GEEK: Secure passwords immediately, combat malware effectively

Q: I am taken over by on my search line. I can’t figure out how to get rid of it. Also, my computer, which is not very old is very slow, seems to be “doing” something all the time, sometimes hesitates to write when I type. Microsoft informs me that I have had my Hotmail account used from Turkey. I am 79 years old and desperate.

– Sandra S.

Fort Walton Beach, Florida

A: If you haven’t already changed your Hotmail password, go and change it right now. Apparently your e-mail account has been breached, so not only does some Turkish hacker have access to all your e-mails (including any with personal financial information), he also can, and likely has, used your account to send out SPAM e-mails. If you used the same password for other online activities, you may be at further risk. So, first things first, Sandra. Change that password, and the password for any other website or service on which you used that same password. I’m serious – go do it right now. I’ll wait.

There are countless ways that your e-mail password may have been hacked, so I won’t speculate about how it may have happened. I will, however say that I sincerely hope your replacement password is a good strong one, and is only used for the single purpose of securing this one e-mail account. For more information on how to choose a good password, Google it (simply enter “How to choose a good password” in Google) and read a few articles. You’ll find lots and lots of ideas for how to create passwords that are easy for you to remember, but hard for hackers to guess.

As for your other problem, is browser hijacking malware. It sneaks onto your system bundled along with free software that you download. When you go to install the free software, your computer asks for permission, and you probably give it the green light, blissfully unaware that you just gave permission for malware to take over your computer.

I wish I could tell you something simple, like enter such-and-such at the command prompt to automatically fix everything. Unfortunately, removing a pervasive infection like this requires multiple steps, and the use of several tools to ensure it’s completely eradicated. If you fail to completely clean it off, you may see the symptoms that are bothering you temporarily go away, but they’re likely to come right back after you reboot your PC a time or two.

If you feel like you’re up to the task, there’s a pretty good removal guide at MalwareTips that you can find by visiting Make sure you follow all of the steps to ensure a complete removal. If you don’t feel like you’re up to the task, you’ll have to get a computer service tech involved to perform a cleanup for you.

Finally, to address your statement that the computer always seems to be busy doing something, it’s difficult to tell without actually analyzing your PC, but to some extent, your computer really is always busy doing something. If you could see all the housekeeping that goes on behind the scenes on a Windows PC, you’d probably be shocked. However, that housekeeping should not interfere with your regular use of the machine. If you take it in for servicing by a pro, be sure and mention this symptom to them as well, so they can look for probable causes.

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