Having a great antivirus product installed on your Windows 10 computer is only the beginning of your journey to achieving a decent level of security on the internet. The malware world is developing so fast that it’s becoming increasingly difficult for anti-malware products to keep up.
Apart from the top two or three anti-malware products, many security software programs aren’t sufficiently accurate. This is especially true when detecting malware that is 24 hours old or younger. Hackers have a tendency to start working on a new exploit as soon as an anti-malware product patches the previous exploit. These small changes to malware distribution make even the greatest of malware products virtually useless.
The best anti-malware products, though, combat this problem via heuristics.
Heuristics is currently the most widely used technique to combat malware samples that are still too new to be recognized. There are also anti-malware products that offer virtual environments along with network traffic detection and system monitor tools to further stop malware from harming your computer.
But these tools still are not enough. Sometimes a malware sample will be able to bypass all of these measures. And for those cases, you will need other methods to know if your computer is harboring a malware sample.
Here are the top ways to tell if your Windows 10 computer has been hacked:
You Get Redirected To Random Pages When You Search
This is one of the oldest techniques hackers still use to make money and steal private information. Hackers exploit your web browser in a way that redirects you to a random malicious page that you did not request to go to. So, instead of going to the homepage of Google when you type www.google.com, your browser takes you to another webpage that may or may not be related to where you wanted to go.
Why do hackers do this? Well, they get someone to pay them for generating traffic for their website. By redirecting you to their client’s website, they can increase the number of clicks on the site, which ultimately leads to some amount of money being generated.
One easy way to check if your system has been hacked through this method is to open up your browser and use the search engine to search for something that people commonly search for. “Cats” or “Dogs” are two terms that are very relevant to this case. Now, if you see that your first search results page is showing you the same kind of websites—in the same kind of order for different search terms—and those results aren’t related to what you were searching for, that’s a pretty good sign that your Windows device has been hacked in some way.
Note:The only problem with modern redirecting techniques is that hackers sometimes use several proxies to hide them.
Toolbar programs that you have identified as fake may also be performing the redirecting activity. Readers who have the necessary technical experience can use sniffing applications to check their network and browser traffic. In an uncompromised computer, the traffic sent by the user and returned to the user will not have the same patterns as in a compromised computer.
Fake Antivirus Notifications
One of the most obvious ways to tell if your Windows computer has been hacked is if you see antivirus notifications telling you that your device has been hacked. Of course, if you have installed a legitimate antivirus product, it will pop up notifications letting you know about any potential malware samples on your machine.
But if you haven’t installed any antivirus products on your desktop computer and you’re using the default Windows Defender, then any message that notifies you about a virus and asks you to visit a website or purchase a virus removal product is undoubtedly fake and a sign that malware is present on your device.
Most of the time, such fake antivirus messages try to trick users into believing that they are from a genuine product when they are not. Such messages employ all sorts of techniques to convince you that there is something wrong with your device. These messages will let you know that your machine has not one but multiple malware infections in the hope that you would let your guard down and seek quick solutions to the problem.
This is probably the most dreaded of all malware signs. The signs are easy to identify as ransomware attacks usually take control of your machine, encrypt all your data and show you a message on the screen asking for a certain amount of money if you want to get your files back.
Every year, companies and individuals lose billions of dollars from ransomware attacks.
Random Toolbars Have Appeared on Your Web Browser
While not as dangerous as ransomware, unwanted toolbars do indicate that at least your web browser is in trouble. An add-on may have exploited a security vulnerability and now you have useless toolbars that you don’t remember installing, blocking your screen and bogging down your computer. These toolbars usually give off the impression that they are there to help you.
Pro Tip:The best way to tell if your browser has been compromised or hacked is to look at the developer of the toolbar. If it is unknown, you need to get rid of the toolbar.
Random Annoying Pop-Ups
Whether or not random pop-ups are frequent isn’t the issue here. If you see annoying notifications flooding your screen, this could be a sign that your system might have been hacked. Keep in mind that the pop-ups don’t have to appear on your desktop per se. If you’re using a browser and a browser notification pops up with an annoying ad, that is a sign of a potential compromise.
