Clicking on an unknown link is something that can happen to anyone, despite their best intentions. While we all known not to click on suspicious links, it’s still something even the best of us have done at least once in our lives. Maybe you weren’t paying attention to the sender or maybe the hacker was really sophisticated, and you missed any noticeable sign that it may have been a scheme. Whatever the reason, once you have encountered a phishing link, there are a series of steps you need to take to purify your device and keep it secure.
Disconnect and Examine Your Device
Once you’ve realized that you clicked on a phishing link, the first thing you should do is disconnect from the internet. This prevents other devices on your network from getting infected. At the same time, it reduces the risk that sensitive information can be sent out from your device. If you’re connected via ethernet cord, simply pull the plug. On other devices where you are connected by WiFi, turn off the signal and disable your device’s ability to access the internet using data.
After you have disconnected your device from the internet, your next step should be to backup all your files. If you’ve never backed up your data before, focus on saving anything that is sensitive or irreplaceable to save time.
Scan for Malware
Next, scan the device for malware. Make sure you conduct a complete system scan, not a quick scan, and follow all recommendations. If an error message pops up asking you to connect to the internet, ignore it for now. The important thing is to have your device scanned. Be patient with your device, as a full system scan can take quite some time. Once completed, make sure you follow all quarantine instructions, including those about restarting your device.
If you do not have an anti-virus program already installed on your device, there are still steps you can take to clean it. First, install an anti-virus program on a clean device and transfer it over using a USB drive or other portable storage device. Next, install it on your suspicious device, ignoring any prompts to connect to the internet to update the program. Once the scan is complete, follow the program’s recommendations. Ideally, you should run at least two anti-virus programs, to be sure that any malware has been removed.
Change Your Login Information
Your next step is to change your credentials and login information for all online accounts. If you don’t have access to a clean device, make sure you wait until your existing one has been cleared of malware. Malware often logs sensitive information, including online login information for everything from your bank to your social media accounts. When you are changing your credentials, consider changing your username as well as your password. Never use the same username and password combination for multiple accounts as it makes it much easier to hack.
Register for Two-Factor Authentication
If you haven’t already done so, register for two-factor authentication wherever it is available to you. It works by offering you two layers of verification on all online accounts. The first is the usual prompt to enter your username and password. A second layer of security then asks you to reconfirm your identity, usually by entering a code sent via SMS o your phone.
Registering for two-factor authentication is an important step to take if you’ve clicked on a phishing link. It does more than just deter hackers from trying to access your accounts. If you set up your mobile device as your second factor, you receive a notification when anyone tries to log into your account, giving you a chance to re-secure your account.
If you are not very tech savvy, you may feel more comfortable bringing your device to a friend, family member, or professional. Never allow any embarrassment at having clicked a malicious link prevent you from seeking out help. Experts see this kind of thing all the time and are always eager to help without judgement.