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How to Tell If You Have Been Hacked: 12 Signs That Don’t Lie

Concerned that someone may be hacking into your device? Check out these 12 signs that you may have been hacked.

It’s not a secret that hackers don’t make victims aware of the fact that they have hacked. And that’s not without reason.

This might sound obvious, but just because everything “seems to be fine” doesn’t mean that’s actually the case.

Hackers penetrate systems and infect them with malware to take full control. The malware that the hackers create is hidden in a system to do the work, and hackers are not all about rushing it. That means that they can come back at any given moment to see if the malware was able to do any damage to a system, and to see what other things they can do to it.

For that reason, you might not realize a hacker is already inside one or more of your devices. But there are signs that tell you that you’ve been hacked.

It’s always better to be safe than sorry, so I decided to create an overview of 12 signs that don’t lie that you’ve been hacked. If any of these signs are familiar to you, it’s fair to say that you’re a victim.

So, let’s get to it. Here are 12 signs that should trigger all of your alarm bells.

Constant and Random Browser Pop-ups

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Constant, frequent, and random browser pop-ups are a common sign that you’ve been hacked.

Especially if you receive random pop-ups while browsing websites that generally don’t show them, that’s a clear sign that your device has been compromised.

There are a lot of websites out there that, for some reason, can easily bypass ad-blockers and show unwanted pop-ups. Obviously, such websites are not legitimate sources to determine whether your device has been hacked. If this unexpectedly happens while browsing a site you regularly visit, you should be worried.

What Should I Do?

Make sure you are using the latest version of your browser. Most browsers offer pop-up blocking, so be sure you have it turned on in your browser’s settings.

There are also browser extensions that offer pop-up blocking. Be aware, however, that blocking pop-ups may cause some sites to not operate properly. Also, make sure you have antivirus and anti-malware installed on your computer. Scan for malware or viruses, as these can cause pop-ups.

Browser Toolbars Installed Without Your Knowledge

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If your browser is suddenly showing toolbars you don’t recognize and clearly didn’t install, it’s almost certain that your computer has been compromised.

Unwanted toolbars can be extremely annoying. They can mess with your browser settings and, for example, change your standard homepage to a spammy website.

Additionally, these toolbars can open the door to other malicious files and open ad windows without your permission.

Is this happening to you? If so, it’s time to get rid of these annoying toolbars. The longer you let them sit in your toolbar, the higher the chance other malware will nest itself in your system.

It’s not unusual to have a new toolbar in your browser after you’ve installed software from a known source. However, these toolbars are often not the pesky ones that disturb your browsing experience. If you’re sure the toolbar isn’t related to recently installed software, it’s a clear sign that something is up.

What Should I Do?

Make sure you are using the latest version of your browser. Remove the toolbar(s) in your browser settings. Also, install the latest versions of antivirus and anti-malware on your computer. Scan for malware or viruses, as these can install toolbars.

Installation of Unwanted & Unexpected Software

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Similar to unwanted installations of browser toolbars, it’s a clear sign that you’ve been hacked if software automatically installs itself without your consent.

It’s highly likely that these software programs can control or modify other software programs installed on your system. The worst-case scenario is that it could modify or disable your antivirus, allowing other types of malware to flood into your system.

There are quite a few software tools that install additional software on your PC – especially free software, which often asks the user’s permission to install third-party software.

This doesn’t always mean that the third-party software is malicious, but it’s never a good sign. The additional software could be weak and outdated, so it could be easily abused by hackers to take control of your system.

Always make sure to read the license agreements before installing software, and during the installation process steps, always uncheck the boxes that allow third-party software installation.

What Should I Do?

Click “Cancel” first. Then, make sure you are using the latest version of your browser. Also, make sure you have antivirus and anti-malware installed on your computer. Scan for malware or viruses, as these can try to install unwanted software.

