What To Do If You Think Your Computer Has Been Hacked Into

muo spot hack intro   What To Do If You Think Your Computer Has Been Hacked IntoHave you ever had your computer hacked, or wondered if some off mouse movement was down to an online intruder?

The threat remains a potent one, but with adequate security software installed on your computer you should find that your data remains intact and private.

However, if you think there is a greater-than-normal chance of intrusion or if you want to be aware of the threats and how to deal with them, use what follows as a starting point for understanding how to deal with a hacked computer.

Spotting a Hack

It is easy to be paranoid about these matters, but knowing how to recognise a hack attack can be tricky.

Vain hackers who are full of their own self-importance might leave you a note – perhaps a bit of desktop graffiti or a malware “timebomb” – but those are rare. Most hacks are courtesy of Trojan software and related automated tools, so uncovering an intrusion – particularly an online one – can prove difficult.

If you suspect a hack, first of all consider why you think this might have happened. Do you have sensitive information stored on your computer? Are you known as someone who might have access to private data? Next, check the files in your directory browser, taking care to note their “Last Modified” times and dates. Do not open the files, however, as doing so might result in the activation of malware.

Instead, run your anti-virus and anti-malware software, and then make backups of the vital files and folders before opening them.

Checking Your Firewall

Of course, the first thing to do if you suspect a hack attack on your PC is to check your firewall software.

muo spot hack2   What To Do If You Think Your Computer Has Been Hacked Into

These utilities always update activities to the log, so it is a case of opening the firewall console and working out where the log is stored. If there has been an attempt to hack your computer in the past then this will be recorded.

Don’t take the lack of a successful intrusion record as evidence of no hack attack, however – it might also mean that the perpetrator is skilled in keeping their fingerprints off your ports.

However in 99.9% of cases a good quality firewall will keep your computer secure. See our list of recommended firewalls for more information.

No Firewall? What to do…

If for some reason you don’t already have firewall software installed on your computer (why on earth not?!) then there are other things you can check.

muo spot hack1   What To Do If You Think Your Computer Has Been Hacked Into

Many users connect to the Internet via a router, either at work or in the home, and if you have permission to access this you will be able to view the traffic in and out of your computer. Checking the logs on the router will enable you to determine whether or not your computer has been hacked and if any data has been copied, although beware: this will take a while to track down, so you will need to have a good idea of when the attack occurred.

If a Trojan is running on your system and opened remote access to your computer then you should be able to tell pretty quickly. Slow performance and network activity when you’re not using a web browser, email client, downloading software or an IM client will all point to an intrusion, as will the more obvious loss of control (this is rare however, as hackers would probably use a separate session). If network activity is odd then switching off your router or disconnecting your Ethernet cable is the best solution as the hacker has probably disabled your ability to disconnect within the operating system.

After disconnection, restart your computer, staying offline, and run your anti-virus and anti-malware software. You should also use a secondary computer to download an update to your firewall software and install this on the first device.

Offline Hacking

Unfortunately so many of us are concerned about online hacking that we ignore the much more obvious method of gaining entry to a computer system – in person.

muo spot hack3   What To Do If You Think Your Computer Has Been Hacked Into

There are various ways of doing this, from using a USB stick with a live operating system installed on it to simply guessing a password (and this is if the user even has a password set on their computer and knows how to lock the screen) and either method can be used to quickly gain access to the data stored on a hard disk drive.

Computer passwords should always be used for the operating system and you should also consider setting a password to boot your computer past the BIOS, thereby preventing the use of a USB live OS.

Similarly, external storage devices should be securely stored in locked cupboards, along with any clue that they even exist. Disc sleeves, cases and USB cables should be tidied away.

Conclusion

With so much to consider, taking steps to protect your data is the best answer. There is no way to protect the data stored on your computer 100%, so taking additional steps is wise. In addition to up-to-date firewall and anti-virus/anti-malware software, consider a registry protection tool and take advantage of any hard disk encryption tools that are available to you. Recent versions of Mac OS X and Windows have this facility built in.

Ultimately, awareness is your most important weapon. Hackers can’t steal data from your computer when it is switched off, for instance, while storing valuable data on removable drives and media that can be locked away or kept on your person will protect you from the effects of hacking.

If you understand the risks, you can take appropriate action.

Image Credit:Laptop and Wall Image Via Shutterstock, Server Room Image Via Shutterstock, Binary Code Image Via Shutterstock

The comments were closed because the article is more than 180 days old.

