Have You Been Hacked?
One of your worst fears in the modern age is likely being hacked.
Hacking costs people and businesses huge amounts of money (billions, if not more) each year. This is why great sums of investment go into protecting sensitive information.
You may think you’re careful, but it doesn’t take much to expose you to attack. At any given moment, you may be asking yourself “Have I been hacked?”
Some hacking attempts are obvious by now and easy to avoid, while others are quite a bit more subtle. There are some signs you can look for.
Computer Performance Degrades
There are many reasons a computer’s performance might suddenly take a hit – including a sign that you’ve been compromised. Malware running on a machine can take up a lot of resources.
You’ll want to look for processes suddenly appearing and spiking the CPU. In Windows 10, you can use the taskbar’s search to find the Resource monitor and bring it up. From here, you can check what processes are running and how much CPU each uses.
You may be used to seeing all sorts of pop-up messages when you browse various sites, particularly advertisements. Still, some can be phishing scams.
Messages that pop up randomly on your computer or the browser could be a sign that your local machine is infected by some malware. Many times these popups will try to imitate a legitimate Windows or other service dialog. The purpose is typically to gather personal information from you.
Unexplained Email Activity
A sure sign that your email account has been compromised is finding messages that were sent but not by you. In fact, you’ll typically see many messages sent to both contacts you know and those you do not. Sometimes you’ll see undeliverable messages in your inbox that were returned, typically by spam filters.
Unknown Applications Installed
If you start finding applications/icons that you didn’t install appearing in Windows – the desktop or Apps & Features area – it can certainly be cause for concern. Not only do you have to wonder what those programs are doing, but also to install such apps takes administrative privileges, so someone could potentially have the authority to do more than just add software to your system.
If you suspect your computer has been hacked, you’ll first want to minimize the damage. You can start by isolating the affected machine by disconnecting it from the internet. To do some of the suggestions below, you may need to use a computer or device that isn’t compromised.
Change All Passwords
If you feel one or more of your accounts has been comprised, you’ll want to reset the password(s) immediately. It wouldn’t hurt to change all your passwords, just to be safe.
If you’re using a single password for everything, consider using a different one for each account. That way you don’t have a single point of failure that could expose all your services/data.
Clean Your Computer
A compromised computer is an unsafe one. You’ll want to immediately take steps to remove any dubious content, programs, or malware.
You should use antivirus software to scan and remove any malware.
Beyond that, look for unknown applications installed by going to the Add & Remove features app (found via the Windows 10 taskbar’s search box). If you find something that shouldn’t be there, you can click on it and choose Uninstall.
You can also check what is running in the background by opening the Task Manager using CTRL+ALT+DEL and selecting it from the list. From here, right-click and choose End Task. Don’t be surprised, however, if the process is respawned by whatever fired it up in the first place.
You can always consult an expert in computer security for any additional assistance to ensure no one continues to have unauthorized access to your machine. Some may recommend a complete format/reinstall of your system.
Check Banking and Other Accounts
Having your computer hacked is one thing, but that can just be the tip of the iceberg.
If you suspect (or confirm) you’ve been compromised, you may want to check current banking statements for charges that you didn’t make. You should do this from a machine or device that wasn’t suspected of being hacked – if this isn’t possible, call the bank directly.
There are other services you’ll want to verify as well. Verify online stores have no purchases that weren’t made by you or going to addresses that aren’t yours. Online streaming services can be checked for movies, music, or other content that you may not have ordered or subscribed to.
If you see an issue, contact the institution or service provider and report it.
While there is no guarantee you can avoid being hacked at some point, you can certainly minimize the possibility. In general, be careful with your data and follow good practices.
Use Strong Passwords
You should always secure your data with a strong password. Using an easy-to-guess password is akin to locking your car and leaving the windows down. A series of letters, numbers, and even special characters (where allowed) is a good start. Try to avoid using common words or dates (birthdays, etc.) that can be discovered with little effort.
Some operating systems, cloud services, and AV software have ways of storing, managing, and protecting passwords for you. These services can store multiple (strong) passwords so you won’t have to remember them each time or be tempted to use the same password for everything.
Many services offer two-factor authentication. This requires an extra step (aside from your normal password) to log in and access your data, such as sending a confirmation/code to your phone.
Never Give Out Personal Information
You wouldn’t give out personal details about yourself if someone on the street walked up and asked. So, why would you do it online? It’s probably because online thieves are not typically that obvious.
There are many ways unscrupulous individuals and groups will try to obtain your personal data. This can range from requesting it in the form of an online entertainment service (such as personality tests) to someone pretending to represent a company’s security team.
Whatever the case, it’s always safe to follow the general rule that you never give out information to someone contacting you for it – whether by email, chat, pop-up, and so on. Services that already have your personal data won’t need to ask for it, and no legitimate source will ever ask for your password.
Browse the Internet with Caution
The internet can be a wondrous place. It can also be a minefield of sites just waiting to exploit you in some way.
Always be wary of going to sites that you’re not familiar with. Dubious web locations have many ways they can attempt to grab your personal data, including forms you fill out, sending a script to your browser to do their bidding, or downloading viruses.
Ensure your browser’s security settings are not set too low or opened up. Today, these settings typically default to a higher security level, but you can check the documentation of your preferred browser for more information.
Keep Software Up to Date on Computers
Maintaining the software on your computer not only ensures your system remains optimized, but can also protect you against intrusion.
Routinely, you may hear reports of some vulnerability found in a particular operating system, browser, or other application. These represent types of weaknesses that allow hackers to exploit unsuspecting (and ill-prepared) machines.
Updates from your operating system (like Windows 10) offer security and other patches. These can go a long way to sealing up security vulnerabilities. Certain applications may also release fixes for similar reasons.
Another type of software that can have security flaws are device drivers. The various devices on your computer use these drivers to communicate with the operating system. Keeping these current is important for both security and operation.
Driver Support can inventory your computer and, once you register the service, will update any missing or out-of-date drivers. You can avoid the effort of having to look for these drivers yourself and spend the time making sure the rest of your machine is secure.
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