Note:The pop-ups themselves can come from any number of malicious websites. What you may not know is that sometimes legitimate sites bypass browser pop-up blocking mechanisms to show you pop-ups you don’t want to see.
Your Password Has Stopped Signing In
One of the most obvious ways to know that your computer has been hacked on Windows 10 or any other operating system is when your passwords stop working. Take note, though, that you must ensure (multiple times) that you have typed the password correctly. There is no point in getting stressed over your system being hacked if all you have done is input the wrong password.
Sometimes, the website, app or service you are trying to access is genuinely experiencing technical problems. So, even if you input the right password, it may still not allow you access to your account. Try again after an hour or so, and if you still can’t log into your account, then that might mean your device is compromised.
Most of the time, though, you will inadvertently give the hacker your password. This technique is known as phishing. Using this technique, hackers get you to visit a legitimate-looking website like Facebook or Gmail. The website looks authentic and asks you for your email/username and password so that you can use another third-party service.
In actuality, the website is a malware-ridden clone of the website you wanted to visit. You input your login information and it gets sent directly to the hacker. Thus, you send sensitive information to hackers because you made the mistake of not checking thoroughly whether or not the website you were trying to log in to was actually the website it claimed to be.
Your Social Media Accounts Automatically Send Invitations From You To Your Contacts
Of course, you didn’t send these invitations. But your recipients don’t know that. And this can happen on all sorts of websites, social media platforms, messaging apps, and the like.
For example, on Facebook, many users have reported receiving friend invitations from people they were already friends with. Similarly, many users have had friend requests sent to someone else they don’t know.
It is tempting to dismiss the friend request and other such incidences (like invitations to play a game in a web browser on a platform like Facebook) as just silly mistakes on the part of the sender or a misunderstanding (why are they sending me a friend request when we are already friends? And if they are, does that mean they actually unfriended me first to resend the friend invitation?).
But, it is generally a sign that the social media website you are using has been compromised, or maybe hackers have started to make lookalike profiles on the platform to deceive people. It is also possible that the social media app you are using has been bugged.
This is important:Facebook allows you to report such incidents on the platform through your account.
You See Software That You Don’t Remember Installing
Some signs are obvious and some are more subtle. But the one sign that acts like a massive billboard saying that your computer may have been hacked is that of unexpected software showing up on your system.
In short, if you see that your Windows computer has software that you did not install, it is pretty much a dead giveaway that your system has been hacked.
Fake programs that came in with malware—which further changed the behavior of legitimate programs on a target computer—used to be a huge problem in the past.
Now, they have evolved from that to worms and Trojans, which attempt to install themselves onto the target machine in the same manner as any genuine program would. Some say hackers have taken this approach now because they want to have a safety net so that when/if they get caught, they can at least make the case that they offered legitimate software, even when the software isn’t legitimate at all.
The vast majority of such garbage software actually comes bundled with legitimate programs. We won’t discuss why legitimate programs make the decision of including malware-ridden products, but we will mention that this should give you all the reasons you need to just go over the license agreements you accept when you install new software on your Windows device. Software installers usually give you the option to opt-in and/or opt-out of installing bundled malicious software, so don’t forget to take advantage of that.
Your Mouse Isn’t Functioning Properly
Sometimes your hardware and/or software will malfunction and your mouse will move on its own and make random selections anywhere on the screen. However, if you find that your mouse is making legitimate selections that aren’t guided by your own hand using the device, that is a clear sign your computer has been hacked. So, check to see if the random mouse selections and movements are indeed random and not opening certain programs each time they “malfunction.”
Note:You may never get infected this way, as this technique is not as popular as it used to be. Hackers usually employ this technique when they compromise a system but want to wait until the user is away from their physical computer to start performing clicks.
Most of the time, these types of hacks often take place during night hours when hackers steal information from the target machine without interruption and then proceed to steal the victim’s money. But of course, nowadays, you not only need to worry about your banking credit card or debit card but also your stocks, savings, social media account, email account and work project files.
