Hacking has become one of the biggest threats of the 21st century, and it continues to grow with every passing year. Like so many other aspects of modern life, crime has mostly moved online.
Unfortunately, hacking is often a subtle thing, and it isn’t always easy to detect. These people go to great lengths to hide their activities, but certain signs will show nevertheless. If you can learn to recognize these warning signs, you can make yourself a lot safer. There are also a lot of preventive measures that can help, and we will cover those as well.
Warning Sign #1: Fake Antivirus Messages
It is very common for hackers to hijack antivirus programs and use them as an avenue of attack. This method was much more common in the past but is still seen quite often. Usually, these kinds of messages will encourage you to take some kind of action in order to respond to an alert. They will probably try to get your attention by claiming that a huge number of viruses have been found on your computer.
If you see this message, it means your computer has probably been hijacked already. However, there is a question of how badly the system has been compromised. If you are really in bad shape, you will probably be unable to close your browser or take most other actions. If not, we would advise you to save anything that is too important to lose, power down the computer, and then restore everything from your most recent backup.
Warning Sign #2: Abnormally High Disk Usage
One computer can only do so much at one time, and this can be a dead giveaway that something is wrong. When a hacker takes control of your system (in any way), they will be utilizing the same RAM and disk resources that you do. That means your disk usage will be way higher than normal. If you have never looked at disk usage, you should press CTRL+ALT+DELETE immediately and look at the resource monitor.
Of course, high disk usage does not always indicate that you have been hacked. Sometimes, a computer can simply have too many background programs running, and these can also be checked on the task manager screen you just opened. Look for the processes with the highest percentage of use, as these are most likely to be your culprits.
Warning Sign #3: Strange Redirects On Your Browser
There are many ways in which hackers can make money. Everyone knows that they can gain access to financial accounts and transfer assets in that way. However, this is not the only way that they can collect a quick buck. Some of them will make money by redirecting people to a certain website. This works because web traffic generates revenue in the form of advertising dollars. Some shady website owners are willing to pay shady people for unwilling traffic, as the numbers don’t really know or care about the factor of compliance. If you open up your browser and you find yourself on an unfamiliar website, you should immediately reset your browser to its defaults.
Warning Sign #4: Your Browser Has New Toolbars/Buttons
If you open up your browser and start seeing new buttons and toolbars, it is a definite red flag. These kinds of things usually indicate an installed browser extension. However, if this is not an extension that you willingly installed, then something is wrong. Before you assume it to be a hack, however, you should check to see if those buttons or toolbars correspond with any program you have recently installed. Some programs will automatically install these things if you don’t uncheck a box or something.
Warning Sign #5: Everyone In Your Contact List Gets A Phishing Email
As you may know from reading our previous work, most hacks begin with a phishing email. The hacker sends an email that appears legitimate, and which prompts the receiver to click on a link or take some other kind of action. What many people don’t realize is that the link (or its instructions) is a trap. The trap is designed to trick you into revealing the information that the hacker needs in order to proceed further.
Naturally, they don’t want to send these things from their personal email accounts, so they hijack someone else’s account and use it as a proxy. So, if everyone on your email contact list has started receiving promotional emails from you, it is a sure sign that someone has taken control of your account. You should start by resetting your account password, and make sure you use a stronger one this time!
Warning Sign #6: You See Popups When Your Browser Is Closed
Everyone hates pop-up ads. You have to wonder if these ads have ever convinced anyone to buy anything because they are so supremely annoying. However, it’s not usually hard to tell from whence they came. For instance, if you are browsing an anime site, and you see a pop-up that advertises a popular anime series, that probably isn’t a hack. There is a logical explanation for it, so don’t worry too much.
Sometimes, however, you can get these pop-up ads when you’re not even using the browser. You might also receive inconsistent pop-ups that don’t have anything to do with the sites you’ve visited. Either of these would be huge red flags that someone has infected your system with adware. Adware is a certain type of malware that is made to inundate you with ads. If this is the case, you need to go through your program list and see if anything new or suspicious has been added.
Warning Sign #7: Your Mouse Or Keyboard Works Independently
This might be one of the most obvious red flags in the world. If you are using your computer, and you see that the mouse is moving on its own and making clicks, that is a sure sign that someone is remotely controlling your computer. Likewise, if you see anything being typed (and you aren’t the one typing), it means pretty much the same thing. If you see something like this, you have a big problem because the hacker has gained total control. You need to shut down right then and there, and the computer can either be destroyed or taken to a qualified repair shop.
