Being hacked is the single biggest fear of most computer users. Many believe that the first sign of strange behaviour or errors on their PC is a sign that hackers have taken control. But are hackers really inside your machine, stealing your information? Or should we be on the lookout for more subtle signs? What does being hacked really look like?
There is an important distinction to make between being hacked by a person and being infected with a virus or malware. Virus software and malware are automated processes designed to damage your system, steal your data, or both. There are of course ways that we can defeat these processes, but what if we are instead hacked by an individual?
Our previous blog posts have warned people about not allowing strangers to remotely access their computers unless they are 100% sure that they are genuine.
Remote Support technology is a very useful tool but if you allow the wrong people to remotely connect, they can be doing things in the background that you may not be aware of. For example, whilst speaking to you they can be downloading software that they can then use to convince you that your computer has a problem – i.e. displaying fake error messages. Needless to say, they can also be gathering information from your computer too.
They can also leave software on your machine which in many cases is very difficult to spot. You should only allow people to connect when you have approached them – never from a phone call or email coming to you out of the blue, no matter how believable or what they appear to know about you.
Logins not working
One of the first steps a hacker might take would be to change the computers passwords. By doing so, not only do they ensure future access to the account, they prevent you from accessing the system to stop them. For the hacker, this is a crucial step that keeps them in control.
Being hacked is not the only reason why you may not be able to login, but it is a possible symptom that you need to bear in mind. We always need to make sure to keep on top of our own login details and how often we change them.
Security Emails or SMS’s from online services
Many services track which device and location you logged into your account from last. If your account is accessed from a new device or a different country it might trigger an automated email or SMS to ask if this new login is your own.
If you have logged in using a new computer, tablet, or phone; an email that asks “hey, is this you?” need not be cause for alarm. If you haven’t, it may be time to investigate further. This service is an important part of information security and may be a key first step to identify someone else gaining access to your account.
Bank accounts – strange transactions
Most commonly today, hackers commit crimes to steal money. The end goal for hackers is typically to profit from their crimes by taking money from people online. Obviously it pays to keep a regular eye on your financial transactions to make sure you know what money is coming and going from your account, especially when doing online banking.
Whilst you may see a large sum missing where hackers have attempted to take as much as they can in a single transaction, this is not always the case. Alternatively small, hard to notice transactions may sometimes appear. These often account for small purchases where attackers have tested the details that they have, to make sure they work. Hackers may even wait months before attempting a transaction.
Either way, the sooner you spot unusual or unrecognized transactions, the better.
Sudden loss of cellular connectivity
Mobile network interruption is a symptom that few people expect but occurs commonly when hackers attack. Many banks and online services use a security feature known as Two-factor authentication. To do this they send a short code to your phone or app when you log in. Two-factor authentication is ideal in most cases and is a great boost to security.
Determined hackers can try to work around this by calling your mobile service provider to report your phone as lost or stolen. During this call, they will request your phone number be transferred to a new sim card that they control. When your bank sends its regular two-factor authentication code to the number registered, it goes instead to the hacker who may be able to log in. From your perspective the phone service will simply stop working.
Unusual or unrecognized icons
In many cases hacking software tries to be stealthy and not be seen, but there are some that do not hide themselves so much because the hackers believe that it may not be noticed. A common one is remote connection software that can only be seen as a tiny icon in the bottom right-hand corner of a Windows computer, which automatically starts up every time you switch the computer on. It is hiding amongst all the other small icons and is frequently overlooked.
Similarly there may be an icon appearing on the Desktop which you do not recognize or remember installing, or your normal search engine changes to something else – if a virus or malware has caused this, what else is going on?
Keeping vigilant and maintaining security
These are only some of the modern techniques that hackers can try to use to gain access to your accounts. You don’t need to be paranoid but it pays to be extra vigilant and pay close attention to the signs and signals that indicate you may have been hacked.
Also, make sure that you have a good security product installed – it makes it that much harder for hackers.
If you suspect that you might have been hacked, or would like help to prevent hackers in future, give us a call on 01455 209505 and we’ll help improve your security.