How to check if I’ve been hacked and how to recover

Andrew Showstead

January 18, 2024

  • # Identity Protection
  • # Account Protection
  • # Fraud Prevention

If you’ve noticed suspicious activity in your social media accounts or unfamiliar software suddenly appearing on your computer, you may need to step back and ask yourself, “Have I been hacked?”

Every interaction you make online has the potential to expose you to hackers, and knowing how to check if you've been hacked is key to protecting yourself. In this guide, you’ll learn how to identify if you’re the target of a hack, the steps you can take to recover from a hack, and the common tricks cyber criminals use to compromise your digital security.

How to know if you’ve been hacked

Knowing the indicators of a hacking incident can help you act quickly and effectively to protect yourself. Here are 17 common signs to look out for that may indicate someone has compromised your device or data.

1. Online password issues

Being unable to log into your online accounts with your regular passwords or getting the boot from multiple services or digital platforms all at once are signs of account compromise. Typically, hackers will change the passwords to take control and try to keep you out.

2. Unfamiliar logins and network traffic

You might notice strange activity on your devices or network. For example, if you see searches in Google you never made, unfamiliar devices connecting to your network, or logins for your own devices in locations you haven’t visited, this might suggest unauthorized access. Regularly checking these logs can help you spot intrusions early.

3. Social media invitation anomalies

If you notice invitations to add friends going out from your social media accounts that you didn’t send, it likely means someone is fraudulently using your account.

4. Third-party hacking notifications

This occurs when friends, family, or service providers detect suspicious activity or messages from your account, serving as the initial alert to a hack.

5. Leaked confidential data

Discovering that your personal information is part of an organization's data breach or finding out your information is exposed on the dark web or online is a clear indication of a security compromise.

6. Fake antivirus messages

These pop-ups falsely claim that you have an infected operating system and often try to trick you into buying unnecessary software. They can appear authentic, but hackers design them to take advantage of your fear of a security threat.

7. Spam email receipt

Experiencing an influx of spam emails, especially ones threatening loss of money or extortion, may indicate that hackers are targeting your account.

8. Unusual sent emails

If you notice outgoing messages in your email account that you never wrote or sent, it means someone may have gained access to your account.

9. Unexpected software installs

Finding new, unexplained software on your device could signal you’ve accidentally downloaded malware. This is malicious software hackers use to tap into devices and networks. Once downloaded, it can steal your information, track your activity, and disrupt normal operations.

10. Frequent, random pop-ups

Excessive pop-ups can signify a malware infection, especially from sites that don’t usually generate them. These could also be attempts to trick you into revealing personal information or downloading additional malware.

11. Redirected internet searches

If your internet searches redirect to unrelated sites, this could indicate a browser hijack. This malware redirects your web searches to generate ad revenue or steal your data.

12. Unwanted browser toolbars

New, unfamiliar toolbars or extensions in your browser can also be a sign of malware. Cyber criminals may use these to track your browsing activity or redirect your searches.

13. Ransomware alerts

When your screen locks with a message demanding a ransom to access your files, it's a clear sign of ransomware. This is a type of malicious software that encrypts your files, turning them into unreadable code and making them inaccessible until you pay a ransom. Unfortunately, even paying the ransom doesn't guarantee recovery of your files.

14. Disabled security software

If your antivirus or security tools suddenly turn off, this is a big red flag. Malware often tries to turn off security software to prevent detection.

15. Suspicious mouse movements

If your mouse moves independently and makes selections, it could mean a remote attacker has taken control of your computer. 

16. Financial discrepancies

Unexplained transactions in your bank or online accounts can indicate hacking and financial fraud.

17. Identity theft indicators

If you notice unauthorized financial activities linked to your name, such as unfamiliar money transactions or new credit accounts you never opened, this is a clear sign of identity theft.

What to do if you’ve been hacked

If you've been hacked, taking quick action can minimize damage and help you regain control of your accounts. Here are some essential steps to recovery:

  1. Change passwords: Update all passwords, prioritizing accounts with suspicious activities. Choose complex passwords combining letters, numbers, and symbols.

  2. Enable two-factor authentication: This authentication method, also known as 2FA, requires you to provide two different forms of identification, like a password plus a code from a security app, to log into your accounts. You can also use biometric authentication from IronVest, which uses a scan of your face each time you log in as an extra form of identification. The added layer of security helps keep unauthorized users from gaining access, even if they have your password. 

