Surviving a Cyber Attack: What I Learned from Being Hacked



This blog post chronicles my harrowing experience, the lessons I learned, and crucial tips on avoiding similar pitfalls.


It all started with my mistake. I received a folder from my wedding photographer containing some of my wedding videos. Unfortunately, some of the videos were corrupt and wouldn't play. Desperate to fix these cherished memories, I Googled for solutions and came across a recommendation to download a particular software. In my haste, I followed the link provided.


my-cybersecurity-nightmare-lessons-learned
Source: Adobe Firefly


The Ordeal


During the installation, the instructions asked me to turn off my antivirus. I didn't think much of it and complied. After installing the software and turning the antivirus back on, the videos still didn’t work. Frustrated, I gave up for the night.

The next day, I tried again with some YouTube tutorials, but still had no luck. So, I uninstalled the software and thought that was the end of it. The following morning, I received critical warning emails from my email accounts, asking me to verify my identity and reset my password. I found it odd but didn't immediately understand why this was happening.

When I opened my laptop, I noticed some new browser extensions on Chrome and Edge that I had never installed. I couldn't turn them off or remove them. 

The message said these extensions were "installed by my organization," which was strange because this is my personal laptop. The browsers were now "managed by an organization," allowing this supposed organization to read and collect everything I did online.

I began to suspect I had been hacked. I installed Malwarebytes and scanned my laptop, discovering over 20 pieces of malware and trojans. My regular antivirus had missed these threats during its daily scans. I quarantined and removed the malware, but the real problems were just beginning.


The Nightmare


In the days that followed, I received alerts about my compromised social media accounts. My Instagram was hacked and used to spam and follow over 200 random accounts. My LinkedIn and Facebook profiles were locked, and I faced a temporary ban on Telegram. 

My Twitter was also hacked. All my email accounts—Gmail, Yahoo, and Outlook—logged me out and asked for identity verification, despite having 2FA enabled.

My husband, who also uses my laptop, was affected too. His Facebook and LinkedIn accounts were hacked, with the attacker changing his email and password, then messaging people asking for money. It was a nightmare.

Every day, I spent hours trying to fix and recover my accounts. The stress was overwhelming, affecting my ability to eat and sleep. I reached out to the helpdesks of various social media platforms, and they provided solutions. 

The biggest help, however, came from ChatGPT. I described my problems, and the AI provided detailed steps and solutions that actually worked.

For the next 10 days, I was constantly on alert for compromised accounts. Even my PayPal account was hacked, but fortunately, they locked it before any damage was done. It was a horrible time. All my data, passwords, and usernames were compromised.


The Solution


Eventually, things began to settle. My antivirus provided details about the attack, revealing it was caused by "Stealc Stealer," a malware designed to steal information from browsers, messaging software, cryptocurrency wallets, and other apps. Unlike other viruses, this one operates silently, making it hard to detect.

Thankfully, with the help of antivirus and anti-malware software, along with YouTube tutorials and ChatGPT, I managed to remove the malware without having to format my laptop. I am hopeful that this nightmare is finally over.


Why Did It Happen?


Reflecting on the series of events, here are the primary reasons why my laptop was hacked and my data was compromised:


my-cybersecurity-nightmare-lessons-learned
Source: Adobe Firefly


1. Downloading Software from Untrusted Sources

   - I downloaded software from an unverified source in a moment of desperation. This software was likely the carrier of the malware.


2. Disabling Antivirus Protection

   - Following the software's instructions, I disabled my antivirus, which left my system vulnerable to threats. Antivirus software is designed to protect against exactly these kinds of risks.


3. Lack of Verification

   - I didn't thoroughly research the software or its source. A quick verification or a look at reviews could have indicated that the software was malicious.


4. Ignoring Security Warnings

   - I overlooked security warnings and unusual activities on my laptop initially. These early signs should have prompted immediate action.


5. Inadequate Multi-layer Security

   - Relying solely on one antivirus program proved insufficient. Additional layers of security like anti-malware programs or firewalls might have detected the threat earlier.


6. Human Error and Desperation

   - My desperation to fix my wedding videos led to poor decision-making. Emotional responses can cloud judgment and lead to risky actions.


