Antivirus programs are important for preventing cyber attacks, but it’s unwise to leave your computer security solely in the hands of your antivirus. In fact, most attacks are designed to infect your computer only when you perform an action that lets them in, or they trick you into installing them yourself. In today’s world of constant hacking threats, it’s more important to be aware of the common tactics of cyber criminals, and especially to know when you’ve been hacked.
There are many symptoms that could be possible signs of a malware intrusion. Some of them are subtle, and others are shockingly obvious. If your computer is suddenly exhibiting any strange behavior it’s always prudent to rule out a malware attack before it puts your privacy or finances in jeopardy. The following 5 signs are definite indications that your computer has been hacked.
1. Unknown software appears or unexpectedly begins installing
True viruses that install themselves without your help are actually somewhat rare these days. Most malware infects your system when you unwittingly install them yourself. These so-called “trojan horse” programs do this by masquerading as legitimate software, or they are bundled with a non-harmful program and infect your system when the benign software is installed.
2. Fake antivirus scan
Once you see this false scan begin, the malware has already infected your computer. It doesn’t help to press the cancel button. In order to spot this attack, you need to know what your own antivirus scan looks like. Usually, the purpose of this ruse is to get you to click a button or link that directs you to a website where you will be tricked into providing personal and financial information.
3. Your online passwords unexpectedly change
This is a sure sign that you or the company you do business with has been hacked. Once a hacker gains access to your account, they will change the password to delay your ability to regain control of the account. This gives them time to either steal your money or personal information. Hackers usually gain access to accounts through phishing scams, which means they have snared you into logging into at a fake login page that recorded your username and password when you typed it in.
4. Your cursor moves by itself intelligently
Benign computer errors can cause the mouse to move or behave in erratic ways, but if the cursor/pointer is interacting with programs with intentional and successful results on its own, you are witnessing a hacker that has taken control of your computer remotely. It’s not very common to see this, as hackers usually wait until they believe you are away from your computer, such as after midnight or when your computer has been idle for over an hour. Then they will use your computer to gain access to files, personal information or drain your financial accounts.
5. Your antivirus, registry editor or task manager are disabled unexpectedly
This is a serious sign of a likely malware attack. Malware is better able to take control of your computer if it disables your ability to remove it. By disabling your antivirus program, or shutting you out of your task manager and registry, it becomes much more difficult to stop it before it has enabled hackers to gain what they are after.
What should you do if you’re hacked?
If you find that your computer has been taken over and a criminal is trying to gain access to your finances or personal information, it’s best to cut the power to the system immediately. On the other hand, if you have found malware installed on your system, it’s best to try to quarantine or delete it before shutting down the computer because some viruses will infect the system files when you reboot. You may even want to back up files and completely wipe the hard drives, then do a fresh install of the operating system. This is the only way to be sure that all traces of malware are gone.
If you suspect your computer or online accounts have been compromised, you should always change all the passwords to your accounts, especially banks and financial institutions. You may also want to enable activity alerts with your financial accounts and use a (legitimate) credit monitoring service.
How do you prevent future attacks?
The most important way to prevent being hacked is to be very suspicious of any emails or website links that you are not familiar with. Don’t ever type in usernames and passwords without making sure you are on a genuine site and not a phishing site. One way to be sure you are not on a phishing site is to type in the URL of the website in the address bar rather than following a link.
In order to be secure in today’s world of frequent cyber threats, it is important to stay informed about the latest scams and tactics of hackers. It also helps to keep all anti-malware and system files up to date and change passwords for financial accounts on a regular basis.
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