Have You Been Hacked?

Category: Security

Anti-malware programs are awesomely sophisticated these days, featuring heuristics, real-time monitoring, and reputation systems; and still they fail to keep bad things out of your computer! You are the last line of defense against hackers and malware, so you should be familiar with these symptoms that your computer or online account has been compromised...

Tell-Tale Signs You've Been Hacked

Sometimes the best security software in the world can't protect you from yourself. If you click on anything that moves, use trivial passwords, or download from sites that are not trustworthy, you might as well open the door and invite the bad guys in for a party. Other times the attacks are very clever, and may catch you off guard. A link in a carefully crafted email can take you to a rogue site designed to steal your password or banking credentials.

Fake virus warning messages are almost as old as antivirus software, and they still work. When “VIRUS DETECTED! Click here to delete it NOW!” appears on-screen, people often rush to click. After all, who remembers what the real warning message of an antivirus program is supposed to look like? But when you click on the fake warning it can lead you down a rabbit hole.

Have You Been Hacked?

The super-duper virus killer you download turns out to be a Trojan Horse that enslaves your computer in a botnet, vacuums up all the sensitive account information you’ve left lying around the hard drive, copies all your contacts, and sends the lot to some hacker in Eastern Europe.

Solution: Get familiar with your security software's warnings before they appear. Check the program’s documentation; find a screenshot with a Google Image search if necessary. It wouldn’t hurt to print them on a reference sheet to which you can quickly compare whatever pops up on-screen. Don’t follow instructions to "click and buy" or "activate" after running a scan with a hastily downloaded program.

Unexpected browser toolbars are often malware. If you don’t remember deliberately installing a toolbar for your Firefox, Chrome or Internet Explorer, remove it using your system’s uninstall feature and run a full anti-malware scan. Better still, don’t allow any toolbars in your browser; they are totally unnecessary and all increase the likelihood of being hacked.

Something Is Wrong Here...

If a password you’ve typed a million times suddenly stop working, your webmail, Facebook, Twitter or other online account may have been hacked and the password changed. Reset the password using whatever mechanism the site offers, usually an email with a new, temporary password that only lets you log on securely to create a new, “permanent” password. See Is Your Password Strong Enough? for tips on choosing a secure password. Even better, start using two-factor authentication if the site offers it. (See What is Two-Factor Authentication?)

Redirected searches are another sign you’ve been hacked. Malware hiding on your hard drive sends your search requests to a rogue search engine instead of Google, Bing, or whatever search tool you favor. The results returned to your browser usually have little relevance to your search query; “pet meds” may return sketchy pharmaceutical sales sites.

The solution may be as easy as checking your browser’s settings to see if your default search engine has been changed. If so, change it back to your preference and run a full anti-malware scan. If searches get redirected again, you may need to try another anti-malware program, or run a deep scan. (See HOWTO: Deep Scan for Malware)

If your friends start receiving spam email that appears to be from you, change your email account’s password. If the problem continues, it’s most likely the spammer is inserting your email address into the “from” field of spam he’s sending from his own server. There’s nothing you can do about that except wait. (See Are You an Unwitting Spammer? and How Do Spammers Get My Email Address?)

Money starts trickling out of your cash and/or credit accounts; just a few pennies here and there. It’s probably just your own bookkeeping errors, right? Maybe; or maybe you’re one of several hundred thousand victims who are being drained of trivial amounts that add up to millions of dollars.

Sometimes accidental brushes against a laptop trackpad results in the cursor flying off to some odd place on the screen. But if the cursor moves on its own, opens programs and does other things that only a real person would do, either it’s being controlled by malware or you have a poltergeist in your device.

What Should I Do?

