Cyber SecurityHacking Protection 101

Have I Been Hacked? How to Find Out and Protect Yourself

Someone is hacked every 39 seconds. That was concluded by a study by Michael Cukier from the Clark School of Engineering

According to CyberCrime Magazine, a staggering 60% of small businesses that are hacked close within 6 months

That means that we are under a near-constant stream of attacks while we are connected to the internet. So it is imperative to your business’s success and to your own personal welfare to be protected and cautious at all times while online. 

Here’s how to find out if you’ve been hacked and what you can do to stop it from becoming a bigger problem, and how to prevent it from happening in the future

How to Tell if You’ve Been Hacked

Sometimes, it’s obvious. Your phone won’t start or your computer is missing files. Other times, it’s more subtle.

Here are a few indications you’ve been hacked:

  • Your email has been sending messages you didn’t create
  • Your passwords have changed without you knowing
  • Your device is installing software you didn’t authorize
  • You get fake antivirus messages asking you to install
  • Your personal data is leaked

Since there are almost endless indications of being hacked, it might be worthwhile to know what types of hacks are occurring out there.

What to Do If You’ve Been Hacked – In 3 Steps

So you’ve been hacked. We wrote an entire article about this so check that out. But these are the 3 things you should do immediately if you’ve been hacked:

1. Quarantine the affected PC

Disconnect from all networks and turn off all wireless connections such as Bluetooth and wifi. 

2. Change your passwords

Change your password from an unaffected device. Consider using a password manager to make the process easier. 

3. Alert those connected to you

Anyone who may be affected should know as soon as possible to avoid interacting with messages coming from your devices.

Bonus: Immediately Alert Your IT Department

If your work device has been compromised then you need to immediately alert your work IT department or manager. A compromised work computer could have serious business implications and you want to mitigate the damage as much as possible.

Why Do People Hack? 

Data about you sits on innumerable computer systems, vulnerable to breach. If you’re an American adult, your data was stolen in the notorious Equifax breach. Your personal data was also probably stolen in hacks against Target Stores, Home Depot, and others.

There are three primary reasons why people hack:

Espionage

Many hackers work for governments (either directly or indirectly). Their activities are intended to steal information that might be valuable from an espionage point of view. Examples include Chinese Intelligence’s theft of American weapons designs and the breach of the US Government’s Office of Personnel Management.

Disruption 

A hack is often designed to interrupt the activities of life. This can occur at the personal level, where someone makes your phone die, or in a corporate or government environment. The Sony Pictures Hack offers an example. In this case, North Korean agents caused embarrassment and business disruption at a movie studio that was releasing a film they considered insulting to their country.

Criminal Hacking

Hacking for profit is one of the biggest threats we all face. Typically, a criminal hacker is trying to steal data that is valuable enough to be sold on the “Dark Web,” which is a sort of global online black market. Hackers can sell personal information, credit card numbers, corporate system log-ins, trade secrets, and so forth to other criminals who use them to make money. You can encrypt your files so that it’s useless even if someone accesses your files. 

What Are The Different Types of Hacking?

Hacking is a lot less glamorous than it appears in the movies. In fact, the very best hacks are so skillfully done that the victim doesn’t even know they’ve been compromised.

There are many types of hacks, some are personal and targeted (your own devices and information only), others can be widespread and are caused by data breaches. If a company that holds your information unintentionally leaves their data vulnerable, it can lead to a data breach.

There are several different types of hacks:

Email Hacks

In your Apple or Google email settings, you’re able to check the physical locations where your account has been logged in. If you check the locations and see someone logging in from another state or country, that likely means you’ve been hacked.

How to Tell if My Email is Hacked

In some instances, the usernames and passwords of a large number of accounts will be shared online. Websites like HaveIBeenPwned.com and BreachAlarm.com let you search for your email address to see if your account info is listed among these hacked profiles.

Social Media Hacks

Social media accounts reveal hacking through sign-in locations. If your social media account password or email changes without your knowledge, you’ve almost certainly been hacked.

The same applies if:

  • Your name or birthday changes
  • Friend requests were made to people you don’t know
  • Messages have been sent from your account that you don’t recognize
  • Your account published posts you’ve never seen before

Mobile Device Hacks

Your mobile device might be hacked if you start to see unfamiliar apps installed. If your phone dies too quickly, that might indicate malware running in the background and using up your battery.

