The internet has made our lives easier and more convenient. There’s so much we can now do online. We can bank, shop, order food and connect with old friends around the world within seconds. But while digital technology has enhanced our lives in so many ways, it has also exposed us to threats that we didn’t have to face before.
Computer hacking has become increasingly sophisticated and capable of posing a major threat to our privacy and the security of our most sensitive data such as our usernames and passwords, credit card numbers, banking details and other valuable information. This means we need to pay close attention to any changes that occur on our computing devices.
How Hackers Get into Your Computer
In order to infect your computer with malware, a hacker will have to entice you to click on a link to an infected website that automatically downloads malware to your computer, or download an attachment that contains malicious software. One of the most effective ways they do this is by sending files that look legit such as MS Office documents or PDFs that contain hidden code that infects your computer. It is also quite common to get infected from a USB flash drive that contains any form of malware.
Here are 10 warning signs that your computer has been hacked and infected with malware:
1. Your antivirus software is disabled.
The first red flag that your computer has been compromised is if your antivirus software has been disabled and you didn’t do it yourself. It cannot turn off on its own. Disabling your antivirus software is usually the first thing an attacker will do when they hack into a computing device to prevent you from running a virus scan or antivirus software.
2. Fake virus warnings.
Fake virus alerts or warnings are the browser tab or web page pop-ups that you get when you visit a web page. They will display warnings that your computer is hacked, and that you need to call a number or click a link to fix it. If you are getting these alerts, then your computer has already been infected.
These alerts are fake and created by attackers, and they will try to get you to click on a link or contact a random phone number. What you must always reaize is that legitimate AV software will never prompt you to call a number or click a random link. Any links you click on will take you to professional-looking sites setup by cybercriminals to infect your computing device ad steal your confidential information.
3. You’re getting random pop-ups all of a sudden
If you’re suddenly getting a barrage of constant popups from websites that don’t normally generate them, that’s a big sign that your computer has been infected. You get these pop-ups because one of the first things a hacker will do is when they hack into a computer is to disable pop-up blocking software.
4. Your passwords suddenly don’t work
If the passwords to your online accounts stop working all of a sudden, this is a major red flag that your computing device has been hacked. This can be your password for your emails, social media accounts or even your computer. A common tactic when stealing information is to lock the real person out of their accounts by changing the password. When this happens, you may find that your friends have received weird messages on social media from you that you never sent, often containing a malicious link .
5. You discover strange, random applications on your computer
If you notice strange computer programs on your desktop that you or anyone else that uses the computer with you did not install, this is a clear warning sign that your machine has been infected with malware. Malicious software today has evolved into sophisticated programs that install themselves as legitimate software. This makes it very difficult to differentiate between real and fake applications. In many cases, these rogue programs get installed by attaching themselves to other software that you have installed together as a bundle.
6. Your web searches are being redirected.
If you’re repeatedly getting redirected to random, spammy websites whenever you search for stuff online, this is another symptom of hacking. This typically happens when you enter some keywords into a search engine. You’ll get a list of search results but when you click on one of them, instead of being taken to that website, you’re taken somewhere else. These redirects are often caused by adware and other different types of malware present on your system.
7. Programs start to crash repeatedly.
If your mouse is moving by itself or your once reliable applications suddenly begin to crash on a frequent basis, this is one of the biggest symptoms of malware infection. When this happens, you may not be able to open your files or programs. You may also find that your files have been randomly deleted. Any files ending in .exe are the file types that viruses tend to use. However, note that hackers can also disguise text documents, PDFs and images as viruses.
8. Random browser toolbars
Browser toolbars are one of the biggest red flags that most people overlook. If your browser suddenly has multiple toolbars that you never installed, then this is a sign that your device has been compromised. Some hackers will add toolbars to malicious websites which are designed to download trackable apps that monitor passwords to your social media and online banking accounts.
You’ll want to delete all of the toolbars that you don’t recognize. You can also restore your browser to its default settings if you are unable to remove any of those toolbars. If those toolbars stay deleted, then all may be well. But if they reappear after a few days, then you’re being actively hacked. This is why you should be very careful when installing any type of free software on your computer. Free software is one of the most common sources of random toolbar installation.
9. Your webcam blinks even when you’re not using it.
Webcam hacking is quite common nowadays, and the last thing you want is some creep spaying on you. If you notice your webcam activity light comes on and flickers even when you’re not using it, this is a sign that your computer has been hacked. Be sure to disconnect your webcam when you’re not using it. If it is built into your computer, you can cover it with black tape when you’re not using it.
10. The computer has slowed down.
All computers gradually slowdown in performance as they get older. Sometimes however, it may have nothing to do with the age of your computer. If the simplest tasks such as booting up and loading applications are taking considerably longer, it might mean that your computer’s processor is being overworked because it not only has to process the instructions that you’re giving it, but it also has to process instructions from the malware that’s been installed on the computer.
How can I check if my Windows 10 computer has a virus?
If you suspect that your Windows 10 computer has been infected by malware, start by running a full virus scan to detect the malware infecting your computer. If you don’t have antivirus installed and are running Windows 10, follow the steps below:
Type settings into the Windows search box to run the Settings app.
Click on Update and Security.
In the left menu, click on Windows Security.
In the Protection areas menu panel, click on Virus & Threat protection.
Scroll down to Current threats. Perform a full scan by clicking on Scan Options and select Full Scan and click on Scan Now.
What can I do if a virus scan is not fruitful?
Security software isn’t perfect. There could be instances where Microsoft Defender or any other antivirus software does not detect the malware on your computer. According to security experts, thousands of new malware are created every week, and a new strain could easily slip past your antivirus software and get into your system. Once on your system, you may find that you’re prevented from downloading or running any malware clean-up tool.
Here are some things you could try:
- Most antivirus companies will send you an ISO file that you can use to boot from a USB drive. This will launch a separate operating system with a built-in antivirus.
- Symantec offers a free, downloadable Norton Power Eraser tool that is used to detect threats using aggressive methods. You can run a virus scan with this tool.
- Run Malware Chameleon. This is a free utility tool that you can use to easily remove malware from your computing device. Once you have extracted the contents of the zip file, you’ll find a list of files that don’t appear to have anything to do with malware removal.
These files are so-called in order to fool the malware into thinking that the files don’t have anything to do with malware removal. Because the files don’t appear to be any type of security software, the malware doesn’t block them.
When you run these files, they will open a command prompt and download Malwarebytes in a way that won’t be detected by the malware. Anti-Malware is run automatically. It scans the disk and removes viruses and other malware.