|I write about cultivating a private digital life a lot in these newsletters because it seems everyone wants a piece of your existence. It could be advertising companies using cookies to track your browsing habits, or worse, an ex-partner checking your text messages and call history via stalkerware. Those situations are bad, but this week, a reader email reminded me that total surveillance is the ultimate nightmare.
A reader contacted Neil J. Rubenking, Lead Security Analyst here at PCMag, and shared a harrowing story about a hacker who took over their relative’s digital life. The attacker did it all: read their email, changed their passwords, and altered settings to remove operating system security features. The victim felt helpless to stop them. Rubenking deduced that the attacker gained control of the system via a remote access Trojan (RAT), a type of malware.
What can you do to combat a RAT infestation? First, you need to get a new computer, smartphone, phone number, and email address. The scorched-earth policy is the best way to deal with a digital life takeover because it doesn’t give the hacker any more chances to infect your new accounts via your old devices. Use a strong password on your new computer account, sign up for an encrypted email service, enable multifactor authentication on all of your accounts, and install a password manager to keep track of all of your new, complex passwords. Of course, you’ll need a clean install of a security suite as well.
Recovering from a total account takeover can be expensive and annoying, but don’t waste any time in reclaiming your life after an identity theft catastrophe. Make privacy-first decisions and stick with them moving forward.
PCMag Security Analyst