If you have any questions related to what's mentioned in the article or need help with any computer issue, ask it on MakeUseOf Answers—We and our community will be more than happy to help.

24 Comments -

0 votes

Mihovil Pletikos

firewall…. for one i don’t have any firewall installed on my computer, anymore…
ever since i installed open-wrt on my router (and you can do it on most routers) and configured firewall on router i got rid of them…. this way, i think, i have most control and over all computers in home network and that everything is as safe as possible

0 votes

RamaKrishna RK Veluvali

Thanks for the info…

0 votes

Jay

I have not used a firewall or an antivirus since I switched to Linux, I have read a lot of different opinions about this. I am pretty careful about what I install I also keep my router access on my quick launch and know what should be there and what should not. From what I have read a Linux computer can effect a Windows computer if it has a virus, so it might be a good idea to have some kind of protection if your networked to any Windows computers.

It might be a good idea to change your router to allow only the MAC addresses you enter. This can get annoying if you have a guests who want to use your WiFi. A hacker can spoof their MAC address to look like one that is allowed.

0 votes

Elijah Swartz

Getting a malware infection is different than a person maliciously trying to gain access to your system. Now a days, malware is profit oriented and completely impersonal. It goes after many users, and no specific user in mind in general. I would never consider that as “getting hacked.” They just want their program on your computer in hopes of making money off of naive people by using a little fear, uncertainty, and doubt. You also should mention that people need to update their AV and antimalware software or else it is useless. Without updated definitions, you can keep scanning, what it won’t identify the bad files. You could mention that scanning the system by a secondary computer would be the best option, and 2nd best is in safe mode. Also, skiddies everywhere can easily gain access of your system locally. Anyone can go to nirsoft dot com and use some their good free tools to rip every password you can imagine off your computer while your logged in. Similarly, they could use FTK Imager on a flash drive to copy your registry hives, including the SAM and SYSTEM files which contain your user password data. They could use Konboot to get a temporary admin account to Windows and GNU/Linux operating systems during bootup. Installing or leaving a physical keylogger there is also a possibility. You also forgot to mention that if you should keep all of your programs and operating system up to date to prevent exploitable vulnerabilities from being on your system in the first place. In regards to BIOS passwords, they used to have default manufacturer passwords you could use to gain access. If not, if you can get on the computer while it’s running, in about a minute you could flash the computers BIOS and that will restore defaults. Of a person stole your computer, they could always just move the BIOS jumper. They could also pull the battery which over about 15 minutes or so will reset your BIOS data. In regards to the firewall, anyone could just whitelist their list of programs on your computer, and the firewall will allow the traffic. It is a good mentality to remember that someone is always smarter, more knowledgeable, and better equipped than you. Make yourself a difficult target, because people generally favor going after the easier and more vulnerable “low hanging fruit”. One last thing to mention, other operating system can still spread malware from a computer even if it doesn’t affect the host OS. An example would be that according to Sophos, about 20% of Apple computers harbor and spread Windows malware. Keeping yourself updated and protected can not just help you, but others as well.

0 votes

Laga Mahesa

All my computers are safe, a buddy on 4chan showed me how to do impressive Matrix-y things using something called Command (I can’t think of a kewler name!!!) after I gave him admin rights, so now I know how to check for haxxorz the l33t way!

0 votes

David Commini

wait, you gave a guy from 4chan admin rights to your computer? really? i sure hope you really know this guy well, but personally I would be getting a new computer and changing all of my online info.

0 votes

Laga Mahesa

Nah, mate, I was kidding. It was a lame attempt at highlighting the fact that social engineering is far more common and more likely to be experienced by Joe Public.

0 votes

David Commini

I was hoping that was the case :-)

0 votes

Shehan Nirmal

Firewalling computer is much better to prevent hackers…

0 votes

GamE

what is the diff between malware and spyware ??

0 votes
0 votes

westley

Generally malware is meant to just cause damage or to massage a hackers ego, spyware is, as it’s name suggests, meant to spy on your activities, from spying on your browsing habits to stealing passwords and sensitive documents. Both equally bad.

0 votes

Nicky Chaleunphone

That’s why I use Keepass to create passwords and manage my passwords as well

0 votes

Richvarsay

Hi, the information you have provided is worth a treasure. However, I would like to add some very basic points on how you can check if your computer is hacked.

0 votes

Carol Murphy

someone hacded into my laptop throu the router and my guest user which i assume was open, how can i get this person out.

