While getting hacked has become almost as common as breathing, it is not easy to tell when your computer has been compromised. Fraudsters are usually keen to leave no traces of their actions, and sometimes it’s nearly impossible to notice.
This way, they can make several returns to your computer to cause more havoc. But how will you ever find out when you have been hacked?
There are many indicators that can tip you off that a hacker may have gained access to your computer.
There are ten common signs you need to keep an eye on, and should you see any, be ready to do whatever you can to stop it!
Antivirus software or firewalls have been disabled
Disabled antivirus software is a common first sign to watch out for.
Once a hacker weakens the security of your computer, they stand a better chance of carrying out intensive and extended attacks on you.
At first glance, you may not even discover that your antivirus has been compromised since hackers can make it look like just any another glitch or bug.
The longer you take to find out, the more attacks they can carry out and the more damage they can cause.
Should you see any of your security software (antivirus, anti-spam, Windows firewall) behaving strangely – for instance, starting and then disappearing, or not even running – this is not just a bug; your computer has probably been hacked.
This problem can usually be managed by disconnecting from the internet, restarting the computer in Safe Mode, and running an offline security scan; worst case scenario, a system restoration may be required.
Fake antivirus messages
Fake antivirus warning messages are the second surest sign that your computer system has been hacked.
This said, it is important to know what your antivirus software’s warnings actually look like.
The bad thing with this symptom is that by the time you see it, the damage would have been done.
What happens here is that hackers release a malicious software that uses the unpatched software on your computer to thoroughly exploit your system.
Clicking ‘Cancel’ or ‘No’ to stop the fake virus scan may not be helpful at this point, as often times the scan will lure you to buy their product.
And when you click on the provided link, it directs you to a professional-looking (but fake) website justified with radiant reviews and recommendations.
There, they will ask you to enter your credit card number as well as your billing information.
Do not provide your personal financial information; all you need to do as soon as you discover the fake antivirus warning message is to shut down your computer.
From there, restart your computer in Safe Mode, No Networking, and try to uninstall the newly installed software.
When successfully uninstalled, test your computer after a reboot in the standard configuration and check to be sure that the warnings from the fake antivirus programs are gone.
Following it up with a full-system antivirus scan will be very helpful in flagging any sneak remnants as well as cleaning up your computer’s registry (if your antivirus software supports the feature).
Change in online passwords
If for some reason your password for a website is rejected as incorrect, yet you did not change it and are positive that you entered it correctly, chances are you have been hacked.
When they gain access to your account, hackers can change your password to prevent you from logging in and even change the email associated the login, effectively locking you out from the service.
What happens in this scenario is that an individual unknowingly responds to an authentic-looking phishing emails that supposedly claimed to be from the service, consequently ending up with a changed password.
The hacker collects the log-in information, changes the password, and proceeds to use the service for their criminal activities, such as identity theft.
To keep the damage minimal and under control, you need to notify your contacts and any applicable online services as soon as possible about the compromised account.
Most online services are often quick to respond and can help get the account back under your control with a new password.
Your connections receive fake emails from your email account
Are your friends complaining that you sent them an unusual email? There is a likelihood that your machine is sending malicious emails as a result of a hack or that your email account has been compromised.
Sending bad links and attachments to masses is one of the channels hackers use to spread an infection, how it happens is hackers use malware programs to survey your email address book and then send malicious emails.
If any of your contacts reports receiving unusual emails from your email accounts (or an email account that is said to be yours), running a comprehensive antivirus scan on your computer, as well as checking for unwanted installed programs and toolbars, will save you a lot of trouble.
It also doesn’t hurt to change the password of your email account.
Finding software you did not install
Presence of new software on your computer that you don’t even remember installing is a tell-tale sign that your system has been hacked.
Many a time, malware programs are worms or trojans that disguise and install themselves as legitimate programs — usually in tandem with other programs that you download and install.
Your best bet in avoiding such malicious programs is to read the license agreement of every software that you want to install carefully to ascertain if it comes with ‘additional’ software, and possibly opt out of these ‘free’ extras if given the option.
If you are in doubt, you may also engage a computer expert to inspect your system for unauthorized programs and delete them as required.
