Has Your Computer Been Hijacked?

Category: Security

Computer hijacking happens when someone snatches control of your computer and makes it do his evil bidding. This is bad not only for the owner of the computer but also for the millions of Internet users against which the hijacked machine is used. Here's how to defend yourself against computer hijacking...

Defend Yourself Against Computer Hijacking

Police in Spain have just reported the arrest of three men thought to be responsible for the Mariposa Botnet, a network of almost 13 million virus-infected computers. Mariposa infected and hijacked computers around the world -- in corporations, government agencies, schools, and private homes.

Mariposa initially spread by way of a bug in the Internet Explorer browser, and those affected were subject to silent keystroke monitoring that resulted in the theft of online banking login credentials and credit card numbers. Computers caught up in the botnet could also be "rented" to other hackers for the purpose of sending spam or participating in denial of service attacks.
Computer hijacking

Could your computer be hijacked? Imagine the police asking you why you downloaded child p**nography. You say you didn't, of course. But there it is on your hard drive, courtesy of a hijacker who used your computer to download and distribute the stuff. It can be very difficult and expensive to prove that you didn't do it.

Despite security software, it's always possible to be hijacked. Bad guys are constantly waging a war of escalation with security software makers, and it just might be your "lucky day" to be attacked by a hijacker with a technique your security software provider hasn't heard of yet. How can you tell if your computer has been hijacked, and liberate it before it is used to cause trouble for you and others?

How Can I Tell if My Computer Has Been Hijacked?

Hijackers often attack via unpatched security holes in your Internet browser, and download malicious programs to your hard drive. Symptoms of this sort of hijacking include inexplicable changes to your home page; incessant pop-up ads; or being re-directed to some unwanted site whenever you click on a link that you want to open. You may also notice that your computer or Internet connection is slower than usual.

The sudden appearance of new browser toolbars is also a cause for alarm. Often, free applications offered online include extra "goodies" like toolbars that supposedly do you good. But the toolbars can hide software that turns your computer into a tool of hackers, spammers, identity thieves, and p**n distributors.

Email is another avenue by which bad guys inject hijacking software into your computer. If your email program suddenly starts sending out messages without your assistance, it's probably been hijacked. Unfortunately, you might only find out about this when you get a flood of angry emails from people asking why you sent them spammy or scammy emails.

Protect and Defend Against Hijacking

Keeping your operating system up to date with the latest security patches is crucial to staying safe online. Use the tools built into your operating system -- Windows Update, Mac OS X Software Update, or the equivalent on your Linux system -- and configure them to download and install fixes automatically. Application software packages that you've installed may also offer automatic updating capability.

You should also run a full anti-malware scan of your entire system if you spot signs of hijacking. Heck, even if you don't spot any signs, you should STILL run virus and spyware scans regularly. And you don't have to spend a lot of money on computer security tools. Check out my list of Free Anti-Virus Programs and Free Anti-Spyware Programs for starters.

Also consider using security software such as PCTools ThreatFire which looks for suspicious behavior of software and fingers it as potential malware. This broader approach can catch hijacking applications that are not yet known to other security tools which use a signature-based approach to detect known malware.

A hijacked computer can steal your personal information; spam everyone you know and millions of people you don't know; it can be used to commit crimes like child p**n distribution or denial-of-service attacks; and generally wreak havoc with your life and those of others. Be alert to the symptoms of hijacking, and take all the precautions you can to prevent it.

Do you have something to say about computer hijacking? Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "Has Your Computer Been Hijacked?"

Posted by:

virgin user
04 Mar 2010

I have suspected for some time now that my computer has been hijacked, though not showing any of the signs you listed - huge amounts of data are going on my bandwidth allowance, sometimes when I haven't been home... I am suspecting that the skype application has been hijacked... and am looking further into the matter now... fingers crossed.... is there anysoftware on the market that lets you do a netstat then automatically locate who the connection is.... newbies need to be able to do this easily find out who is connecting as whois very often doesn't give enough specific information

Posted by:

04 Mar 2010

a cable modem (D Link ) helps to, it stopped someonefrom hacking into my computer three years ago.

Posted by:

04 Mar 2010

One point i would like to make is use your on screen keyboard with passwords, logins, credit card numbers, account numbers or anything you feel needs to be secure. I found this out the hard way, i had my identy stole and who ever done this had access to my bank account and was withdrawing money from my account to pay their debts, i noticed it with one of my monthly statements from my bank. Lucly i caught it the first month and they only had time to get $589.00 from me. i talked to my bank and they in turn ran down where the money went, i filed a complaint with my bank and te website that these scums used, Got my money back, which was lucky. Up till this time i used the regular keyboard, then i had read the on screen keyboard can not be traced. So by all means think about this before the next secure transaction you make gets hijacked from lazy no count thiefs.

Posted by:

05 Mar 2010

A good firewall such as ZoneAlarm would be a bad idea either.