You Can’t Access Your Registry Editor or Task ManagerIf you can’t access your Registry Editor, Task Manager or even your anti-malware product, this might be a sign your system has been targeted by hacking. Sometimes, an advanced antivirus product can disable access to your Task Manager or Registry Editor for a while. But if yours has never done that and suddenly you can’t access these tools, then that means your computer has been compromised.
Generally speaking, if you did not disable your antivirus product, but somehow it turned itself off, then you should start paying more attention to your device. Sometimes, the Registry Editor and/or Task Manager will open up when you click on their icons or use the keyboard shortcuts on Windows 10 but then suddenly close. Again, if this happens to you, it usually means your computer has been compromised.
You Are Losing Money
The sole purpose of any hacking activity is financial benefit. That is why hackers mostly deal in stealing victims’ money. Almost everyone uses internet banking to pay bills or other expenses online.
If a hacker has your sensitive information, they can use that information to log in to your bank account and take every last dollar you made away from you. Most of the time, the hacker will transfer nearly all of the funds available in your account to a bank in a foreign country.
As we covered above, hackers usually compromise your device while minimizing any obvious signs so you can’t take any action to try and stop them. Then, they can get to work and steal your money. So, keep an eye out for phishing emails pretending to be from your bank, financial services provider or stock broker.
This is important:Always check the sender’s email address and confirm its authenticity before clicking any links or opening any attachments.
This one relates more to organizations and companies than individuals. But if you find out that sensitive data belonging to your company has made its way to the internet (more specifically on the dark web or other internet forums), then it might be safe to assume that someone has been hacking into your system to steal your data.
Data leaks have become pretty common, and chances are that if your organization didn’t notice your data being made available to the public, the mainstream media and stakeholders would likely let you know.
Someone Tells You That Your Computer Has Been HackedMany organizations that do end up getting hacked don’t have the resources to actually know that hackers have compromised their systems. It is usually a third-party security firm or an independent security researcher who informs the organization about the hack. And perhaps that makes sense since companies all over the world struggle to make money not just for their survival or the survival of the employees working for the company but also investors, board members and executives.
This is why companies should pay attention to notifications sent out by reputable security firms. With that said, though, you should exercise caution while taking action on the information that such messages present to you. Make sure it has come from a reputable security firm and the sender of the message really is from the company they claim to represent.
If you combine the number of user credentials in the various data breaches recently, they likely amount to billions. Many online users have had their credentials compromised at one point or another. Just like with data leaks, credentials dumps are also readily available on the dark web and various sketchy internet forums.
Most of the time, hackers use a combination of a website database breach, malware and phishing to get large user credential folders. In contrast to company data leaks, you will not hear about your compromised credentials from any security firm, news source or other third-party companies. The only other option left is to seek out information about various recent credential dumps. And that’s what you should do to confirm whether your computer might have been compromised.
Pro Tip:It goes without saying that you should regularly visit websites and forums that deal with cybersecurity news so that as soon as a new data breach happens, you can be aware of it and then go about changing your credentials to prevent hackers from inflicting further damage to you or your organization. Sites like Have I Been Pwned are helpful for this.
Weird Network Traffic
You can spot signs of a compromise by looking at the traffic that comes in and goes out of any given Windows device. DDoS (or Distributed Denial of Service) attacks are known to alter network traffic to such an extent that the service or network they target shuts down and stops serving visitors.
On that note, you should also be on the lookout for any big data transfers to websites or servers that you don’t have an association with. Generally speaking, companies don’t invest much in areas like network traffic analysis. If they did, they would know exactly who they are dealing with on the internet and what type of traffic is moving around not to benefit the company but harm its servers. Outside security firms usually take advantage of this flaw and study network traffic patterns for companies to let them know when they spot something fishy.
If your computer takes forever to show you the first thing on the screen, then you and your data may be compromised by a hacker or someone else who wants to get their hands on your data. This is always something to be aware of when you’re trying to determine whether or not you’ve been hacked by a malicious entity.
In this article, we covered some of the most common signs you can observe to tell if your computer has been compromised on Windows 10.
Almost every time, threat prevention is more effective than a cure.
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