How to know if you’ve been hacked (and what to do about it)
Hacking. It can be a simple annoyance. Or a serious incident that results in thousands of dollars being swindled from you, your family, friends, or customers.
Either way, it’s not something anyone wants to experience. Yet, many of us are inadequately prepared for such an attack. After all, how many of us use the same password for multiple accounts? Or occasionally download a questionable file? Or click ‘skip’ on the software update prompt.
I get it. Between work, the school run, household chores and extra-curricular activities, online security isn’t always high on the list of priorities. However, preparing for and preventing hacking doesn’t have to be complicated or time-consuming. All it takes is a little know-how.
Here are some simple things you can do right now to fight back against hackers.
1. When can hacking happen?
Hackers can target anyone. Beauty and the Beast star Emma Watson. Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson. Even billionaire CEO Mark Zuckerberg. They’ve all had accounts hacked.
Hacking can happen any time you’re online. Including via your email. Your social media such as Facebook and Instagram. Or by the hijacking of your website or blog.
It commonly occurs because of:
- Password theft
- Malicious software
- Fraudulent links (phishing scams)
To prevent these kind of attacks, the old advice regularly remains true.
Avoid obvious password combinations, such as birthdays or the still shockingly common ‘password123’. Don’t open attachments or follow links from unknown or suspect sources. Update your programs and virus protection software as prompted.
2. How to know when you’ve been hacked
The signs of a hack aren’t always obvious. ‘Eavesdropping’ attackers can monitor your behaviour online for months before stealing personal information, assets, or money from your bank accounts.
That said, there are often signs. You may notice programs not working as they should. Files suddenly vanishing. Programs which you have not installed appearing on your system. Documents changing unexpectedly. Or your passwords no longer working.
On social media, many people don’t realise their account is compromised until their friends contact them about questionable or harassing messages which they have received from the account.
Beware of pop-ups and suddenly appearing web browser add-ons. These regularly claim that they can help you to ‘clean your system’. They won’t. They’re malware.
3. What to do when you’ve been hacked
The first thing to do is to reset your passwords and if possible your usernames too. This can prevent further manipulation of your accounts.
Next, search through your programs folder. If you see any recently downloaded and suspect programs, research them online. If they are indeed malware, delete them.
If the hacker has uploaded any offending material, remove it. Update your anti-virus software and run a full sweep of your computer and remove anything that is detected. If you don’t have a system scanner, AVG anti-virus in available online and the basic edition is free.
Should your bank records show unknown charges or missing money, call your bank and put a stop on your cards immediately. The good news is that many institutions will reimburse you for these fraudulent charges, provided you act straight away.
Lastly, it may be worth getting in touch with your contacts. You can let them know about the hack and advise them against opening suspect material which may come from your accounts.
4. What to do if your website or blog is compromised
Websites and blogs certainly aren’t immune to attack. And, unlike the hacking of your personal accounts, the hacking of your commercial website can have serious business ramifications.
If you’re not already doing so, you should create a regular backup for your website or blog. With a little fiddling, you can do this manually for free. Alternatively, there are paid platforms such as Backup Machine or Backup Buddy, which will do it for you.
The best way of defeating a website hack is by restoring a recent backup from before the hack took place. If this isn’t an option for you, continue reading.
Again, the first thing to do is to change your admin username and password. Next, remove any suspicious plugins or inactive themes; this is regularly where hackers hide their ‘backdoors’ and how they access your site. Install a malware security plugin such as Wordfence, then scan and remove anything detected. Check each page of your website and remove any code that looks out of place.
Lastly, alert your customers or readers to the hack. Reassure them that your digital property is back under your control and explain any new security measures which you have now put in place.
Hacks are an unfortunate part of the digital age. However, with the right knowledge you can prepare for and defend against them.
If all else fails or if you’re not confident in your ability to properly root out the problem, simply take your computer into your local IT store. It’ll cost you, but there’s not much that techies haven’t seen. They can usually fix the issue.
If there’s one silver lining about being hacked, it’s that it will teach you the importance of internet security and regular backups. As they say, prevention is better than a cure.