shared machines.
Auto-complete functions can also save user names and your address for e-commerce stores, as well as credit card details, but can be a risk on a shared computer, where it’s wise to turn this off. Here's how:
Go to Tools and the Internet Options and select the Content tab. Under Autocomplete, click Settings. Remove the ticks next to Forms and User names and passwords on forms.
Go to Tools and then Options. Under the privacy tab, untick the box next to Remember what I enter in forms and the search bar.
Click the Chrome menu, then Settings. Click Show advanced settings to find the Passwords and forms section and deselect the Enable Autofill to fill out web forms in a single click box.