Auto Redirects to Unwanted Websites

Redirecting users to certain websites is a lucrative business for hackers. They’re paid to redirect users to these sites, so once a user opens a URL, it will automatically redirect them to a different website without their permission.

This could also happen without the site owner’s consent, so they don’t actually realize that hackers are forcing the clicks.

What normally happens is that you enter a string of keywords in the search bar and, regardless of what URL you click on, the malware in your system will redirect you to another website (which had nothing to do with what you searched for).

You can perform a test by searching for a very specific term and clicking on the first URL to appear. Then, if you’re being taken to a completely different site, you can be sure that your system is infected.

Unfortunately, the most advanced hacks are using proxies, so while you will still see the returning URL you wanted (the one you should actually see in your browser), you’re not actually on that site. So, you won’t even be aware of the fact that you’ve been rerouted.

So, you won’t even be aware that your internet search was redirected through the use of a proxy. That means that the returning URL is well hidden from you, tricking you into thinking you’re on the page you intended to be on.

What Should I Do?

Make sure you are using the latest version of your browser. Also, make sure you have antivirus and anti-malware installed on your device. Scan for malware or viruses, as these redirects can include malicious payloads.

In addition, if possible, contact the owner of the infected website so that they can attempt to rid their website of the malicious redirect code.

Fake Protection Alerts

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A fake warning message by your antivirus software – or any other protection software, for that matter – is one of the most certain signs that tell you’ve been hacked.

Hackers generally exploit outdated software or old programs in your browser toolbars to take over your entire system and send out fake warnings. When you get such a message, you can be sure that the damage has already been done and your system is infected.

The strategy behind this type of hacking is to have users click on the URLs in the fake message, which will redirect them to websites that appear to be legitimate and trustworthy, which are (supposedly) offering protection software.

This is where the real damage happens. Hackers trick people into buying fake software, while at the same time entering their credit card and personal information on the website – which falls right into the hands of the hackers.

Now, you might think: who would fall for that? But you’d be staggered by how many people take the bait.

At this point, the hacker will have control over your entire system – and worst of all, access to your bank account and personal information.

What Should I Do?

These warnings in your browser are fake. Close the browser window where the “warning” appeared. Then, make sure you are using the latest version of your browser.

Always have antivirus and anti-malware installed on your device. Make sure your malware or virus detection app is updated to the latest version, then scan for malware or viruses.

If you know that the website is on the up-and-up, contact the owner of the website so that they may rid it of the malicious code causing these fake warnings.

You See a Random Message that Your Files Have Been Encrypted

One of the most vicious and recent ransomware attacks was WannaCry.

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Hackers used this extremely aggressive form of malware to hack Windows computers worldwide. The malware takes complete control of your system and locks it down – in other words, you won’t be able to do anything on your PC anymore.

As shown in the image, ransomware attackers ask for a “ransom” to unlock your data. In this recent example, they demanded $300 worth of Bitcoin as payment.

Also, a timer, located in the box on the left, is counting down. If you do not pay the ransom, the hackers will permanently delete all your data – which is often unrecoverable.

What Should I Do?

Most importantly, don’t freak out. This may be a fake ransomware notification. Even if it’s real, you may still have recovery options, such as restoring from a backup.

For more information about what to do if you experience a ransomware attack, and also how to prevent such happenings, read my article, Ransomware: What Is It And How Can You Prevent It?

Social Media or Skype Messages that You Didn’t Send

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I think most avid social media and Skype users have been introduced to the phenomenon of receiving weird messages (often containing some kind of a URL) from a friend or a person on their contact list.

Generally, the hacker is using your account to send out a message to all of your friends with either a link that will instantly start the download of a malicious file or redirect them to a malicious site.

It could be a standard message or only a URL. If the hacker(s) are real professionals, it could even be a personally-tailored message to increase the likelihood of someone clicking the link.

Either way, this is a clear sign your system or social media accounts have been hacked.

What Should I Do?

Immediately change your password to a strong, secure password that you’re not using for any other account. If you have reused the password on other accounts, immediately change those to a non-duplicated secure password. Also, scan your computer or mobile device for malware or viruses.

Unexpectedly Invalid Password(s)

If you attempt to log in to a platform or website (which you use regularly – so you are sure that you entered the correct login details), and you’re not allowed access to your account, it’s quite clear that your account has been compromised.

Note: It could also be that the site is dealing with temporary technical problems that disabled the login form.

However, if you are absolutely sure that you’ve entered the correct login details – and the site is not experiencing technical problems – and it’s no longer working, then it’s highly likely that someone stole your details and changed the password.

Phishing emails might be the culprit of login issues. Such scams usually redirect you to a look-a-like page where you enter your account details, but unknowingly present the data to a hacker on a golden platter.

What Should I Do?

Follow the platform or website’s password resetting procedures and set up a new unique and secure password.

Also, if available, set up two-factor authentication on the platform or website. This will ensure that you will know when someone has attempted to access your account, as it will foil their login attempt and may also notify you of login attempts by asking you for an additional bit of information before allowing the login.

Randomly-Moving Mouse Pointer

A moving mouse pointer is a sign that you’ve been hacked, though it could instead be that you’re suffering from technical issues.

There’s an important difference between the two scenarios, though.

If the mouse cursor is randomly flying all over your screen without a clear path of direction, it’s most likely caused by a glitch or a technical problem.

In the case that the mouse cursor is making clear movements and systematically opening software tools or other programs, you can be sure that someone else has full control. This person is controlling your computer from a different location.

It’s quite a dangerous threat because hackers could wait for the computer to become inactive and then strike. While you’re asleep, someone is using your computer to do whatever they want.

What Should I Do?

Before panicking, make sure your mouse sensor and the surface it uses for tracking are both clean. Dirty mouse sensors and desk or mousepad surfaces can often cause your mouse pointer to think it is being moved around. Also, if the surface the mouse sits on has a “busy” design, try using the mouse on a solid color desktop surface or mouse pad. Busy designs can confuse the mouse, causing it to move randomly.

It’s when you see your mouse pointer moving purposefully, opening applications and files, closing windows and other usually “user-related” actions that you will want to worry. If you have recently used TeamViewer or another remote control app, check to make sure it isn’t still connected. The user on the other end may be screwing with your mind as a joke.

If none of the above seems to be what’s causing your drunken mouse actions, turn off your internet connection momentarily by turning off your computer’s WiFi connection or unplugging its Ethernet connection. This will disconnect from any outside control of your mouse. If you regain control, that means an outsider is controlling your mouse.

Make sure your computer is running the latest version of antivirus and anti-malware software and scan your computer. Also, check for remote control apps that you haven’t installed.

Disabled Antivirus Protection & Task Programs

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The most advanced viruses can potentially disable your antivirus software. The only option would be to terminate any suspicious running software through Task Manager or Registry Editor.

But even if you wanted to, it’s highly likely that you wouldn’t be able to open either of these two programs, as they might also be disabled. Such kinds of viruses are extremely dangerous, as your computer is basically completely vulnerable to any type of malware and hackers.

Disabled protection software is a crystal-clear sign that you’ve been hacked, and immediate action is required to restore a secure environment.

What Should I Do?

If your antivirus or anti-malware apps will not run, visit an online scanner in your browser. eSet, Trend Micro, F-Secure and other antivirus and anti-malware vendors offer free online virus and malware scanning services.

Your Financial Account Is Missing Funds

If you lose money without transferring funds yourself, it’s a clear sign that someone hacked into your device and compromised your bank account.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the hacker was able to transfer all of your funds to a different account or make purchases on a website.

These situations are often triggered by phishing emails, which I also mentioned in a previous section.

Note: The loss of funds on your credit card statement could be because of different reasons. For example, entering your credit card information on the wrong website could result in one of the bad guys using your details to make other payments. That doesn’t necessarily mean that your device or bank account itself has been hacked.

What Should I Do?

Immediately contact your financial institution to inform them about the activity on your account. They may be able to help you recover the stolen funds.

Also, immediately change the password on that account, and any credit or debit card connected to the account. In addition, make sure to change the password on any account that may be withdrawing funds from the account.

Make sure all of your passwords are unique and secure. A password manager can help you create, maintain and recall unique passwords on all of your accounts.

Unexpected Goods Shipped to an Unknown Location

If you discover that someone used your payment information to ship unexpected goods to an unknown location, it’s clear that someone has hacked your account on a platform where you saved your payment information. The hacker used your payment information and personal details to ship the items.

Clearly, the person who hacked into your account changed the shipping address.

In addition, another sign that this has happened is if you have credit funds on a website and you suddenly receive a message that you ran out of funds, yet you didn’t order anything.

Unfortunately, you would probably only be notified after the damage had already been done.

What Should I Do?

If the unexpected shipment was from an online merchant that you have an account with, immediately contact customer support – they may be able to help you track the shipment and possibly recover your funds. Also, change the password on your affected account and on any other accounts that might use the same password.

Make sure all of your passwords are unique and secure. As mentioned previously, a password manager can help you create, maintain and recall unique passwords on all of your accounts.

Safe Computing Is a Must

Remember: the majority of hacks and viruses don’t become an actual threat without any form of human action to open the gates to a potential attack.

Simply put, you should always be careful when being active on your computer or other devices.

Now, you are aware of the signs that should trigger your suspicion, as well as the fact that you should take action against it.

If you want to read more about the different types of malware and how to remove malware from your device, I recommend reading my Complete Guide to Removing Malware from Windows. If your Android device has been compromised, you should read my guide on how to remove malware from Android phones.

Remember these signs, and make sure to take action immediately! The longer you wait to battle against hackers, the more damage they’ll be able to do. Even if you have the slightest suspicion, take action! It’s always better to be safe than sorry.

Have You Been Hacked FAQs

How Do You Know You Have Been Hacked?

There are a number of things that can clue you into the sad fact that you have been hacked. You may see that browser extensions or applications have been installed without your knowledge, you get a message that your data has been encrypted, you see text messages in your history that you didn't send. These are just a few indicators.

How Do I Tell That My Phone Has Been Hacked?

If your phone has been hacked, you may see your data usage increase by a large amount, or you may see text messages that you know you didn't send on your history screen (these may be to "premium" text services). You may also see long-distance calls or calls to "900" numbers on your bill. Your battery life or your device's performance may also drop precipitously.

What should I do after being hacked?

Keep an eye on all of your accounts, including banking accounts, credit cards, and any other financial accounts. Invest in a credit monitoring and alerts service (although some hacked firms will offer free credit monitoring in the wake of an attack or data breach).

Immediately change your account passwords to new, unique, and secure passwords. (Use a password manager to create and manage your passwords to prevent duplication). 

Also, install reliable antivirus and anti-malware protection and scan your device for viruses and malware, keystroke loggers, and other threats.

Does changing your password get rid of hackers?

While changing your password does not make them magically disappear from the face of the earth, it can break their hold on you, even if it only does so temporarily. Changing your password prevents hackers from accessing the affected account. 

Be sure to use a password manager to generate and manage your passwords. This ensures that you will be using unique and secure passwords.

Will resetting PC remove hackers?

No, while resetting your PC - which in my mind is wiping it clean and reinstalling everything, including your apps, will clean it of malware - hackers will still be after you once you go back online. Make sure to install antivirus and anti-malware protection and set it up to scan your PC on a regular basis. 

Make sure all of the apps you reinstall are from known reliable sources. Also, scan all of your documents and other personal files to ensure they don’t include any malicious payloads. (Microsoft Office documents are known for being vulnerable to this.) Also, when going online, stay out of the darker corners of the web and use a reliable VPN whenever possible


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