While the first reaction may be to panic, the best possible first step if you think you’ve been hacked based on any of these 7 signs is to disconnect your computer from the internet and take a deep breath. If you’ve got antivirus software already installed on your computer, run the scan immediately.
If your antivirus scan catches a virus, the program will usually give you step-by-step instructions on what to do next. Don’t panic. Below are many options and ideas to consider if you think you’ve been hacked and how you can prevent getting hacked in the first place:
Were you hacked?
1. Run Antivirus Software ASAP
When you’re running any antivirus scans or troubleshooting, start from the actual antivirus software program. Don’t follow pop-ups or notifications. If there is indeed a compromise, it should show up on the dashboard of the antivirus software program.
- Keep your antivirus software updated – hackers are coming up with new viruses often so if you are up-to-date you’re less likely to be compromised. Or the virus is more likely to get caught.
- Be familiar with your antivirus software notifications and alerts so if you ever get a pop-up or notification, you’ll be more apt to notice fake ones.
- Write down the contact information of the antivirus software you’ve installed and have it near the computer.
If you feel pretty confident that you’ve unfortunately been hacked but your antivirus scan comes up empty, take a break and call customer service of antivirus software directly. Do not follow links to have a rep call you. Use the number you’ve written down, and call them directly so you know you’re not being duped.
If you don’t have antivirus software installed, make sure to install one and do a computer scan. You can find our top recommendations here with our top recommendation being TotalAV. Their product is full of features to keep you safe from malware and protect you when browsing the internet including ransomware protection, real-time antivirus protection, elimination of viruses and malware, a tool to free up your computer’s space, plus more. Protects Windows, Mac, Android & iOS Devices. Limited time deal for CyberGuy readers: $19 your first year (80% off).
2. Reformat or reset to factory settings
Sometimes a virus or other nefarious entities have overrun the computer so badly that you might need to simply reformat or reset it to factory settings. If you’ve uninstalled or deleted suspicious programs or applications only to have them reload upon restarting your computer, you may simply need to start from scratch. This is why it is crucial to have recent backups of your data. The article How to securely get rid of your old PC or Mac outlines how to reset to factory settings or reformat your computer.
3. Delete settings or extensions on browsers or uninstall and reinstall browsers completely
There have been many times I have gone to help my parents with their online accounts only to be inundated with pop-ups, redirects, or random links on their browser bar or menu. It turned out that they had either accidentally downloaded extensions that embedded themselves to the browser or worse changed the browser setting to open a spammy website as their main search engine or landing page. You can go to settings or preferences and delete extensions you do not recognize. But if these settings or extensions keep reappearing after deleting and restarting the browser, it is likely a bigger problem. Then uninstall the browser, and see if you can reinstall it. If that brings up the same settings again then it could be a much more invasive virus or malware that needs to be addressed with an antivirus scan or assistance from a professional.
4. Turn off or restrict remote access
While it is harder for hackers to access your computer if it is completely turned off, if you have allowed remote access, a hacker just needs your computer to be hooked up to a network or the internet in order to take over your device and turn it on.
To prevent remote access to your PC:
- Click the ‘Windows Start button’
- Input “Allow Remote Assistance” in the search bar
- Uncheck the box next to “Allow Remote Assistance connections to this computer”
- Click ‘Apply’
- Press Ctrl+Alt+Del
- Click ‘Task Manager’
- Review your current processes
- Identify if there are any processes or applications that look unusual or suspicious
To prevent remote access on Macs:
- Click the ‘Apple logo’ icon on the top left corner
- Click ‘System Preferences’
- Click ‘Sharing’ icon
- Uncheck the boxes next to Remote Login and Remote Management
5. Review your activity monitor on your computer and network traffic patterns
Periodically, checking your computer’s activity monitor to check which programs are running and what is using up the most bandwidth is a healthy practice. It will teach you to spot any programs or traffic that is unusual or if someone else is connecting to your computer remotely.
To review this activity on your PC:
- Go to ‘Control Panel’
- Click ‘Administrative Tools’
- In ‘Event viewer’, look for the events that are related to startup and shutdown. Any shutdown will be listed there and which program or user-initiated that startup or shutdown. This way you can see if these actions are that of a virus, or an update process
To review this activity on your Mac:
- Go to menu bar on the top left when you first log on to your account
- Select ‘Go’
- In the drop-down menu, select ‘Utilities’
- When a menu pops up, one of the first options should be ‘Activity Monitor’
- Go to your ‘Applications’ folder on your dock (usually located on the bottom or right-hand side of the screen)
- Go to ‘Utilities’ folder
- Select ‘Activity Monitor’
Top 3 Preventative Measures to Not Get Hacked
1. Turn on 2-Step Authentication
Yes, it can be annoying to input a code sent to your email or phone every time you log into your account, but that process can be a saving grace. When a hacker has managed to guess or access your email address or username and starts trying to guess your password, you’ll get a notification every time someone tries. If you or the account notices multiple attempts, it’ll automatically lock your account and/or notify you. If you’re notified, you have the option of using your phone or another device (if you feel your computer has been compromised) to log into the account in question and change passwords and notify the company of the account. Better to be inconvenienced than hacked!
2. Back up data
This may not seem relevant to an article about hacking, but having your data off your computer and safely on an external hard drive or the cloud, will give you more options if you think you’ve been hacked. If you need help deciding what type of data backup would be best for you, please take a look at these articles:
If a hack is bad enough, sometimes a complete wipe of your system is the only way to salvage your computer. If you have a safe copy of your data, while it might be inconvenient you will not lose all your data. Also, if you keep more sensitive data off your more frequently used computer then your data is less likely to be compromised if you do get hacked.
3. Configure your email settings
If you configure your email settings to not automatically load content such as images or attachments, then it is harder for viruses or other malware from being automatically downloaded or accidentally opened. If you also have emails received first in rich text format, you can choose which emails load fully with images once you realize it is from a trusted source.
- Click settings gear
- Choose See all settings
- under General tab, go to Images row and choose Ask before displaying external images
- Go to bottom of page and click Save changes
- Click hamburger menu (3 horizontal lines)
- Select Settings
- Select which account you want to manage and scroll to bottom and click Images row
- Select Ask before displaying external images
- Select Mail
- Click Preferences
- Select Viewing
- Uncheck the box that says Load remote content in messages
- Now if you want to view an image within an email, you can click Load remote content button to view the blocked image
Outlook Desktop (PC)
- Go to File
- Click Options
- Click Trust Center
- Select Trust Center Settings
- Click Automatic Download
- Check box that says Don’t download pictures automatically in standard HTML email messages or RSS items
Outlook Desktop (Mac)
- Click Preferences
- Select Reading
- Click Security
- Tap Never to prevent image downloads
- Click Settings
- Select More Settings
- Click Viewing email
- In the Show images in messages section, click Ask before showing external images
Looking for private and secure email solutions? See: Best Private and Secure Email Providers 2022
With the uptick in computer activity, the uptick in cybercriminal activity seems inevitable. While it may seem incredibly daunting and discouraging, you are taking proactive steps in ensuring your safety and security by doing your best: keeping informed with articles such as this one, putting appropriate programs and services into place, and making well-measured choices when faced with suspicious scenarios.
It’s important to remember that every single American will at some point deal directly or indirectly with a hacker. But it’s even more important to remember that there are always preventative options and solutions to every challenge. You are not alone.