Warning Sign #8: Protective Programs Have Been Disabled
Most hackers are people that know a lot about computers. Because they know a lot more about computers than you (probably) do, it is sometimes possible for them to predict your reactions and prepare for them. This is something you will only see from the smartest hackers, but it still happens quite often.
So, when a hacker breaches your system, they know you are going to find out eventually. They also know that you will probably turn to your security/protection programs as a first response. If these programs (like antivirus software, malware scanners, the task manager, or the registry editor) have been compromised along with the rest of the system, the intruder can just disable them.
How To Keep From Being Hacked
There are many steps that you can take to avoid being hacked. Some of them are simple, while others are not, but all of the measures listed below will have a positive effect on your total security situation.
Security Tip #1: Always Use Strong Passwords
If you’re like most people, you probably use a lot of online passwords. Virtually every online service requires one, and it can be hard to keep track of them all. In order to deal with this problem, most people will do one of two things. They will either use the same password for everything, or they will use simple passwords that are easy to remember (like your child’s birthday or something). Both of these approaches are bad ideas.
A good password should be at least 15-20 characters long, have uppercase and lowercase letters, contain both numbers and symbols, and should not contain any common words in any language. Password-cracking programs can search all of those common words and check for them in a matter of minutes. Here’s a tip: Invent new words that don’t even exist. If there’s one thing we can learn from the Navajo code-talkers in WW2, it’s this: The only unbreakable code is one that isn’t really a code at all.
Security Tip #2: Keep Everything Updated
Many hacks and exploits have occurred simply because a person failed to keep their software updated. Whenever a new exploit (meaning a security hole) is found, software companies will rush to patch it up and distribute the patch with the next update. Unfortunately, some people don’t get the update quickly enough, and they end up being victimized anyway. The good news is that this problem is easy to fix: Just make sure you stay updated at all times.
Security Tip #3: Use Encryption Wherever Possible
We’re sure that you’ve heard about encryption before, as it is well-known. It is a way of obscuring computer data by scrambling it up. It can only be unscrambled with a password, and that’s one reason that we advised you to make long and complex passwords. In many cases, that password is the only thing protecting your system.
Passwords, of course, are a lot stronger when backed by encryption. If you really want maximum security, you should use both disk encryption and network encryption. Disk encryption is only worthwhile if the entire hard drive is encrypted, which can be a problem because boot sectors cannot be encrypted. Thus, you might want to keep your boot partition on a separate device.
As for network encryption, there are two easy things you can do. First, sign up for a cheap VPN service. This is the easiest way to encrypt your connections by far. A VPN service uses a virtual “tunnel” of encrypted data to enable private communications between you and whatever site you are using. You should also download a free browser extension called HTTPS Everywhere. This will ensure that your browser uses encrypted options whenever possible.
Security Tip #4: Don’t Let Your System Get Too Cluttered
Over time, computers have a tendency to get cluttered with leftovers of all kinds. These might be programs that you don’t use anymore, remnants of old ones that you deleted, old document files, and all sorts of other things. When your house is “dirty” like this, it is far easier for someone to infiltrate it without detection. After all, the dirty house has far more places in which to hide.
You should periodically do an “efficiency audit” on your computer. We invented that term, so don’t bother trying to look it up online. This is just a term for those times when you look over your computer system and evaluate what you want to keep and what you can delete. Once that is done, you will need to de-clutter the drive. Not only does this help you to use your space more efficiently, but it also creates fewer crevices in which an intruder can remain unseen.
A well-organized system will also make it easier to deal with problems when they arise. For instance, if a malware program has been surreptitiously installed on your device, you will have a shorter list to peruse. If you don’t have a bunch of unused browser extensions, it will be easier to determine which one is causing the problem. Both of these are just random examples, but we think you get the point.
Cybersecurity is a very complex thing, and it’s always changing from year to year. With this article, we have attempted to give you a crash course on the subject, and we hope that we have done a good job with that. By learning about these warning signs and some basic protection measures, you will become better protected than about 90% of the population. If you would like to thank us for that privilege, you can start by filling out the contact form below.