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There is a lot of talk about avoiding becoming a victim of malware.  But, how do you know and what do you do if your computer is compromised? Below are some signs that you have been infected with malware. Some are less serious, like unwanted browser tool bars appearing and others take significant effort to repair and may have serious repercussions.

Sign:
Scareware warning messages stating your system is compromised after an online “free” scan.  While it doesn’t mean your system is truly infected, these scammers will try to lure you to a site where you enter your payment information.  Typically, these types of malware take advantage of unpatched systems.

Solution:

As soon as you see the message, shut down your computer. You can save your work before doing so, but the sooner, the better.  When powering back up, do so in “safe mode” with no network and attempt to uninstall the malware using your installed, legitimate anti-malware program. Power back up and run a full system scan manually once the fake messages stop appearing.  If you are not comfortable doing this, find someone knowledgeable about this process to help.

Sign:
Unfamiliar and unwanted browser toolbars appear. These come as add-ons to other free programs or get installed when visiting certain websites. They are supposed to be helpful, but typically just track your browsing history for marketing purposes. Also included here are random popup windows from sites that don’t normally do that.  This is a sign that something was installed behind the scenes. It can happen with free downloads or as a result of visiting a malicious site.

Solution:
Remove any installed and unwanted toolbars from the browsers using the browser’s functions.  If you cannot do that, you can likely reset your browser to the default settings, which removes any add-on toolbars. You can avoid installing them by ensuring you remove the checkbox from any toolbars that are packaged with software you download.  However, if it’s already there and other removal methods don’t work, you can also try by rebooting your computer in “safe mode” and uninstalling it that way.

Sign:
Your online passwords are changed. This may not be an infection on your computer, but is a compromise of the site you’re trying to use.  This most often happens when you click on malicious links or open attachments in email messages and subsequently enter your credentials into an official or legitimate looking form or website. The hackers collect the information, visit the website and change your password and potentially steal from you.

Solution:
Contact the providers of the service and tell them the situation. Then change your passwords on all sites where you use the same credentials. Check your bank accounts and other financial websites like Online Banking for fraudulent activity and if anything is suspicious, contact the financial institution immediately. Don’t use links and information in any emails that may have been sent before, but go to the websites directly to get contact information. When changing passwords, use a minimum of eight characters and combine numbers, letters in upper and lower case, and special characters whenever possible. Avoid using the same passwords across multiple websites.

Sign:
Your mouse comes alive when you’re not touching it.  Sometimes pointers move slightly due to hardware issues, but it shouldn’t be as if someone is controlling the mouse.

Solution:
If reasonable, it might be handy to watch the intruders for a bit to find out what interests them. Then, power off the computer and remove it from the network completely. Using another computer, ensure your bank account transactions and other financial information is ok. If something is not quite right, contact your financial institution.  Also, your system should be copied for a forensics team. Then you can do a complete system restore. Consider  monitor your credit for free using SavvyMoney within Online Banking as well. Depending on how long they’ve been poking around, there is potential for a lot of damage.

The more you know, the more you are likely to avoid becoming a victim of fraud. Keep your computers updated with the latest patches and diligently monitor your bank accounts, financial statements, and credit reports.

Donovan B. Fox © Copyright 2017 SDFCU.org