What if you're being attacked?
If you’re under attack now, there are immediate steps you can take to defend yourself.
Hacking attacks can be scary, but there are resources to help you. People have been attacked, hacked, and defrauded all sorts of ways, the same ways you have. We’ve learned from that, and we have guides that will actually keep you safe.
It might be slow. It might not be easy. But there are communities built to help.
First, identify the threat
The steps you need to take differ based on the type of threat you’re facing.
Who’s attacking you? What do they want from you? What resources do they have?
From Will I even be hacked?, there really seem to be 3 large classes of attack, organized by relative frequency:
- Scalable, but not targeted: your hackers don’t care about or invest in you specifically; they care about warm bodies. Viruses, ransomware, adware: most attacks are of this category.
- Scalable, pivoting to targeted: your hackers reach out to huge numbers of people, then invest in the folks who reply. This is basically all fraud.
- Not scalable, highly targeted: your hackers care about you or a small group of people and are willing to invest time and energy into hacking you. This is the least common and most dangerous.
You should already have an intuition about what class of attack you’re facing. Scalable attacks are generic and seem like they can happen to anyone, while targeted attacks are malicious and personal.
“Viruses and malware”: fighting back against scalable, non-targeted attacks
If you’ve been hit by scalable, non-targeted attacks like viruses, malware, and adware, standard advice is to use anti-virus software to clean it up, and—if that fails—erase your computer. Many national cybersecurity centers offer more in-depth advice:
The NCSC’s cyber security advice to protect you and your family, and the technology you rely on.
Consider How to recover an infected device.
The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) strongly recommends responding to ransomware by using the following checklist provided in a Joint CISA and Multi-State Information Sharing and Analysis Center (MS-ISAC) Ransomware Guide. This information will take you through the response process from detection to containment and eradication.
Or Recovering from Viruses, Worms, and Trojan Horses, from the same agency:
If your computer gets infected with malicious code, there are steps you can take to recover.
Fighting back against fraud
Scalable attacks that pivot to targeted ones (basically: fraud) can be extremely frustrating to deal with, and it’s often confusing to know when the law protects you and when it doesn’t.
Report identity theft and get a recovery plan
“Stalking and harassment”: Fighting back against non-scalable, highly targeted attacks
Targeted attacks, like those used by stalkers or abusive partners, are the hardest ones to defend against, since most cybersecurity advice assumes your attackers don’t aim to hack you in particular.
The advice you should take varies greatly depending on who’s attacking you; defending against government spies is very different from defending against an ex-boyfriend, which is very different than defending against anonymous Men’s Rights Activists trying to SWAT you(Mickens, 2014, p. 9).
Often, the advice you need may go against even my recommendations. It may include using a VPN, which I would ordinarily consider a waste of time. These attacks are very different from the most common ones.
Fortunately, many previous victims have curated resources to safeguard against different attacks. Unlike generic “security advice” blogs (like this one), these tips are often literal lists of steps that worked for them.
In almost all cases, though, call the police. They may not be the best resource for cyber-stuff, but they are necessary—especially since many of these attacks involve a real-world threat as well.
This guide is for anyone who fears they might be targeted, or who is already under attack, for speaking their mind online, but is especially designed for women, people of color, trans and genderqueer people, and everyone else whose existing oppressions are made worse by digital violence.
The Coalition Against Stalkerware was founded in November 2019 in response to the growing threat of stalkerware. Stalkerware is often used to facilitate partner surveillance, gender-based and domestic violence, harassment and sexual abuse.
In The Smart Girl’s Guide to Privacy, award-winning author and investigative journalist Violet Blue shows you how women are targeted online and how to keep yourself safe.
Good luck; stay safe—I hope this helped.