  3. Secure Wi-Fi network: To make sure no hackers can capture your data through your network, reset your Wi-Fi, change your network login password, and disable remote access to your router. If possible, consider investing in a virtual private network (VPN), which encrypts your internet connection and prevents unauthorized parties from eavesdropping on your online activity.

  4. Malware scan: Use reliable antivirus software to scan your devices and identify and remove any malware.

  5. Disconnect devices from Wi-Fi: To prevent the spread of malware, immediately disconnect any hacked devices from your network.

  6. Check for suspicious logins: Review account activities for any unknown devices or unusual sign-ins and sign those out.

  7. Update systems and software: Hackers will look for gaps in security as a means to gain unauthorized access to your devices or systems. Ensure your operating system and all software are up to date to patch any system vulnerabilities.

  8. Unlink online accounts: Disconnect social media accounts from other services to limit access points for cyber criminals. For example, if you authorized eBay to use your Facebook credentials to log into your eBay account, disconnect the two.

  9. Credit freeze and account blocks: If your financial information was the target of the hack, call your bank or credit issuer’s fraud department to block any compromised accounts, and contact each major credit bureau (Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian) to freeze your credit and protect your credit score.

  10. Lock SIM card: If the hacker accessed your mobile device, ask your mobile carrier to lock your SIM card to protect your mobile security. This is the removable card in your mobile phone that stores your subscriber information and enables network connectivity. Hackers may try to swap out the phone number associated with your SIM to take control of anything tied to your phone number, so you want to act fast.

Different types of hacks

Understanding the different types of cyber attacks hackers use is essential for boosting your digital security and preparing for threats. Here are a few of the most common attacks:

  • Phishing scams: Cyber criminals will trick victims into revealing sensitive information by sending fraudulent emails, text messages, and links asking for information — otherwise known as phishing

  • Malware infections: Malware software can include viruses, worms (self-replicating malicious code), and trojans (disguised malicious software) that harm your computer or steal data.

  • Ransomware: This type of malware encrypts a victim's files, demanding a ransom for access.

  • Data breaches: A data breach happens when unauthorized individuals gain access to sensitive information, like personal details or financial records. 

  • Man-in-the-middle attacks: In these attacks, hackers will intercept communication between two entities, such as a computer user and the WiFi they’re accessing, to steal or manipulate any transferred data.

  • Denial-of-service (DoS) attacks: In a DoS attack, cyber criminals will try to make a computer system, service, or website stop working by flooding it with too much traffic or disruptive actions, rendering them inoperable.

  • Structured Query Language (SQL) injection: Attackers may insert malicious SQL code into a database to access and manipulate the data. 

  • Zero-day exploits: Cyber criminals exploit unknown vulnerabilities in software before developers can fix them. 

What happens when you get hacked?

The consequences of a hacking incident can vary greatly depending on the nature and extent of the breach. Short-term effects often include lost access to accounts, financial theft, and data compromise. Long-term consequences of hacks can be serious and may include identity theft, diminished privacy, and ongoing security vulnerabilities.

Organizations that are subject to hacks may also face reputational damage, loss of customers, and legal battles.

The best protection is prevention

Proactively educating yourself on the latest hacking tactics and taking preventive measures is the best defense against cyber attacks. You can significantly enhance your security by regularly updating software and operating systems, using strong passwords and a password manager, and enabling 2FA. It’s also important to back up your information and keep a secure copy in case of theft or data manipulation.

As you go about your daily tasks on your computer or phone, always remember to avoid suspicious links and attachments. Use secure networks, especially for sensitive transactions like money transfers and filling out forms with personal data, and be vigilant about online privacy settings to safeguard against potential hacks.

Embracing cyber security with IronVest

As cyber hacks continue to increase in frequency and complexity, it’s important to stay vigilant against potential threats to your digital privacy. To strengthen your defense plan, you need intelligent tools to analyze the websites you visit, send alerts for any suspicious activity, and mask your sensitive information.

IronVest offers those very tools within its security and privacy-focused super app. With advanced security features such as website analysis, threat alerts, and masked email services, IronVest ensures your information remains secure. Explore how IronVest can be your ally against cyber attacks, empowering you to take proactive steps in securing your online presence.

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