Is my computer hacked?
Illustration: Getty Images
Personal Computer hacks have existed ever since the first commercial computer was sold. In the initial stages, computer hacks were simple pranks that often young and mischievous early adopters with a lot of free time and vivid imagination would try to pull off. With time, hacking changed employing more sophisticated tools, which could potentially cause severe damage. Fast-forward to today, there are sophisticatedly orchestrated attacks on major organizations to steal sensitive user data that can be exploited in bulk.
Although the rise of major attacks we hear of in the news are centered on government institutions and enterprises, everyday internet users are also faced with more severe threats today than they were in the past. Computer hacks have become so regular that almost everyone’s computer is hacked at least once in their lives. In either case – preparedness is essential. The more prepared you are and the quicker you react to the computer hack can make the difference in severity of data losses to both yourself and even your network of related accounts ( often affecting co-workers, family and friends).
So the question is, how to tell if your system has been compromised?
How to tell if your computer has been hacked
There are many ways of finding out if your computer is hacked or not. Below are listed a few of them:
- Frequently occurring popups – This is one of the most common cases that people face. One might start seeing random popups in their web browser while browsing websites that don’t usually spam them with popups. This is a simple giveaway of your computer being hacked.
- Changing of online passwords – When you find out that one of your online passwords has suddenly changed, you have perhaps fallen prey to a phishing email. Hackers send authentic-looking emails from banks, etc. which ask users to change their passwords by going on a link in the email. The hacker then gets your personal information and changes your password to lock you out of your account
- Fake emails being sent from your account – This is a common method for spreading the worms to different computers. When your email has been compromised, malicious emails are sent to your contacts. This is not an overly precarious situation, for it doesn’t always mean that your system has been hacked. However, if your contacts see your name as well as your email address, then your system has probably been compromised
- Your antivirus or antimalware disables and cannot be re-enabled – There are lots of malware that disable your antimalware and stop the Task manager from opening correctly when you try to do so. This is a sure sign that your system has been compromised
- Unknown software installs – Many a time you find that there is software installed on your system that you did not install manually. This is usually done by worms or malware that give the outlook of legitimate software. They always come along with software that you install manually, with a message like other software will be installed on your system appearing while you install that software.
What to do if your computer has been hacked?
You can do the following:
- Reset your passwords if you find that your computer has been hacked
- Run a complete antivirus scan of your system. Although this does not guarantee that sophisticated virus programs will be nullified, it can work fine for simple virus and malware programs.
- Open Action centre in your control panel and remove/uninstall all software that do not have a legitimate vendor as their provider
- Restore your system to a known safe state
- Take steps to learn how to secure and encrypt your online data adjust your behaviour online
- Secure Browsing practices (i.e. Tor Network, NordVPN, Ad and Tracker Blockers)
- Secure Communication Online (Secure Email, Private Messaging)
- Online and hardware encryption
- Password Management (Two-step authentication, Complex Passwords)
- Clearing your cookies and staying away from web trackers
- Update your OS – which contains several patches to known system vulnerabilities
We discussed here how to find out if your computer has been hacked. Apart from watching out for these signs, you should never click on links from unknown websites or services as they are usually email scams designed to gain access to your system.