7. Delayed Reaction

   - After noticing suspicious activities, my response was not immediate. Faster action could have limited the extent of the damage.


8. Unfamiliarity with Advanced Threats

   - I was not fully aware of advanced threats like information-stealing malware. These sophisticated threats can bypass basic security measures and require more advanced protections.


9. Lack of Regular System Checks

   - Regular system and security checks were not in place. Routine scans and checks can catch and prevent infections before they cause significant damage.


10. Shared Device Usage

    - Sharing my laptop with my husband without proper user management meant that the compromise affected multiple accounts, increasing the overall damage.


10 Things I Learned from Being Hacked


my-cybersecurity-nightmare-lessons-learned
Source: Adobe Firefly



1. Always Verify Software Sources

   - Only download software from official or well-known sources. Avoid third-party sites or links from unverified sources.


2. Never Disable Antivirus Software

   - Disabling your antivirus, even temporarily, opens your system to threats. Trust your antivirus and seek alternatives if it blocks a download.


3. Be Cautious with Desperation

   - Desperation can lead to hasty decisions. Take a moment to verify and research before downloading or installing anything.


4. Regularly Update Security Software

   - Ensure your antivirus and anti-malware programs are up-to-date. New threats emerge constantly, and updates provide necessary protections.


5. Use Multi-layered Security

   - Rely on more than one layer of protection. Combining antivirus, anti-malware, and firewall tools enhances your defense.


6. Monitor Browser Extensions

   - Regularly check your browser extensions. Unfamiliar extensions can be a sign of malware. Remove any that you didn't install.


7. Enable Two-Factor Authentication (2FA)

   - Enable 2FA on all accounts where possible. This adds an extra layer of security, making it harder for attackers to gain access.


8. Regular Backups

   - Regularly back up your important data. In case of a malware attack, you can restore your system to a previous state without losing valuable information.


9. Stay Informed About Cybersecurity

   - Keep yourself updated on cybersecurity threats and best practices. Awareness is a key tool in preventing attacks.


10. Seek Help Immediately

    - If you suspect a security breach, act quickly. Seek help from cybersecurity experts, trusted online resources, and reliable software solutions. Prompt action can minimize damage.


Conclusion


Reflecting on this ordeal, I realized how a few seemingly insignificant decisions can lead to major cybersecurity breaches. This unfortunate experience highlighted the importance of stringent cybersecurity practices. It was a hard lesson, but it has made me more vigilant and aware of the numerous risks that exist in the digital world.

Staying informed and prepared can prevent a lot of headaches and potential data loss. By sharing my experience, I hope to raise awareness about the importance of digital security and provide practical advice to help others avoid similar pitfalls. 

Always verify your sources, never disable your antivirus, and stay informed about the latest cybersecurity threats. These precautions can save you from a lot of stress and potential data loss.


Key Takeaways


  • Only download software from official or well-known sources. 
  • Avoid third-party sites or links from unverified sources.
  • Disabling your antivirus, even temporarily, opens your system to threats. 
  • Trust your antivirus and seek alternatives if it blocks a download.
  • Take a moment to verify and research before downloading or installing anything.
  • Ensure your antivirus and anti-malware programs are up-to-date. 
  • Rely on more than one layer of protection. 
  • Combining antivirus, anti-malware, and firewall tools enhances your defense.
  • Regularly check your browser extensions. 
  • Unfamiliar extensions can be a sign of malware. Remove any that you didn't install.
  • Enable 2FA on all accounts where possible. This adds an extra layer of security, making it harder for attackers to gain access.
  • Regularly back up your important data. In case of a malware attack, you can restore your system to a previous state without losing valuable information.
  • Keep yourself updated on cybersecurity threats and best practices. Awareness is a key tool in preventing attacks.
  • If you suspect a security breach, act quickly. 
  • Seek help from cybersecurity experts, trusted online resources, and reliable software solutions. 
  • Prompt action can minimize damage.


Have you ever experienced a cybersecurity breach or similar digital nightmare? Share your story in the comments below and let us know how you managed to recover from it!


This blog post is part of the blog challenge ‘Blogaberry Dazzle’ hosted by Cindy D’Silva and Noor Anand Chawla  in collaboration with Dr. Preeti Chauhan.

