Have You Been Hacked?
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.
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...
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 24 Jul 2014
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- Have You Been Hacked? (Posted: 24 Jul 2014)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved