How to Tell If You Have Been Hacked
12 Signs That Don't Lie
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 created by the hackers 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
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 a legitimate source to determine whether your device has been hacked. If this unexpectedly happens while browsing a site you regularly visit, you should be worried.
Browser Toolbars Installed Without Your Knowledge
If your browser is suddenly showing toolbars you don’t recognize and clearly didn’t install, it’s almost sure 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. But, 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.
Unwanted & Unexpected Software Is Installed
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.
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 be done without the site owner’s consent, so they don’t actually realize the clicks are being forced by hackers.
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 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.
Fake Protection Alerts
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 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 legit and trustworthy, which are (supposedly) offering protection software.
This is where the real damage is done. People get tricked 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 staggered by how many people take the bait.
At this point, the hacker will have control over your entire system - and worse of all, access to your bank account and personal information.
Random Message That Your Files Have Been Encrypted
One of the most vicious and recent ransomware attacks was WannaCry.
Hackers used this extremely aggressive form of malware to hack Windows computers world-wide. 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.
Social Media or Skype Messages That You Didn’t Send
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.
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.
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.
Disabled Antivirus Protection & Task Programs
The most advanced viruses can potentially disable your antivirus software. The only option would be to terminate any suspiciously-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.
Your Financial Balance Is Missing Funds
If you lose money without transfering 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 were also mentioned in the previous section.
Note: the loss of funds on your credit card statement could be caused by 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 has been hacked.
Unexpected Goods Shipped to Unknown Location
If you discover that your payment information was used 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.
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 device.
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 guide on that very subject. If your Android device has been compromised, you should read my post that instructs you on exactly how to clear up the trouble.
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.