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I am going to be setting up an online business that will expose high-value data, i.e. trade secrets, IP, merchant/e-commerce accounts, etc.

The computer has been used before for looking at porn, etc. I had malwarebytes but I know this computer is probably compromised despite finding nothing on scans.

I am not super tech savvy but I know enough to at least get started in the right direction. Before I proceed with using this thing for anything valuable, I wanted to install a new security suite/VPN. Before I do that I want to really clean this thing up. There are all kinds of weird phenomena unknown "users" and connections, and can't access/delete some files despite being admin; just fishy stuff that I'm sure some of is actual normal system processes and operations. I'm sure there is something/someone(s) skulking around my system/network.

Before I go about (attempting) to install and set up this thing properly for a secure private business, how do I really get it clean without a bootloader something or hack coming along as a "stowaway."

I could do "reset" but I'm not sure that is enough as I know anyone with the right skills can even get around that. What should I do?

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    If someone can "get around" a factory reset, then they can get around anything else. Do a factory reset at a very minimum. If you can't trust that, then get a new laptop.
    – schroeder
    Nov 5, 2023 at 19:43
  • Aside from the laptop, depending on the sensitive data you expect to handle, you really ought to get councel from a security professional before you leak all that sensitive data Nov 6, 2023 at 7:48
  • Thanks for the info! I cannot afford council I am going to finish some training I invested in and just get a new device I can ensure is secure. Thanks Nov 7, 2023 at 6:41

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You want to really clean up the system (and maybe even improve performance a bit) - remove the hard disk, and have it replaced with a brand-new SSD of suitable size.

Currently, a reasonable quality 256GB drive costs about $40. You get to keep your old data (whenever you want to revert, simply swap the two units back) and can be sure that there is absolutely no way anybody can get the old data off the new drive, because that data was never there in the first place*.

* this does not apply to laptops and computers that have more than one single mass storage device - Dell servers with internal USB key, laptops with multiple drive bays, systems with both an onboard eMMC and a SATA bay, systems with an extra SDXC plugged in, and so on. Verify with your manufacturer, or have the laptop inspected by a technician.

And under current Microsoft licensing scheme, your copy of Windows is linked to the motherboard and CPU of the laptop - a change of drive is not considered "hardware change" (it is usually the sign of a disk fault and replacement). So you can get the product key off the old disk and use it to run a bare metal reinstall on the new SSD for free (you might need to download a DVD image beforehand to do this). As long as you don't plug the old disk in a different laptop, this is legit.

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