7 Signs Your Computer Has Been Hacked and 5 Ways to Prevent It
- You can tell your computer has been hacked if you see frequent pop-up messages, bulk emails sent from your account, or unexpected programs popping up.
- If your computer has been hacked, you risk losing data, having your identity stolen or suffering financial losses.
- Here are seven signs that your computer has been hacked and five steps you can take to prevent hacking.
Hacking doesn’t just happen in the movies. Unless you take precautions and make computer security a priority, it’s possible you could get hacked, which could result in lost or stolen data, identity theft, and worse.
But what does it actually look like to be hacked? The signs can be subtle, but they are often easy to identify. You may find unexpected changes to your computer, sudden slow performance, and an increase in unwanted behavior such as pop-ups. Here are seven of the most important signs that you’ve been hacked, as well as tips on how to protect your computer from being hacked.
Common signs of a hacked computer
There isn’t a single set of signs that you’ve been hacked, mainly because there are many different ways you can be attacked. Here are seven ways to tell you might have been hacked.
Look for pop-up messages and antivirus warnings
Pop-ups warning you about virus and malware attacks sound useful in principle, but make sure you see an authentic message from the antimalware software you’ve actually installed before responding or following its recommendations. The reality is that many of these messages are evidence that your computer has been hacked – infected with malware masquerading as antivirus software.
If you see any kind of unexpected warning message, do not click. Instead, close your browser and run your computer’s antimalware software to check for malware.
Unauthorized email sent from your account
A common goal for hackers is to infect as many computers as possible. One way to do that is to take control of email apps and email services, and use them to send infected emails to as many people in the hacked address book as possible. A serious sign that you’ve been hacked: hearing from friends and colleagues that they’ve received spam from your email account.
New programs installed on the computer
It is not surprising that there are more programs installed on your computer than you normally use. Your computer provider may have many apps pre-installed, for example. However, if you suddenly find unexpected apps running when you start your computer, or you see new programs in the taskbar or notification area, it is likely that you have been hacked or infected with malware, and these unknown programs are performing malicious actions on your PC . .
If the uninstaller does not work or you are otherwise unable to remove these unknown programs, there is a very good chance that your computer has been compromised.
Password and access changes to apps and services
In most cases, you should receive an email or text message when your password or access settings change for common online apps and services – especially banking and other financial services. If you’re getting emails notifying you of changes to your account settings that you didn’t request or authorize, that’s a huge red flag that you’ve been hacked. Contact your financial institution or other service to see if you still have control over the account.
However, be very careful. A common phishing trick involves sending a fake email about a password reset or other account change. If you click on a link or call the phone number in the message, you can contact the hackers directly, who will milk you for personal information and possibly get enough information to hack your account for good. When following up on a possible hack, always contact the service using an email or phone number you found in the service’s app or website.
Slow performance and frequent crashes
As your computer ages, it often starts to feel like it’s running slower than when you first brought it home, whether that’s because Windows is slowing down or the hard drive is filling up and not accessing data as efficiently. But if your computer suddenly starts behaving strangely—it slows down, crashes frequently, seems to get hotter than usual while running—then it could be a sign that your computer has been hacked and is running malware. Malware is usually buggy and inefficient, which can lead to poor performance and many crashes.
Changes to your browser
Was your browser’s home page changed without your permission? You can get hacked. Also watch out for unexpected browser toolbars, plugins and extensions, as well as a sudden increase in the number (and type) of ads your browser displays. Some of these are signs that you have lost exclusive control over your computer and that hackers are installing malware on your browser.
Unusual webcam activity
Your webcam has a status light that lights up when it is in use. If you see your webcam come to life unexpectedly — for example, when you’re not using any online chat software — it probably means you’ve been hacked. Criminals can turn on the camera to see if they can read passwords when you type them on the keyboard or see other personal information.
How to prevent your computer from being hacked
Although there are serious risks from hackers, a little common sense and simple precautions can protect you from hacks like these.
- Keep your operating system up to date. First of all, make sure your computer’s operating system is up to date. Modern PCs and Macs install updates automatically, so make sure you don’t stop, disable or interrupt the process. For best results, do not turn off your computer after hours. put it to sleep so that updates can be installed automatically when you’re not using it.
- Run antimalware software. Every computer should have antimalware and firewall software installed and kept up to date automatically. You don’t need an expensive third-party antivirus app; as long as you use the Windows Defender software that comes with Windows or XProtect for Mac, you should be adequately protected.
- Always use strong passwords. When creating accounts for apps and services, always use strong and unique passwords. That means you don’t repeat the same password across multiple accounts — if, for example, your online storage account is compromised, hackers shouldn’t be able to use that login to get into your banking app. And a strong password is a long series of numbers, letters and symbols.
- Implement two-factor authentication (2FA). No matter how good your password is, take advantage of two-factor authentication for any app or service that offers it. This prevents someone who cracks your credentials from accessing your account without having physical access to the device (like your phone) that you use for authentication. Any form of 2FA is good, but using an authenticator app that generates one-time codes every time you want to log in is especially secure.
- Do not use public or unsecured WiFi. Most public WiFi networks are unsecured, which means your data can be intercepted while you’re online. Avoid using public WiFi, but if you must be especially careful about logging into services that require entering a password for access, and especially avoid using banking and financial services.