Or, you may get unexpected packages sent to your home. All of these symptoms suggest mobile device hacking.

Computer Hacks

It’s virtually certain that your computer has been hacked at one point or another without your knowledge. PCs, in particular, have been attractive targets for viruses and malware for at least two decades.

How do you know your computer has been hacked? Sometimes, it’s clear. Maybe it won’t start or your files are frozen by ransomware.

Other times, computer hacking is more subtle. For example, say your computer seems sluggish. You might have malware on your system that’s slowing you down but still enabling you to use the machine.

Examples include crypto-currency “mining” software and various forms of spyware that watch where you browse in order to send you spam messages.

Banking Hacks

Banking systems are typically harder to hack, but it certainly still happens.

Signs of bank hacking include unknown charges and fund transfers, but there are other early warning signs. If you don’t receive a statement in the mail on its expected date, that is a cause for alarm.

How to Tell if My Password Was Hacked

HaveIBeenPwned is also a great resource for this, but there are quite a few ways to see if your passwords have been compromised. 

If you use Google Chrome as a browser, you can use Chrome’s Password Checkup. 

chrome password check

It’s a great tool that is super easy to use. Chrome will let you know exactly which passwords are compromised and need updating (see below). 

chrome password check

Apple has similar features for both their mobile devices. Just got to the Settings button, then Passwords. Select Detect Compromised Passwords and you’re all set!

apple password check

6 Ways to Prevent Being Hacked

You have the ability to stop hackers, or at least make things a lot harder for them. To do this, keep in mind the following steps:

1. Prioritize email and password security

Use strong passwords or phrases. Make sure your security questions are not easily guessable. We also recommend having a password manager that is reliable and highly protected. This can allow you to have access to passwords and create difficult passwords that are not easy to guess. 

2. Update your software regularly

Developers add security features and patches over time, so make sure your apps and software are up to date.

3. Be careful about your online behavior

Secure browsing practices are recommended. Look for the “Secure” indication on sites that you visit and especially sites where you shop (On Chrome, it looks like a little green padlock).

4. Don’t trust Public Wi-Fi for sensitive work

Using public WiFi opens you up to a multitude of threats – yet 75% of people admit to checking their email on a public connection.

To avoid threats, never use public Wi-Fi to shop, use your credit cards, log in to banks or financial institutions, or any other sensitive sites.

Also, monitor your Bluetooth connection when in public places.

5. Monitor what you share on social media

Social sharing can expose you to risk. When hackers can learn details of your life, they can impersonate you.

For example, what’s your mother’s maiden name? Some Facebook profiles literally spell this out for hackers to steal. Physical safety is also a consideration here… if you post about your vacation, you could be telling burglars you’re not at home.

Careless oversharing on social media can also increase your risk of being the victim of a social engineering attack. These attacks might involve a hacker impersonating a friend or coworker in order to manipulate you into disclosing private information, login credentials, or even sending money.

6. Be aware of “grandparent hacks”

Older people are frequently targeted in so-called “grandparent” hacks.

In a grandparent hack, the hacker identifies a younger person’s age and name on social media. They use this information to contact their older family member, claiming to be the grandchild. The hacker will make a claim like mentioning they are stuck in a foreign city and need a wire transfer to get home.

Be aware of attacks like these and be careful about the information you share on social media.

Takeaways

If your computer is running sluggish, downloading strange programs, or if messages are coming from your accounts that you didn’t send, then you may have been hacked.

You will be unable to avoid some hacks, but your level of vulnerability much of the time depends on how well you secure yourself. The trick is to adopt strong security habits and avoid situations where you open yourself up to risk.

By learning to prevent what’s avoidable, you can mitigate most of what’s inevitable.

About the author

Hugh Taylor

Hugh Taylor is a Certified Information Security Manager (CISM) who has written about cybersecurity, compliance, and enterprise technology for such clients as Microsoft, IBM, SAP, HPE, Oracle, Google, and Advanced Micro Devices. He has served in executive roles at Microsoft, IBM, and several venture-backed technology startups. Hugh is the author of multiple books about business, security, and technology