What to do when you’re hacked

So you think you’ve been hacked. Maybe your computer is acting strange, tossing pop-ups and random errors up on screen without warning. Or perhaps your social media account has taken on a life of its own, sending out weird messages to your friends telling them you’re stranded in Belarus with no money, when you’re fairly certain you’re still in your Mr. T jam-jams at home in Cleveland.

If that’s the case, let me be the first person to tell you how much that stinks. Let me also be the first to compliment you on your stylish PJs.

Now, let’s get to it. Just because your computer, smartphone, social network or email account has been compromised, doesn’t mean you have to cast your device into a fiery pit to exorcise the cyberdemon that dwells within.
Instead, you can follow these painless tips to take back control of your machine or online account, and get back to spending more time with them than your family. I’ll even go a step further and give you some tips to prevent yourself from falling prey to such security problems in the future.
Let’s start with the most common security issue: malware on your computer. Malware is any kind of software surreptitiously installed on your desktop or laptop that is designed to negatively impact your machine.

Different kinds of malware have different effects on your system. Some can try to steal your personal information, while others will attempt to scam you into paying for services you don’t need.

Of course, as Symantec’s (SYMC) Director of security response Kevin Haley explains, if criminals are doing their jobs right, you’re unlikely to notice much wrong with your machine at all.

If you suspect you’ve fallen victim to some form of malware, the first thing you should do is unplug your machine from the internet. If your machine is infected, and you’re still online, there’s a good chance that you’re sending data back to the person who owns the malware.
Next, run virus and malware scans on your computer. If you don’t have antivirus software, then you’ll want to install it, connect to the internet to download the latest updates and disconnect again. Run the scans to make sure that your machine is clean and then reconnect to the internet. It’s probably worth running another scan at this point to make sure you’re still in the clear now that you’ve reconnected to the web. From there you should be good to go.

If you’ve got an iOS device like an iPhone or iPad, chances are you won’t have to worry about malware since Apple (AAPL) doesn’t allow users to install unapproved software on their machines. If you’ve got an Android device, though, you can open it up to allow for the installation of third-party apps and services. In fact, that’s one of the draws of owning an Android phone or tablet. It’s your machine, so you can do what you want with it.

It’s also an easy way for users to install malware on the handsets. To combat this, your best bet is to install and run an antivirus app on your phone. All of the major antivirus manufacturers offer some form of smartphone antivirus software. And many times it’s free. There are additional features you can get if you pay a little extra or sign up for a monthly plan, but if you’re simply looking for a program to scan your phone and clean it up, you’re unlikely to have to pay up.

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