The standard procedure when you think you’ve been hacked is as follows:

  • Change ALL your passwords, not just the one you think has been compromised.
  • If you notice any unusual activity in a financial account, contact your bank right away.
  • Do a “System Restore” on a Windows machine, rolling back your computer’s state to a time before you suspect it was hacked. Only recently installed programs will be expunged. Your documents, photos, and music will not be affected.
  • Run a full anti-malware scan on all of your computers. I recommend using a second on-demand scanner in addition to your currently installed anti-virus program. See my article Five Free Malware Removal Tools for some options.

Have you been hacked? Tell me your story, or what you do to prevent malware and hacker attacks on your computer. Post your comment or question below...

 
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Most recent comments on "Have You Been Hacked?"

Posted by:

Gene
24 Jul 2014

What I've trained my mother, and tried to train my spouse, to do is first force quit the browser before clicking on the "Virus detected" dialog box.


Posted by:

Stuart Berg
24 Jul 2014

Bob,
When "your friends start receiving spam email that appears to be from you", it is most often that someone else with YOUR email address in THEIR address book has malware that has spoofed YOUR email address as the "From" when it sends spam. Think about it: If spam comes from the person listed in the "From" field, the virus would not spread as THAT person changes passwords and scans for malware.
Stu

Read more: http://askbobrankin.com/have_you_been_hacked.html#ixzz38PIkqAvd
"


Posted by:

Stuart Berg
24 Jul 2014

Bob,
Another issue is that people believe every email they receive and rapidly pass it on "to everyone in their address book". That's another common way malware can spread. When people do that, I send them this link that humorously teaches them not to spread such emails.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6hD_zluGmQw
Stu


Posted by:

Francis Flaherty
24 Jul 2014

AVG - am furious. Bought and downloaded. License file download is "License.avastlic". Windows cannot run such an extension. So impossible to finish download.

Immediately requested refund. Not so fast. First had to go to 3rd party seller, then to AVG to figure out and fill out a track a multi-page menu sequence.

Wasted 45 minutes. Warn y our readers!


Posted by:

Andy
24 Jul 2014

@Francis Flaherty
Sorry but you have made a mistake trying to add the license. "License.avastlic" is for the Pro version of AVAST anti-virus. Only the AVAST program can open the avastlic file, it is NOT something that Windows can run!! To open it you need to open AVAST, go to Settings, Subscription and click "Insert License" From there navigate to where the avastlic is on your computer. AS for AVG, here is what you should do. http://support.avg.com/SupportArticleView?q=how%20to%20add%20license&urlname=How-to-install-a-new-AVG-license-or-upgrade&retURL=search

Hope this is of some help!!


Posted by:

Elizabeth Landry
24 Jul 2014

Security and privacy should be built in by the computer manufacturer and then the manufacturer would be legally responsible for any damages that happen due to hackers and spyware. Why do we buy an unsafe product? Duh! E


Posted by:

bb
24 Jul 2014

To see if your AV is working, try to download the eicar test file from www.eicar.org. The eicar virus test file is completely safe, but should be recognized by all AV programs as a virus.
Goto http://www.eicar.org, click on the "Anti-Malware Testfile" tab, then 'Download' on the left side. There are 4 different versions which can be downloaded 2 different ways - all of which should show as a virus.
Again, this isn't real virus, it's really just a strangely crafted text file that will run as a .com program; but which should be recognized by any AV program as a virus.


Posted by:

HA
25 Jul 2014

That was a cool test.
thanks.


Posted by:

RandiO
25 Jul 2014

Reverting back to a typewriter, as is apparently being done in Germany, can be one drastic security option. The other extreme option would be to run the Microsoft provided Enhanced Mitigation Experience Toolkit (EMET). Of course, I choose to be religious about periodic maintenance with backing up personal data and imaging the Operating System, along with the installation of some FREE (but minimal) security tools, such as Microsoft's own updated Defender (MS Security Essentials), WinPatrol, using strong/different KeePass passwords, relying on Firefox (w/many security+privacy add-ons) and avoiding to open emails from strangers allow me to do MORE computing while spending LESS time on security. Maybe I have been extremely lucky by not getting hacked all these decades. YMMV.