You can also use search engines to determine if the newly installed software is malware or merely a component of other legitimate software.
An increase in popups
There are several causes of popups, such as a poorly configured web browser, but if you rarely receive popups and you suddenly begin receiving multitudes of them, there is a possibility of malicious code in your computer.
These popups include those that purport to be computer warnings with additional antivirus programs to download or offer cellphone numbers to call regarding your computer being infected with a virus.
Such popups are generated by hackers to trick you to provide your personal information or credit card number to purchase the “necessary application” that will enable you to remove whatever virus that has infected your computer.
As a remedy, review installed and active toolbars on your browser and remove any bogus toolbars or malicious programs.
Internet browser homepage changed
The hijacking of browsers is increasing at an alarming rate, and this is yet another symptom that your system has been compromised.
Examples of sudden internet browser changes include changing of the default search engine, new toolbars added, new bookmarks or favorites added, and the inability to navigate to some web pages (like home pages of security software).
This can be a real nuisance, and sometimes dangerous too.
If you notice an unwanted toolbar, program, or addon in your browser, try removing it through Add/Remove programs.
If the spyware program shows back up after removal, boot the computer into Safe Mode, and then try to uninstall ones more.
Your internet searches are redirected
If you notice you are directed to other sites that you did not choose to navigate to while you browse the internet, chances are you a victim of hacking.
Many hackers make a living by redirecting your browser somewhere other than your intended websites.
Some malware programs are designed to redirect traffic to someone else’s website, and the hacker is paid for every click he generates.
However, most redirected internet searches are difficult to notice since they are hidden through the use of additional proxies, to ensure bogus results are never returned to alert the user.
However, technical users who really want to confirm can analyze their own browsers and network traffic.
You can also check to make sure you don’t have any unwanted toolbars installed since they can be the cause of the redirection.
Cursor moving without you controlling it
Occasionally, the cursor of your mouse may move around randomly due to problems with hardware.
However, if see your cursor navigating around by itself and making choices to run specific programs, you can bet to your last dollar that you’ve been hacked.
Hackers can take control of your computer this way and start working in your system at any opportunity.
In most cases, they will wait until until your machine has been sitting idle for a long time to be sure you are away before they jump in.
Remotely controlling your computer, hackers can do all sorts of nefarious deeds including accessing your bank accounts and transferring money.
Should you notice your computer suddenly starts making actions seemingly of its own accord, turn it off as soon as possible.
After you have shut it down, disconnect your computer from physical networks and reboot in Safe Mode with wireless networks disabled; from here, check for any remote desktop access software and uninstall it.
Likewise, be sure to disable remote desktop connections in your system’s settings.
When in doubt, or for those who are not computer savvy, call for professional help.
As you reach out to online computer maintenance firms, remember to use another computer that is known to be safe and to change all of your login details for online accounts that have been accessed or have had their credentials stored on the infected computer.
A sudden slow-down
It’s common knowledge that computers will slow down as they get older due to hardware and software aging over time.
But if your computer or connection speed suddenly gets slow at odd times and for no valid reason, there may be something on the network that shouldn’t be there.
Some hackers will install a malicious application that runs in the background of your computer, using your processing power or bandwidth, and thus slowing everything down.
Also, after a computer has been hacked, it is frequently turned into a zombie to attack other computers.
Installing a bandwidth monitoring program on your computer can come in handy in establishing which programs are using bandwidth on your computer.
Windows users may also use the netstat command to monitor remote established network connections as well as open ports.
Furthermore, Windows users can use Task Manager to see what processes and applications are currently running to determine what is consuming their computer processing and whether or not it is a malicious program.
You can never be too safe. If your computer is behaving strangely, chances are your system has been compromised.
Check out the Task Manager, look at the incoming and outgoing network connections, and run a full virus scan.
While the risk of hacking and malware can never be entirely eliminated, arming yourself with the appropriate knowledge of what actions to take should you experience an attack can greatly help you protect yourself or even minimize damage.
The above signs that you have been hacked are not an exhaustive list, there are plenty more.
What other indicators should users’ lookout for? Share your tips in the comments below!
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