Protecting Yourself After Virus Infection, Phish Attack or Theft
Not that long ago, viruses were mostly nuisance value, as they seized control of your system and emailed themselves to others. But more recently, viruses and spyware have become the domain of professional criminals who are actively trying to steal from you, either directly by infiltrating your bank accounts or by stealing your identity for fraud.
Thus if you have suffered a virus infection it can be very difficult, if not impossible, to be sure that the malicious code has not stolen your system passwords and transmitted them to a hacker. It is quite easy for a virus to extract your stored passwords and track the keys you press. So when your system has been cleaned after a virus infection, or if you think you have fallen victim to a phishing attack, you should take immediate steps to block anybody who has your sensitive details by changing your passwords.
This is particularly critical if, like many people, you use the same password for many services. A single compromised account could prove to be a house of cards as all your online services are compromised and taken over.
The same principle applies for stolen PCs. Although the most likely fate of a stolen PC is to be stripped or pawned, retrieving personal information from the hard drives is easy and will be an increasing problem.
Some of the systems you may need to change your password for:
- Email accounts (Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo etc)
Email accounts in particular are extremely important to secure, because, once compromised, they can be used to reset the passwords on many other services and compromise those.
This process might take you an hour or so, but it will be worth it. You do not want to risk suffering identity theft or cash losses.
Additionally, check your most important accounts for unauthorised changes. These could include bank accounts, superannuation funds, savings accounts, trading accounts and so forth. Criminals who have obtained your details might not immediately try to extract money from those accounts. In the case of superannuation accounts, for example, funds cannot be extracted in any case. But they might be able to alter the details on the account and play a longer game of moving the funds without your knowledge once they can impersonate the owner of the account. Therefore changing the password on these types of accounts many not be enough if the attacker has altered your account details to the extent that they can trick the provider into believing they are you.