Posted by:

BaliRob
25 Jul 2014

"Better still, don't allow any toolbars in your browser......"

I have always used toolbars for quick access to my Yahoo Inbox, etc. My Firefox currents reads - Most visited, Imported from IE, Bank Login, Yahoo News Headlines, etc., etc. The Toolbar automatically comes up as part of Firefox First Page. What should I have been doing?

EDITOR'S NOTE: Sounds like you may be referring to the Bookmarks Bar, which is part of your browser.


Posted by:

MmeMoxie
25 Jul 2014

@Elizabeth Landry --- While, I totally agree with you, in principle ... What you suggest, is not reasonable nor workable.

This is like asking car manufacturers, to make sure that all cars, will never be in an accident! Not possible ... Cars are driven by people, who make honest mistakes or sometimes, intentional actions, while driving their cars. Yes, cars are getting safer, but, that is only for when you are in an accident, not to prevent the accident.

It is the same with computers. If, computer companies could provide that kind of security, to keep your computer completely virus & malware free ... Hackers/Crackers would still find a way, to infect your computer. It is the nature of the beast ... With computer technology getting smarter and smarter, and Hackers/Crackers becoming more adept at doing bad stuff, just for the fun of it or to find out "secrets" of companies business' or for Identity Theft.

So, it is our own responsibility to protect, our own computers, with "insurance" ... Meaning, Anti-Virus and Anti-Malware protection, plus continuous maintenance. No different than buying or having to have car insurance or home insurance or life insurance. No one ever knows, when stuff will happen and it is better to be prepared!


Posted by:

MmeMoxie
25 Jul 2014

Now, for my answer, to this topic. It has been years, since, I was "hacked" and it was while, I was an AOL Member, when that happened. That was 17 years ago. I had to change my ID Name and password. What a mess, that was!!!

However, it truly was a blessing in disguise. This action is what drove me, to learn how to protect myself and my computer. During this time, I found out about Norton and Anti-Virus programs. I have never used Norton, since, I knew from reading, it was a major resource hog! But, I was learning about ways to protect, not only my personal info, but, my computer's info.

One of my first protection programs was AVG Free version, back in 1998. Not sure, if, I read about AVG from Bob or not, but, I was using it. Then, around 2000 I heard/read about Zone Alarm. I started to use their Free version, as well. I got my first DSL Broadband connection, in March 2000. Boy, I thought I was "burning up the trunk lines" with 1.3 kbps!!! How times have changed, in just a few relative short years. Today, I am upgrading to 45Mbps!!!

Then, I found out that my DSL Modem, had it's own Firewall, one that is considered hardware, not software. At that point, I stopped using Zone Alarm and my life became a lot easier. No more, having to approve or disapprove a program, trying to install itself or trying to just get some information from the Internet. I also, was better protected, when I learned how to "tweak" my Firewall settings, in my DSL Modem.

From there, I started using AVG's free version. Then, I read about Spyware, from Steve Gibson, used his program, until he suggested that his readers, start to use Lavasoft's free program, Ad-Aware. Used that program, for many years and swore by it. Finally, I stopped using both programs, due to system resource hogging. I then, found Avast! and from one of your articles, Malwarebytes. I have been using both programs, for the last 5 years or so.

I have also, learned how to protect my Wi-Fi Broadband connection. Bottom line ... Strong passwords and knowing how to "set" your Firewall's settings. Heavens, I have 3 Firewalls on my computer, one from Microsoft (I am running Windows 7 Professional 64Bit), one from my Avast! Internet Security program and the true one, from my VDSL Modem, which is a hardware Firewall, not a software program.

I have disabled the Windows Firewall, tried to disable the Avast! one, but, Windows kept telling me, I was NOT protected!!! Since, Windows is a software program and can not see, into my VDSL Modem, it "thinks" I am not protected. So, I've enabled the Avast! Firewall, to "satisfy" Windows. Sheesh!


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