Has your computer been hacked? Whatever happens, don’t panic. Read on for ten signs that your computer has been hacked and helpful tips for fixing it.
Global cybercriminals make trillions of dollars every year. Much of their success comes from exploiting the mistakes we make: clicking phishing links, forgetting to update critical software, and not using multi-factor authentication (MFA). There are many attack vectors available, an endless supply of stolen identity data to exploit, and numerous cybercrime sites where stolen data, tools, and cybercrime services can be exchanged.
The sooner you know about a commitment, the better. The longer it is, the more damage the bad guys can do and the more expensive the fallout can be. So it makes sense to be proactive with some proactive controls. More than 847,000 businesses and consumers reported a cybercrime to the FBI last year, with the incidents costing nearly $7 billion. Don’t wait until it’s too late to take action.
Ten Signs Your Computer Has Been Hacked
Hackers usually won’t publicize their attacks. Staying hidden is the name of the game, because the longer the victim is in the dark, the longer attackers have to monetize their online access and online accounts.
Check out these telltale signs if you’ve become an unwitting victim of cybercrime so you can spot it early:
- You will receive a ransomware message
Let’s start with the most obvious. If you boot up your computer to find a ransom message instead of the usual home screen, there’s a very good chance you’ve become a victim of ransomware. It will usually give a short payment period, along with instructions to pay in digital currency. The bad news is that even if you follow them to the letter, there is a one in three chance of never regaining access to those encrypted files.
When malware (including Trojans, worms, and cryptocurrency miners) is installed on a computer, it often slows down the machine. This is especially true with cryptographic attacks, which use too much processing power and energy to obtain digital currency. Slow running machines can be the result of non-malicious factors, such as poor computer hygiene, but it’s best to check for anything untoward.
- The webcam turns on automatically
Some spyware installed by hackers are designed not only to collect data on your computer, but also to secretly turn on your webcam and microphone. Doing so may allow cybercriminals to record and steal videos of you and your family for use in blackmail attempts. Look at the camera light to check if it works independently. Better yet, disable it entirely by sticking a Band-Aid.
- Your friends receive unsolicited messages from your accounts
Another sure sign that your computer has been compromised is if friends and contacts start complaining about spam coming from your email or social media accounts. A classic phishing tactic is to hijack victims’ accounts and then spam or phishing all their friends. This is a threat that can be easily mitigated by ensuring that all accounts are MFA protected.
- There are many more pop-up ads on the screen
Adware typically makes money for the attacker by exposing the victim to excessive volumes of advertisements. So, if your machine is getting flooded with pop-up advertisements, it’s a good indicator that some malicious code or unwanted software might be installed somewhere.
- New toolbars appear in the browser
Malware may install additional toolbars on your browser. If you spot one you don’t recognize or don’t remember downloading, it could mean your computer has been hacked. It may be necessary to restore your computer to factory settings to remove them if you are facing a malware attack by an APT group. A simple PUA may not require such a rigorous approach. Deleting the application and the toolbar may be sufficient in this case.
- Random icons start to appear
When malware is installed on a compromised computer, new desktop icons will often appear. These are easy to spot as long as the desktop itself is neatly organized into a small number of files, folders and programs. Consider tidying up a bit to make your computer icons follow better.
- Passwords/logins stop working
If hackers have managed to compromise your computer, they may have hijacked various online accounts, such as your email, and changed passwords to lock you out. Dealing with the consequences of this can be one of the most stressful parts of any cyber attack. It will be enough to go back and forth with various online providers who have hijacked the accounts of customers, partners or employees.
- Data and sessions are circulating on the dark web
If you ever receive a data breach notice from a company you do business with, always take it seriously and try to verify it independently. Sites like HaveIBeenPwned? providing third-party confirmation of any breach. Dark web monitoring tools can also dig into data from cybercrime and other forums to provide a more proactive way to stay informed. If you act quickly by changing passwords and/or freezing credit cards, you can mitigate the risk before criminals are able to monetize an attack.
- You will receive a warning from your security software
Warnings from anti-malware tools should also be taken seriously, although fake computer security software is a persistent threat. Verify that the message is from a legitimate computer security software provider and follow the instructions to try to find and remove malicious files from your computer. Do not assume that the warning means that the security software tool will automatically clean your computer of that specific threat.
What happens next?
Whatever happens, don’t panic. If your computer has been compromised, run an anti-malware tool from a reputable company to find and remove malicious code. Then consider:
- Reset all passwords on any account logged in from that computer
- Downloading an MFA app further mitigates the risk of account compromise
- Invest in a dark web monitoring tool to check what data has been stolen/exposed
- Setting up a credit freeze to prevent hackers/fraudsters from obtaining new lines of credit in your name
- Monitor all accounts for suspicious activity, especially bank accounts
If you’re not sure your PC is completely wiped, consider resetting your password from another device. Contact your security software provider or bank for further advice.