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7 Ways You’ll Know You’ve Been Hacked and How to Prevent It

Feb 13, 2023

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When you think of hacking, you probably conjure images of lonely cyber geeks scrolling through lines of code trying to extort millions of dollars.

In reality, hackers tend to work in organized crime gangs and attack everyone, from people like you all the way up to governments and armies.

A hack can be anything from theft of your personal data and banking logins to someone encrypting your hard drive and demanding cash to fix it. There are plenty of different hacks and lots of ways you can figure out if you’ve fallen prey to them.

What are the signs I’ve been hacked?

With so many types of hacking around, there are lots of signs you’ve been hacked to look out for. Here are some of the most common.

1. A ransomware message on your screen

If you get a message on your screen telling you your device has been encrypted and telling you how and where to send a payment to fix it, it’s a clear sign you’ve been hacked.

It is possible to get a ransomware message when nothing bad has happened to your computer, but you should always proceed with caution. If you choose to pay the ransom, you probably won’t get all your data back anyways – only 4% of ransoms paid end up in full data recovery.

Getting a ransomware message can be scary, but if you create backups, often you should be able to recover most of your data without paying a dime.

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2. An antimalware message

A savvy tech user will have decent antivirus and antimalware software already installed. If you get a notification from a company you use, pay for, and trust telling you there is a problem with your computer or phone, take heed.

While dodgy pop-ups warning you of imminent data disasters are to be avoided, when you pay for a service to warn you there’s something wrong, then there probably is. Be sure to log into your account from a device that’s not included in the warning and follow the company’s instructions.

3. A sudden slow down

Clear notices and warnings are a pretty sure sign you’ve been hacked, but it’s not always so clear-cut. Hackers will try and get into your computer to find out your data to commit identity theft or break into your bank account, and if this is happening, your computer will go slower.

Does a simple website take forever to load? An app that was lightning-fast suddenly takes minutes to pull up your details? These could be signs that an unauthorized process is running on your device.

If this starts to happen, check through the processes running on your device and remove anything that shouldn’t be there. You may need to wipe your computer and start again in extreme circumstances.

4. Password problems

It’s pretty common to get an email to confirm when you’ve changed your password on an online account. Getting this email when you’ve not actually tried to change your email should set off alarm bells.

Receiving two-factor authentication codes by SMS or email that you’ve not requested or getting an error message when trying to log in to an account, you’re sure you know the details for are also signs of trouble.

If you find your password has been changed for your social media, banking, or online shopping accounts, you should contact the company directly. They will have a process in place to help you recover and secure your account.

5. Strange search behavior

We all know what it looks like to search online – go to a search engine, type in your query, and get a list of matching results. When it starts to look different, you may have a problem.

Seeing the screen flash after you hit enter or going to a different-looking page could be a warning sign you’ve been hacked. This could be the start of someone watching your online activity in order to get your passwords and break into your banking or shopping accounts.

You can check if something looks not quite right by doing the same action in a different browser. If things are looking odd, you need to investigate deeper into your computer.

6. Unusual emails

This warning could go one of two ways. First, if your friends and family tell you they’re getting emails and messages from you that seem out of the ordinary, something is wrong.

Hackers can use your details to try and get your contacts to reveal your personal information or even their own. They can also get into your phone or email account to harvest the details of people you know to try and extort money out of them – while pretending to be you.

You might also be the person who gets emails or messages pretending to be a loved one. If you’ve clicked on a link in a strange message, you could be on your way to being the next victim of a hack.

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7. New apps and icons

Using your phone and computer regularly means you know what it should look like – where to look for the apps and tools you use most. When something looks out of place, it’s a sign a hacker may have infiltrated your device.

Anything that you didn’t recognize installing, should be checked out immediately. Avoid accessing it, but check in your Settings when it was downloaded and how much processing power and data it’s using. This should give you a good indication of whether it’s something you’ve forgotten about or if a hacker is using it to track what you’re doing on your device.

How to prevent getting hacked

All of these can seem pretty scary – losing access to your accounts, having your online life tracked and logged… There are steps you can take to prevent a hacker from getting into your device, which we’ve pulled together here for you.

  1. Be skeptical – emails from weird-looking addresses telling you your banking is compromised, ad pop-ups offering unbelievable discounts; if it feels weird, then it’s probably dodgy so don’t click on something you’re not sure of.
  2. Use a VPN – getting a VPN download like Surshark VPN will protect your browsing when using public WiFi so a hacker can’t start to take control of your devices. It also encrypts what you send and receives online, protecting your data.
  3. Keep updated – software and app updates may feel tedious, but they have their uses. Companies will send you updates to patch security concerns when hackers find a way to exploit the tools you use, so update everything as soon as feasible.

Have I been hacked?

Hacking comes in many forms – some can be super obvious, like a big red ransom demand on your screen, while others can be more subtle, like a weird-looking search result.

Know your usual routines and remember what things should look and feel like. When things get strange, you should start investigating what’s installed on your device and why it might be behaving differently.

Seek professional advice if you fall victim to a hack, including informing the police if you’ve lost money or been the victim of a scam.

Frequently asked questions 

Where can I check if I’ve been hacked? 

There are websites that keep track of data leaks, such as when emails and passwords are stolen from companies by hackers. Your antivirus or VPN tools may also offer a similar service you can register with.

A popular site to check is Have I Been Pwned. Here, you can enter your email addresses, and it will check if it’s ever come up in a data leak. If it has, you can consider changing passwords for accounts associated with that email address.

What is the first thing you should do when you’ve been hacked? 

Your first action will depend on the type of hack you’ve been exposed to. If you’ve given your security details or password away in a phishing attack, contact the company whose credentials you’ve given away and follow their processes.

When you get a ransomware notice, first, you should take a photo in case you need it later. Then, you should turn off your device and disconnect it from networks, so remove any SIM cards or internet cables. After that, you should seek professional advice about your next steps.

My email has been hacked, how do I fix it? 

When someone has gotten into your emails and changed your password, you should be able to reclaim the account as long as you can access your phone or backup email address. Each email provider will have different processes for you to follow.

What do I do if my phone is hacked?

If your phone has been hacked and compromised, the first thing you should do is go through all of your apps and delete any that look unfamiliar. You can find a complete list of apps through your settings menu on Android or Apple phones.

See:  Crypto Hacking Reached $3.8 Billion in 2022 (Biggest on record)

Once everything suspicious is deleted, use your security software tools to scan your phone again. Check data usage and performance to see if there are still signs of a hacker being present. If all else fails and you can’t get rid of the hacker, you should back up as much of your data as possible and perform a factory reset.

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