Hackers are a concern for everyone these days, as their methods become ever more sophisticated. Your PC is quite simply a goldmine to hackers, given that most of us store all our personal details and files on them now.
The first option for anyone should always be to install security software such as BT Virus Protect but if you are suspicious of malevolent activity there are ways you can inspect your PC yourself for signs that someone may be up to no good. We’ve got some tips to make sure your computer is ready.
Check Windows’ logs
Windows has a built-in tool called Event Viewer that keeps track of all manner of happenings in the operating system, including security issues.
Information logged by Event Viewer can be difficult to interpret. However, if you’re worried that someone’s trying to access your PC while you’re away from your desk, for example, then use Event Viewer to highlight any attempts.
On Windows 7 and 10 simply perform a search for ‘Event Viewer’ and open the program.
Now click to expand Windows Logs followed by Security. Scroll through the list of events (a list of what your computer has been used for) in the right-hand pane. Some of the terms are pretty technical, so use Google to research anything suspicious.
Check if someone’s been using your PC secretly
To check whether anyone has been accessing your PC while you're not there, the Event Viewer also tells you when your machine was powered up – you’ll need a pretty clear idea of when you were on it though.
From the Event Viewer right click on System and choose Filter Current Log.
Under the event sources drop-down box select ‘Power-Troubleshooter’ and click OK.
You’ll then see a list of all the times your PC was powered up. Check under the Date and Time column, clicking on incidents for further information.
Check security software logs
Your security software will also monitor and log suspicious events.
You’ll typically be alerted to such happenings, but if they happen while you’re away from the desk, you might miss the warnings. So, our tip is to get in the habit of checking your security software’s logs.
If you’re running Windows 7, search for ‘Microsoft Security Essentials’ and click on the History tab.
On Windows 10 you’ll need to search for ‘Windows Defender’ instead and click on the History tab. You may have to click a button which says View details below.
Check your firewall
A firewall is a program that prevents attempts to hack into a PC from outside (and also prevents some information from leaking out). It is vital protection for any internet-connected computer, which is why Windows has a firewall built in.
Called Windows Firewall, it is enabled by default – but it doesn’t hurt to check. By launching it, you’ll also be able to check what permissions have been granted to existing applications.
From the Windows 7 Start Menu type ‘firewall’, then click Windows Firewall. On Windows 10 it’s called ‘Windows Firewall with Advanced Security’.
Windows Firewall maintains event logs of its own. To see these, click to expand the Monitoring section in the left of its window and then select the Firewall option below. Again, the list can be fairly exhaustive, so use Google to search for any you’re not sure about.
Download a test virus
EICAR is a fake (and safe) virus created expressly for the purpose of testing antivirus software. If you want to see how your security software reacts to a suspect virus, you can download EICAR free of charge.
Your web browser’s malware filter may prevent you from downloading EICAR altogether – you could disable your software, but we don’t recommend taking this risk.
You should also note that some anti-virus scanners refuse to detect this test virus, on the basis that it is a fake one. Make sure you enable any filter again afterwards if you choose to try this.
Upgrade your operating system
Although Windows 7 is still supported and widely favoured, Windows 7 and 8 users should consider upgrading to Windows 10 to stay ahead of the pack with the very latest bug fixes from Microsoft, remember it’s free until the end of July.
Windows XP and Vista users should have already upgraded as both versions are unsupported by Microsoft and therefore no longer safe. Your PCs won’t be able to upgrade to Windows 10, but you could always give Windows 7 a go – read our guide on getting hold of Windows 7 cheap here.
If you really can’t let go of Windows XP and Vista, you should at least ensure you have a secure web browser – find out which web browsers you can and can’t use.
Original contributions from Scott Colvey