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You've Got Hacks
Dealing with bad guys

Got doubts about whether your system is infected with a virus?
Here are some hacks listed from more scary to less scary.

Calls concerning nonpayment for goods shipped 

You haven't made those purchases. Possibly someone has hacked your shopping account and has started purchasing stuff and having it shipped to another address. An "UH-OH" for sure.

You need to change your logins, not just for the suspected hacked account but everywhere, particularly if you use the same password for more than one because the hacker may have traced you back to other accounts.

The hacker may purchase way more goods than you have money to cover and it could get ugly. Get hold of law enforcement and get a case started. Start monitoring your credit rating. You're probably going to spend months trying to restore your good name. One positive note: the internet and all agencies involved are quite used to dealing with this so you are better off today than in years past.

With today's online sales world, I decided, personally, to pay the annual fee to an agency such as Experian (one of three major credit-rating agencies) that monitors my state of credit real-time. I'm supposed to get warned if there are suspicious transactions. Salve for my aching, worried Amazon Prime soul.

Money missing from your bank account

Online bad guys don't usually steal just a little money, though they will sometimes start by making small transactions to test the level of awareness. You may have responded to fake (‘Phishing’) email which looks like it’s from your bank. The email asks for pertinent account information. You give it and hit the send button. You're toast. You can lose nearly all your money in this instance. This major cyber-crime has been long running on the Internet. 

BEST PRACTICE: Prevention! Don't ever respond to an email or a phone call asking for such information what-so-ever. If you have questions call the business or bank and ask them directly, period. Never send a password via email or instant message or over the Internet at all. If you want to pass account information like that, first handle the non-password data over the internet, then call the business or bank and give your password over the phone so that the mix of communication tools breaks the thread of information about your stuff. This is the practice in Information Technology World where security is always first.

Remember that courts have ruled that it is the online user's responsibility for stolen funds and it's up to the bank whether they replace the stolen funds or not. Some banking institutions will send alerts anytime your contact information is changed—a very good practice. Once hackers have gained access to our online account they will often change your contact information to avoid alerts going out when large amounts of your account are removed.

Your anti-malware software, Task Manager, or Registry Editor can't be accessed or started

This is the common thing that malicious software does to protect its operations. In Windows, for example, you may not be able to "regedit" and/or start your antivirus program that normally runs all the time. You know you haven't disabled any of this stuff, so this change is a very sure sign that there's trouble.

Time to do a "System Restore." There are means for restoring less aggressively if you want to try, (Google-type searches for example) but it’s usually a lot of work.

This is the perfect time to mention that you should always run the security updates offered if you haven't already set up your machine to do that automatically for Microsoft updates. These notices come periodically, some usually on a Tuesday. Adobe Software, Java and Microsoft are frequent updaters. Others do as well, depending on your operating system.

Your mouse moves on its own and makes correct selections

If your mouse is moving by itself, making selections and causing things to happen, you aren't witnessing ghosts invading. Malicious humans are involved. I've only seen this happen a few times but it's a true possibility.

Our computers can accept remote assistance. Off-shore manipulators can call on the phone, say they represent Microsoft, and offer to help you rid your machine of errors that are being "reported" supposedly to a main office. They guide you through the process of enabling remote assistance and then you may watch them as they cruise through your desktop operations. A friend described his experiences as the remote "assistance" helped themselves to private information until he realized what was going on and shut down the computer. The so-called ‘Microsoft assistance engineer’ with a foreign accent was dismayed as he got cussed out.

This is a common hack attempt, more blatant, but the remote operation of your machine is a true possibility using various programs available. If your computer comes alive at night for other than Microsoft automatic updates you should be aware. You can take a few moments to try to figure out what they are after, perhaps noting with some camera shots or screen captures for documentation and then power down the computer.

Next, unhook your router or wide area network connection from the internet. Using another uncompromised computer on your home network (if you have one), immediately change the router or network passwords.

Let a forensics team, the authorities, have access to the compromised computer first before you do a system restore so that they can retrieve possible foreign IP addresses to track down the crooks.

Unexpected software installs

This happens so much it's just hard to avoid.

The unexpected installs are part of a class of software known as Trojans and Worms. They can be legally installed on your device as add-ons if you haven’t happened to opt out. Somewhere in all that teeny print when you are installing something is little checkmark that says you want to have it installed. Sometimes they are included with software that you desire. A famous instance was the "Root Kit" that Sony included on some of their music cd/dvd's. 

Whatever the purpose of the software, it is going to use resources on your device and you do not want to share your machine, no matter what type of device you are using. I recently did the Adobe Flash update watching closely for the option, already checked, for McAfee antivirus scan installing on my machine. I don't want that thing. It installed anyway and I had to uninstall. Buggers!

The software I’m talking about is not a virus which has the intent of destroying your uses of the device but rather software that runs well but performs a task you don't have any use for—like tracking you for instance. So, when you want to install software, actually read the license and watch the install options to avoid adding software that you don't want or need. 

There are free programs available to help uninstall any of these unwanted executables. Some people recommend "Autoruns" for Microsoft users. I haven't tested it yet but it is touted as very good at finding software that auto starts itself when your computer is switched on. That's what malware does. If you don't know about a particular program listed in the search results you can disable the program, restart the device and re-enable the program if you find some needed function that is not working. Autoruns is recommended as going far beyond what the Windows utility MSConfigs offers the user.

Your password(s) suddenly change(s)

If any of your online passwords change without your knowledge there's a good chance that you have been hacked. If the password belongs to a particular service, they may be the ones that have been hacked.

Every so often someone responds to what's called a "Phishing" email that reports to be from your service provider claiming to need to know your password(s). Never, never, never, never, never, never disclose your password to anyone online. If you do, you could be in for a really bad computer experience. Can’t say it enough.

If your password changes without your help, contact your internet service provider to alert them. The process to stop such a hack is well defined and usually doesn't take too long. The service provider might change your password themselves immediately to block the hacker. You can notify friends if you think that they could be compromised as well. And of course, if the hack has attacked some online service, like social networking, you can contact them to let them know. 

Frequent Random Pop-up Screens

Very, very annoying. If you're experiencing screens popping up, uninitiated, on sites that don't normally generate them it is very suspect that your system has been compromised. Your browser's pop-up blocker can be compromised.

Get rid of free toolbars, especially if you didn’t intentionally install them and it’s not from a main-stream provider. It's a good practice to get rid of everything unnecessary to free up your machine’s resources. Let it breath easier. See "Autoruns" above and then, of course, once you have rid yourself of excess baggage refer back to an earlier writing about CCleaner, the Registry database massage.

That’s enough for now.
I’ll tell you more about the less scary but still irritating problems in a following column.


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