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How to Know if You’ve Been Hacked

4 min read

Just because you started working from home, it doesn’t mean that hackers are taking a break. In fact, malicious activity on the Internet surged as most businesses shifted to work online.  Just in mid-April, Google was blocking over 18 million COVID related malware and phishing emails. And these were just about the virus. As it turns out, most of the biggest hacks start from unsuspecting individuals clicking the wrong link. The irony is here that they don’t know about it even if it happened. In this week’s blog post, we’re sharing tips on recognizing whether hackers have compromised your data and devices and how to protect yourself from such cyberintrusions.

Signs of the malevolent 

It may take some time for you to detect any suspicious activity even though you’ve been hacked a long time ago. Of course, there’s a possibility of staying unaware, unless the compromised website or app notifies you. However, there are plenty of signs you can identify yourself and take measures to secure your data or devices. Here’s the list of the most popular ones:

  • Ransomware message. You cannot just skip them.  If you’ve got a ransomware message saying your files have been encrypted and demanding you pay ransom for them, you’ve been hacked big time. And these are incredibly common. The preventative measure here is keeping your data backed up. Sadly, about 50% of the victims pay the ransom, ensuring that these types of attacks aren’t going away soon. 
  • Leaked credentials or other data. Usually, there’s no way to tell if it happened unless you start seeing malicious activity on your accounts. If your data has been stolen during a more significant breach, the hacked companies will notify you. First, you have to make sure that it’s truly your data and what exactly has been stolen. Then take action – deactivate the necessary accounts or change passwords and inform whoever necessary. You may also check if your credentials have been compromised on websites online, e.g., have I been pwnd
  • Fake antivirus messages or random pop-ups. You know, the ones pretending to scan your computer and reporting dozens of malware programs, trojans, and other goodies? Sometimes these messages lock your browser or, worse –  infect your computer, forcing you to restore it to its original settings. If the messages keep reappearing after killing the browser, then you need to take further action and reboot the system.  
  • Unwanted browser toolbars or software installed. If you notice unknown toolbars on your browser or software that you didn’t install yourself, remove them at once. If the option is available, it’s also wise to restore your browser’s original settings. However, if nothing works, then your device needs a full reboot to its initial setup.  
  • Passwords not working. Thinking you forgot your password, yet again? Think twice. If the system rejects your password no matter what you do when your account may be hacked. The hacker changed the credentials to keep you out. In this case, try and restore your password through other means. If nothing works, contact the website directly and inform them of suspicious activity on your account. And if you used the same password somewhere else, it may be time for an update and 2FA to prevent further incidents.
  • Internet search keeps getting redirected. Ever got redirected to an embarrassing website at work? It happens more often than you know. What’s next is trying to remove the culprit from your browser, meaning – restoring its settings. If that doesn’t work, a more serious reboot is in order. 
  • Disabled antivirus. Not a good thing, especially if you’re not the one that disabled it. Before taking further action, rack your brain if that’s not the case. You may also check your Task Manager or Registry Editor – if they won’t start, or start and then disappear. Then that’s it. A fool system restore is in order because there’s no telling what’s been done to your device and data. 
  • Missing money. Also, an easy one to miss. Unless you set up an app on your phone to notify you when a withdrawal has been made. React at once you notice that your account is missing money regardless of the sum. It may be just the beginning of a bigger coup. 
  • Drained battery, unknown apps, or texts. All the above-listed signs also apply for mobile phones, but there are a couple of specific ones. If you notice that your phone battery is dying suspiciously quickly (although you recently purchased it), or unknown texts and calls appear on your phone, it’s time to fully restore your device. Unless you want further surprises popping up.

Keep calm. You’ve been hacked

One thing is clear – panicking won’t help here. What usually works are preventative measures – learning about possible threats and protecting against them. However, in a less cheerful scenario, there are three main things to do:

  1. Make sure that you’re truly hacked. Sometimes a pop-up is just a pop-up. Don’t go restoring your system every time an ad comes up. Get an adblocker. And maybe you’ve signed up for some subscription and just forgot. That’s why your money’s missing. A forgotten password sometimes is only a forgotten password, so no need to go on a hunt for cyberboogeymen. 
  2. Try to get rid of a culprit. If only your browser has been compromised, you just need to restore the browser to the original settings or uninstall malicious software and apps. Also, you may run an antivirus scan. But keep in mind that many antivirus software cannot detect specific threats. If you’re still getting pop-ups or other unwelcome activity (although you’ve eliminated every possible threat), it’s time for the next step.
  3. Reboot the device. Restoring your device to its original setup is the best thing that you can do. Of course, if your data isn’t backed up, that will result in losses. And it won’t work for leaked credentials and damage that’s already been done online but will prevent further infections down the road. 

Stay cybersafe!