Posted by:

05 Mar 2010

A good (and easy) measure against some one who uses your computer to send SPAM is to have a contact in your (email) contact list named "~~AAAA" with email addy ~~aaa@aaa.aaa

If you get a message back from your provider that "~~aaa@aaa.aaa" is not a valid email address, it will allert you that your computer/address-list is being ABused...

EDITOR'S NOTE: In some cases it might. But today's more sophisticated botnet spammers don't care about your address book.

Posted by:

05 Mar 2010

witch to you is the best Internet security I dont believe on on free internet security software so what do you think of the pay companys you think is the best I like Pctools for their threatfire fire wall but in the past I had trouble with threat fire eating some of my files and really causing problems I also like Norton

Posted by:

05 Mar 2010

A needed article Bob! On checking out the PCTools ThreatFire link I find some with warnings about this software. It's a bit confusing to know what to do... I have Kaspersky 09. Any feedback to the comments posted Bob? Tx!

Posted by:

05 Mar 2010

Many thanks for the tip, Steve!
I'll keep in mind to use my on-screen keyboard next time I enter sensitive data through my PC. It's actually the first time I read or hear about this point and I wish someone could explain why it is so.
Yet, as I was mentioning in a previous comment, I rather do manually (and steadily of course) all necessary security updates to my machine and this because automatic updates are just so intrusive and disruptive, to the point where you just wonder why and what is happening to your PC!
Cheers to all!

Posted by:

06 Mar 2010

I wonder if too many secuirty applications may the cause of slowng the PC. Since I put AVG Free, Pareto Logic, Regcure, MS Defender to keep me 'safe' my startup has become extremely slow. When my IT chap advised me to also have Malwarebytes which immediately found Trojans, but still I have very slow startups. Hopefully all this artillery keeps my cable connection hacker free.

Posted by:

06 Mar 2010

"virgin user" above asks about the whois command and netstat. Karen's WhoIS design improves the whois results you normally see.

Posted by:

07 Mar 2010

Are these downloads free that you post in your emails . THe one's that say to make your computer run faster.

Posted by:

08 Mar 2010

"One point I would like to make is use your on screen keyboard with passwords, logins, credit card numbers, account numbers or anything you feel needs to be secure."

Use a text file for account numbers [NOT passwords], and then cut and paste when you login, reducing the number of keystrokes which can be logged.

Posted by:

08 Mar 2010

Hi Bob,

I have a lot of hacking problems even though I use security software and get automatic updates. I have every reason listed by any site and more to think my computer has been hyjacked but no one believes me because all anything ever finds are cookies.

I have kept trying to find the problem myself since I wasn't getting any help and found out it's very likely that I have an undetctable key logger. I can't find a free way to get rid of one and I'm not rich. Can you please help me? I would be so greatful!

Thank You

Posted by:

02 Jun 2011

I think my hard drive was highjacked and I have been removed as the administrator / user of my laptop. I have ran different cleaners and anti malware but they have not located this highjacker. When I tried to return computer to a previous date the only dates showing are after the incident. Please help

Thank you

Posted by:

Bill Curlee
31 Jan 2012

My computer started sending out unwanted SPAM to everyone in my address book. It was sending adds for Vi*gra. Some of my friends started blocking my e-mails. A friend of mine told me how to stop the issue. You need to CHANGE YOUR INTERNET PROVIDER PASSWORD. Once you do that it will stop. I also ran MALWAREBITES and it did not find anything.

Bob How do these people hack your pass word and when did they do it?

Posted by:

29 Apr 2012

I have been living with a hack/highjacker for over a year. I have had 4 different ISP's, roughly 25 computers (seven) in the last month and 3 days. I have also had 2 wireless carriers and over a dozen new phones. It is a very personal attack. It has ruined my marriage (I have suspicions she has a hand in it) occupies my every thought. I honestly believe it is slowly killing into. Every website I log into transforms from an orginary www.example.com into https://login.live.com/

I feel like i am drowning. No one will believe me and i don't know what to do. It or they are in every account, cell phone, bank, cable, emails, Facebook, and itunes/i cloud. Because everything is done to make it look like me people don't believe me. Anyone. Help.

Posted by:

25 Aug 2012

I see both you and Fedex recommend deleting the email.

I have always thought pressing the spam button instead
would somehow help in the fight against spam by sending
the information to the server concerning the fraudulent
email or its place of origin — with the information perhaps
going (automatically?) to the site involved (Fedex,
in this case) or even to the FBI.

Am I wrong (or too idealistic)?
And does that mean that pressing the spam button
does nothing "outside" of my mailbox and of my computer?

Posted by:

26 Apr 2013

My pc has been hijacked I cannot even move my mouse, I need to reinstall I think but don't have disk for Windows xp

Posted by:

05 Jun 2013

Did you note that LinkedIn asks for your email password every time when you log in? Many people automatically type in the password and LinkedIn with all it employees somewhere in India/Vietnam get access to the private and confidential information. How legitimate LinkedIn is? I did not see anywhere that people worry about it. We are bunch of sheeps willingly walking off the cliff with all those LinkedIn, FB and other vampires.

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