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Today my grandparents connected to my WiFi, the password was given to them by my partner. Well, after looking at their PC, we established that they hired someone who has installed loads of stuff on the computer via remote access, which they accepted on their end when asked to do so.

Looking at the company that did this, they appear to have faked the members using stock images, so at this point alarm bells are ringing.

My question is: what's the likelihood of my devices which were turned on and connected to the internet being compromised at the time that the compromised laptop connected.

The tricky situation is my partner has important information for his business on his computer, so he doesn't want to do a complete wipe which puts us in a tricky situation.

My partner is using a Windows-based computer, I'm using Linux and both of our phones are Android.

At the moment, I am panicking because I don't know what to do. Our home network could be compromised and with my partner refusing to wipe their machine, I'm afraid I could be compromised too.

I keep reading that it's unlikely that a sophisticated hacker would program this for low level targets.

What are your thoughts and what should I do next?

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  • If your partner has important information for his business on his computer then he must also have regular backups of that information. So it shouldn't be a major problem to reinstall his Windows computer if necessary. If he doesn't have a backup he should make one RIGHT NOW! Jan 31 at 18:43

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The most common way for malware to spread from one device to another is to dupe the user of the target device to allow it to do so (e.g. by tricking the user into running the malicious program). If you are sure that neither you nor your partner were duped - then in order for the malicious program to have infected your device or your partner's device, the program would have needed to make its way though the network and exploit a vulnerability in a service (which accepts incoming connections from other devices on the network) running on your or your partners device. Malware programs that do this are called 'worms', and worms were notorious in the late 1990's and early 2000's (e.g. ILOVEYOU, Michelangelo, and MSBlast, etc).

Note that the firewall that is built into most home and small office routers will generally not block connections from one device on the network to another device also on the same network. So, your home/SOHO router would be unlikely to block attempts by worms to spread in this manner.

However - nowadays, if your system is up to date with updates, it's unlikely that your system will be exploited by a worm (assuming you are not a high-value target, where an adversary might use a zero-day to attack you). For that matter, you run the same risk of getting infected by a work every time you use your device on a public wifi network - as the person sitting next to you, connected the same network as you are, could be running a device infected with ILOVEYOU, Michelangelo, and MSBlast and a dozen other worms.

Notwithstanding, it's good idea to disable any services that you are not using on your device, and set the firewall on your device to not allow any incoming connections from remote devices, unless you absolutely need to do so.

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  • Thanks, our router is Linux based I believe and is up to date. Plus is one of the most used in the UK by BT. All of our devices are up to date. My understanding is, if they did manage to get programs run on my partner's device it would still need to penetrate the router, then it would need to know a zero day attack to penetrate my Linux computers, which seems unlikely for such a low level target?
    – mbs
    Jan 31 at 19:20
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    I'm not sure your router would offer any protection against a worm, as most consumer-grade routers allow devices on the network to connect to each other - for file and print sharing, etc. But, if your device and your partner's device are up to date with all updates, and neither of you were tricked into downloading or installing anything, then I think the likelihood of either of you being infected by a worm from your grandparents' computer is fairly low.
    – mti2935
    Jan 31 at 19:32
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The most likely thing that happened here is a tech support scam. These scams are mostly simple and straightforward.

Without properly investigating, this is just an educated guess. This will apply to most people in this situation, but it might not fit yours. If anything is different about your situation, please ask in a comment for clarification or ask a new question, and/or hire someone who knows their way around computers.

0. How they get in

The victim receives a call, or an email telling them to call some number, or finds a number for support (of some kind) while googling online.

The victim then accepts whatever this support says, which will often involve installing some software like Teamviewer or Logmein or a similar program. (These programs are not malware, but like a hammer can be used to hurt someone, you can use this software for bad purposes also.)

This allows the person on the phone access to their computer.

How to defend against this

Incoming calls (caller ID) and email addresses ("From") can be spoofed pretty easily. But if you dial a number or send an email, it is much harder to intercept this. That is why calling back to a known-to-be-legitimate number, or email back to a known-to-be-legitimate email address, is what you should do. Just ask for the person's name (if on a call) so that you can ask for this person when calling back. If it is legitimate, this will be absolutely no problem.

When calling, make sure you have the right phone number. Use normal search terms so you get an obvious website (e.g. look for "toshiba", not "toshiba free repair help me"). Check if the search result you are clicking contain an "ad" label or something. Don't click ads...

Tech support will almost never ask you to install software on your computer. Especially for something like your bank, it never makes sense, because they are not the owners of your computer and you don't have an existing support contract with them.

Never ever let someone remote control your computer if you do not already know them and have an established support contract to do this.

Also, have backups. Anything you want to keep longer than until tomorrow, make sure you have a copy somewhere. Hard drives crash, houses get broken into, people get scammed.

1. What the scammers do

This varies and changes over time. There's a lot of info online about what the common scam methods are and how they work. That is not very IT security related, so I will not go into that here.

In terms of software modifications (although this might depend on the type of scam), they usually just install this remote software and perhaps another tool to maintain some level of access after disconnecting the live session. If you get them angry they might also try to break things (like set a password that you don't know) but this is not really useful for them.

It is extremely unlikely that a support scam has real, new vulnerabilities that they make use of. Usually they just ask nicely if they want access to something. Or they ask un-nicely while threatening with something (withholding money, file encryption, something like that).

They might also copy files, for example from passwords stored in a browser, or try to access network drives.

2. Fixing it afterwards

The best thing is: wipe the infected computer. Don't keep/copy any files because those might be infected, but instead restore from a clean backup (if that is available).

In practice, things like pictures are fairly safe, but there can be trickery to it looks like a picture but really it's an executable program (malware). It is safest to not keep any files, insofar that is possible in your situation.

Although they usually don't do much more than install the remote software, there is no way to be sure. You should not assume that you are safe merely after removing their software. (In a desperate case, this would be a quick first step to make it usable again, but I would not trust that computer ever again until it had a proper reinstall!)

3. Things they got access to

Having network access is not that important, unless you run special software on other systems in the network (e.g. XAMPP, file shares, ssh, or other things that are network-accessible). Your network is almost certainly not compromised and other computers on the network are very unlikely to be affected.

In fact, the network itself cannot really be compromised, just things connected to it (including your router, but again, as of 2022 they are almost never sophisticated enough to do something like exploit a router).

Check that all systems had the latest software. If the systems were up-to-date during the time of the access, then no known weaknesses are likely to have been abused. Malware scanners might also help here, but not necessarily (careful what you install from random websites).

Any files they had access to: you should consider those compromised. If you have a password manager, be sure the password is strong and it was never unlocked while they had access, else everything inside is likely already compromised. If you store passwords in a browser, those are almost certainly compromised as well. Those password in there will need changing. (To be clear: password managers are good, but don't give attackers access to your system and then enter the master password...)

4. Report to the authorities

It is well known that most police (or other authorities) do not have the knowledge or manpower to pick every individual case up. However, if nobody ever reports anything, there is also no pressure to learn or even try to catch these criminals, or to consolidate evidence on a single scam group.

I would always recommend reporting an (attempted) break-in to the police, no matter if it was digital or physical. Keep track of things like phone numbers and especially bank accounts used by the scammers. (Even if you can find the person yourself, do not assume that a bank account holder is really the perpetrator. They might be hacked and used without the knowledge of the owner.)

If you lost money, definitely report it. Your bank (or e.g. paypal, if the scam was done via paypal) might also be able to help recover the money.



In the specific situation from the question, where someone with an infected system connected to your network only (and briefly, it sounds like), you are probably fine. But of course it would be best to get someone involved who can check your systems and give more specific advice.

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