Some of the most effective hackers are the ones whose work goes unnoticed. Although political and corporate “hacktivists” get the most news coverage, they only account for a small percentage of cyber criminals. And while there may not be much glory in under-the-radar attacks, there are a whole lot of other rewards to be had.
Credit card information, intellectual property, customer data…the list goes on, and hackers are inventing new ways of accessing that data daily through email accounts, social media platforms and other avenues. Because of this, it’s all but impossible to create a comprehensive list of signs that one’s been hacked. Instead, let’s look at some of the most common red flags and how to respond to them.
You May Have Been Hacked If:
• Unfamiliar Software Shows Up on Your Device.
Especially in light of recent events, we should all know to never download files emailed from unfamiliar sources. But if you do discover programs on your computer that you didn’t install, it’s a good bet you’ve been hacked. Of course, if other people use your computer, make sure that they didn’t install the software themselves. If not, this is a sure sign of malware or infection. Uninstall the offending software, run a virus scan, and perform a System Integrity Check (for Windows users) to try to remove any remaining threats. Keep in mind that this includes unfamiliar browser plug-ins and toolbars.
• Your Friends are Receiving Strange Messages from Your Account.
Whether on email, Skype, Facebook, or any other platform, if your account is sending messages without your input, it’s been compromised. However, make sure that the sender’s address is in fact your own. Sometimes, scammers will message your contacts from similar addresses, but not your own (e.g. SallySmith56 instead of SallySmith65). In that case, your account or computer most likely aren’t compromised. But, if the messages are coming from your real account, make sure to run a full virus scan, uninstall any unfamiliar browser toolbars, and reset your password. Also, make sure that your friends don’t follow any links or download any attachments included in those messages!
• Your Device Has Become Extremely Slow.
This isn’t always a sign of a hack, but it is a common one. If simple, low-intensity tasks like opening File Explorer are taking way too long, you may have malware eating up resources. For Windows users, press CTRL+ALT+DELETE and select Task Manager from the menu. If the computer is sitting idle, the CPU usage percentage should be rather low. If it’s cooking at over 90%, and you are doing nothing on the computer, odds are you have malware. Apple users can do a similar test by using the Activity Monitor utility. Perform a complete malware scan and uninstall any offending programs.
• A Password Suddenly Stops Working.
This one is about as glaring as the signs come. If you are certain that you did not change your email or other account password yourself, then someone else surely did. A hacker who gains access to an account may change the password in order to temporarily lock you out. Immediately contact the relevant service provider and notify them of the security breach. Using security questions or other forms of verification, you should be able to change your passwords and regain control of the account. More importantly, you can help avoid this kind of attack in the future by using two-factor authentication whenever possible.
• Unapproved Friends, Likes, or Follows.
If your social media presence seems to suddenly take on a mind of its own, it has been hacked. Unfamiliar posts, unwanted new friends, and unapproved follows all mean that someone else has access to your account. Even if you’re not a frequent user of social media, make sure to check in on your accounts frequently. If unfamiliar activity is taking place, be sure to change your password immediately. Also, if you use the same password for other websites, make sure you update it there as well. That’s why using the same password for multiple sites is such a bad idea — if a hacker gets access to one account, they get access to all of them. If you’re like me and struggle to remember so many different passwords, consider using a password manager to make things easier.
Although this list only begins to scratch the surface of cyber security, it’s a good start to becoming a safer user. Knowing the signs of a compromised device is key to defending against attack. However, as in all aspects of life, an ounce of precaution is worth a pound of cure. To help avoid hacks all-together, make sure to practice good digital habits wherever your cursor may go.
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