Post a Comment

19 Comments

  1. This is a bang on post from you Felishia and we all need to read it carefully and ensure that we stay alert to protect us from any online security threats and our personal details are protected. My website also got hacked once many years back but from them I try to be as much alert as possible. Congratulations for getting back in life solving the hindrances caused by the malware.

    ReplyDelete
  2. OMG..this was serious! Thank God U didn't get duped of you money at least. It must have been nerve racking though. I had my gmail hacked once and every word I typed was being read by someone who was mad at me and was tracking me all the time. It was a harrowing time as I had just started using the PC and there were not many tutorials to learn from.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I got scammed for my insta account some years back! since then, have been very careful with all the links. I recently got another scammed link with India Post. Thankfully, it didn't work. Now, I delete all unknown links and stay away. But it was good to ChatGPT had a solution, AI has its uses.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Good God! What a nightmare! Prone to hacking is one of the most annoying aspects of advanced technologies. The worst thing is the more we advanced technology, the more advanced hackers become! It's amazing. Your blog is really useful provided valid and crisp instructions on avoiding this menace. Thank you!

    ReplyDelete



  5. Wow, what an intense experience! Your detailed account of the cybersecurity nightmare and the lessons learned is both eye-opening and informative. It’s a stark reminder of how vigilant we need to be in our digital lives. Thanks for sharing your story and these crucial tips—definitely bookmarking this to ensure I don’t make the same mistakes. Stay safe online!

    ReplyDelete
  6. OMG Felicia! What a nightmare. I can imagine what you must have gone through. but its a relief that it is over. This post is very useful and informative and should be read in detail by everyone.

    ReplyDelete
  7. That was one scary experience and something that we could all learn from. We often turn a blind eye to crucial security measures which can lead to a harrowing time. ChatGPT sure proved a boon to you!

    ReplyDelete
  8. Good God what a nightmare. I know such basic technology and now you have me worried . But then your tips are really helpful.

    ReplyDelete
  9. This is such a scary thing to happen, especially nowadays where we almost always rely on technology and our gadgets. Appreciate you sharing your tips. - MommyWithAGoal

    ReplyDelete
  10. This is such an informative post. Must have been an immensely scary experience. My Dad's phone got hacked once and thousands of rupees was swept away in no time.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Yes we need to beware of malicious links. Glad that you shared your experience in such detail so others can understand and beware.

    ReplyDelete
  12. OMG, this is so scary. Firstly, I'm so sorry this happened to you. I'm sure you're downplaying just how bad those 10 days must've been for you. I cannot even imagine what a nightmare experience it was. And secondly, I'm so happy you were able to fix it and no major loss happened. Thank you for sharing this experience with us and cautioning us against the dos and don'ts of such risks. Never downloading any software from now on without checking its reviews and definitely NEVER TURNING OFF THE ANTI-VIRUS!

    ReplyDelete
  13. OMG...it was scary. Getting hacked is one of the worst nightmares of the modern world. Your article is quite helpful in providing the tips to follow if you don't want to get hacked.

    ReplyDelete
  14. This is much informative post Felicia and I really appriciate that you have written such detailed post about hacking. My linkedin account got hacked recently as I opened one link to upload my resume. I know how hard it was to get back that account after several follow ups with the Linkedin team. These days we are fully dependant on didgital sites and that's the reason it is happening quite often. Great to know you recovered your accounts.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Oh God! Can imagine how difficult it would've been. Thanks for the post with details and safety checks. very useful.

    ReplyDelete
  16. This is so scary. Everything is online these days. That is why my daughter is pretty adamant that I don't turn off antivirus. Thank you for sharing about this.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Good God!! As I was reading your post, I kept going no no no no. We need to be all the more careful now than ever with what we are installing on our systems. Thank you for sharing this. It will be helpful and also a warning for others.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Oh my God Felicia. Everything is being hacked is a nightmare. You know I am very careful about it. Even downloading a normal app I choose carefully. Your post is really helpful with tips.

    ReplyDelete
  19. this is scary! and i am glad you recovered all your accounts. it is scary how many people are living just to find way to scam and fool people.

    ReplyDelete

Share Your Thoughts. Do not leave links in the comments!