0 votes

Christian Cawley

Hi Carol. You’ll need to get the instructions for your router, do a full factory reset on the device and then apply some stringent passwords. Disconnecting it from the Internet is advised while you’re doing this.

0 votes

Angelo Dipasupil

How about if i encounter that when i’m using internet sometimes it is very to slow to load or sometimes it always not responding,it is a sign of a trojan virus and how can i pix it.

0 votes
0 votes

Irshaad Abdool

do not forget to reset all your important passwords after running full system and anti-malware scans, as maybe during the attacks, your passwords were logged and are being used.
Cheers

0 votes

Shana-san

I was just wondering does Window Defender help?
As I turned it on does it help to have it on or should I turn it off??

0 votes

Christian Cawley

You should certainly have it active as it is a useful real-time tool for detecting spyware; indeed, it is one of MIcrosoft’s better utilities!

0 votes

Morgan Partridge

If your computer is running Windows XP an above phone Microsoft’s technical support helpline.

0 votes

Anonymous

OK, here’s one for you…. and I swear you will not believe this, but what I am about to write now is as true as true can be. This is why I have kept my identity hidden. Here is my story.
I’ll aim to keep this short and to the point…
A couple of years ago… I used to be a member on a cam site with live girls on… this site was MyFreeCams…. Now I am naming them because if anyone has experienced same problems as me, I would seriously consider having your pc checked and fast.
after a while on this site, I started noticing my pc running slow even just on starting up… i would see little screen flickers which never used to happen. I also after several tests convinced myself…. that whilst I would be on this site watching the cams, it kind of felt they we’re watching me, so to begin with.. I unplugged my webcam.. which was the only source of mic… (now bear this in mind for later) Still convinced they we’re watching me like a tv screen as i was to them, I would log into a non popular girls room where no one was in, holding up different words written on paper.. like… wave to me, or blow me a kiss… and which ever i held up.. was done so immediately by the person on cam. Now this aroused even more suspicion… I know this sounds crazy but believe me this is all real… I would log into different rooms and position myself at different angles to my monitor… sometimes in the middle.. other times right on the left edge or right edge… and immediately the girls would look in my direction where i was sat…. Now with such belief I was being watched too through my computer screen started to freak me out massively… Now bear in mind my only source of mic was my webcam which was unplugged… so i tried one last experiment……. I would go into different rooms where there was no one else there… and really start calling names to the girl on cam, like you ugly slag, pig ugly bitch etc…. and this is where my suspicions was finally confirmed… eventually one of the girls snapped… looked directly at me and shouted “will you fuck off” i swear to god this is true. Now its been confirmed… i was being watched and heard through my monitor… My computer started going mental, flashing flickering, like you would not believe, like they we’re now trying to crash my pc from their end. it was like a scene out of a movie…. I firstly tried to record the goings on with my webcam, but the uninstalled the drivers… I then used a digital camera and started too record…. but they somehow erased the memory card of my camera maybe by some high pitched tone that erases memory cards.. I got to the point where i called a friend over with anything he could record on…. which was at the time the new iphone 4 that he had…. starting to record the screen for video evidence… suddenly his phone beeped and turned off… the entire phone was mysteriously wiped… it was like everything i tried to use to record was being countered with my the people at the other end. What ever i had somehow uncovered… they sure as hell didnt want me knowing about it. my computer was going like lazer lights at a rave party…. to the point where i had to shut it down to stop it blowing. To this day it has still left me very worried as i had never in my life thought someone could hack a computer and turn a computer into a tv to be viewed from where ever it was being hacked from…. But i’m telling you this is happening. The witness i had was my friend who came over with the phone, because even he was slagging off the girls and they we’re all telling him to fuck off too…whilst my computer was being sent mental by their computer hackers. he saw the funny side of it, but it has scared me ever since. Believe this or not…. but every single bit i have said is absolutely true… so if you use this site, or sites like it… be warned, whilst you may enjoy watching these girls…. just bear in mind, if your computer seems slow and glitchy, even without being on their sites….. They are already inside your computer watching you. To this day is scares me. I run 2-3 firewalls and antivirus software and i am checking daily even now. people may think this is a load of crap… but try the simple pen and paper test if you have any doubts..and even the speaking test even if you dont have a mic plugged in… because believe me… if they are in your system,,,they CAN hear you.

0 votes

sTU

wild story might be true every computer runs on 1s ans 0s would’nt suprise me just piss me off.But that is there whole point anyway dude don’t get to crazy about it if they can do all that they could do worse so if they havent they were just messing with you testing there new hacks.