Ever since computers became mainstream in the mid-’80s, hackers have been quite a nuisance to government entities, corporations, and individuals alike. Despite the efforts of the operating system (OS) and anti-hacking software developers, hackers have only grown their power and capabilities and have found innovative ways to thwart security measures.
Thankfully, when your computer is hacked, there are usually tell-tale signs of the attack, allowing you to take action and try to prevent the loss of valuable data or permanent hardware damage. Keep reading to learn about the five most common signs of a digital security breach.
1. Frequent and random pop-ups
While browsing the Internet, occasional pop-ups appear, many of which are created by the site you’re browsing and are relevant to your user experience. However, if you notice a spike in seemingly random or suspicious pop-ups, you should have some concern. For example, if you see numerous pop-ups that are entirely unrelated to the content you’re viewing, it may be the result of a form of indirect hacking known as malware.
To deal with this problem, you can try uninstalling any recently downloaded apps or browser extensions. If you haven’t already, consider investing in anti-malware software to prevent future attacks.
2. Your computer suddenly crashes, slows down, or won’t start
While aging or wear and tear can cause a computer to crash or slow down, this more commonly results from a virus or other form of malware. In most cases, the malware directly affects core runtime components of the operating system itself, causing the PC to crash or slow down. In more serious cases, your PC may not start at all.
The right anti-malware software can quickly root out malware attacks before they have the chance to damage your PC. However, if you don’t have this software and an attack has already occurred, you may still be able to recover your device. If you have backups of important files and documents and are willing to wipe the existing data in the installation drive (for Windows OS users, this is usually the C drive), then you can try reinstalling the operating system.
3. Suspicious email activity
Suspicious email activity is of the oldest forms of hacking, dating back to the days of MS-DOS when stealing data was the main priority for hackers. How can you recognize suspicious activity? You may notice a mass amount of emails, often with irrelevant attachments, sent out from your address. This indicates that your email account, not your computer, has been hit by a ransomware hack. This type of attack typically involves the demand for many in order to restore access to your accounts and properties. You can find out how ransomware works here.
4. New programs installed without your knowledge
If you notice new programs installed to your computer that you or another user didn’t download, it’s a sure sign of hacking. Often referred to as Trojans, this type of malware gains access through system backdoors.
Typically, Trojan malware is bundled with harmless third-party programs and gets installed in the background without your knowledge. Since the malware accesses your system through backdoors via other software, they don’t have uninstallers like legitimate programs and software.
To remedy this type of hacking, first, you have to manually review all recently installed software and identify the ones that don’t come from mainstream vendors. Once identified, you can do one of two things: quarantine the Trojan through a dependable anti-malware software or uninstall the main program, which often scrubs the Trojan along with it.
5. Your passwords stop working
These days, most PC and smart device users have numerous accounts on different websites and social media that require user IDs and passwords. If you find that your password for a certain site doesn’t work despite multiple tries spread across a few hours, there’s a chance you’ve been hacked. This form of direct hacking typically targets online payment and banking accounts.
Should this happen to you, you immediately need to try to access your email. In many cases, hackers grab your credentials by using phishing emails that appear to come from banks or other high-authority organizations to avoid suspicion. If you still have access to your email account, immediately request a password change and change your email login credentials as well. You might also want to warn professional acquaintances and friends to help them avoid the same pitfall.
Take preventative action
With so much personal information on your computer and your online accounts, you can’t afford to underestimate the risk of hacking, especially if you own a business. According to a study by the National Cyber Security Alliance, 60% of small and medium businesses close within six months of suffering a data breach.
The issue of malware won’t go away any time soon. Whether you manage a business or are an everyday consumer, it’s important to protect your assets and information with up-to-date anti-malware software.