No matter your device, a hacker with enough gumption and know-how can break in.
Here are surefire ways to know if your system has been hacked and what you can do to fix or prevent it, brought to you by sponsor TotalAV. Your best defense against viruses, keyloggers and other malware? A solid security suite.
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Worried your system has been compromised? Look for these warning signs.
1. Slowed to a crawl and too hot to be bothered
Malware tends to eat up a lot of system resources. After all, it’s an extra piece of unwanted software that intentionally runs your system dry. Programs on your computer can get sluggish or lag; by the time you finally notice, it may already be too late.
If your computer is working overtime to handle the unwanted software, that can cause it to heat up. This can be dangerous for the health of your tech.
Internal components can melt or become damaged when a device gets too hot. Excessive heat also wears out the mechanical parts of your device, such as its fans. A device that runs cool will last for much longer. Tap or click here to see how to keep your gadgets cool.
Here are some handy tools to pinpoint malicious applications on your computer. If your desktop or laptop is running hot and a program you don’t recognize is hogging your system resources, there’s a good chance it is malware.
PC: Use Task Manager
There are a few key ways to see your computer’s processes. Windows allows users to see them easily with the built-in Task Manager. Use the keyboard shortcut CTRL + SHIFT + ESC to access the Processes tab.
Windows Task Manager lists your computer’s current tasks, like programs, processes and app behavior, and how much processing power they’re using. This is usually measured in Central Processing Units or CPUs.
To start, open Task Manager and check each process’s CPU and memory columns. You might find one program using 100%, or close to it, of your CPU. Open up the program associated with the process and see what it’s doing.
If you don’t recognize the name, Google it. Check online to ensure it’s a legitimate app or process; otherwise, restart and monitor the task. If you see performance decrease again, you may have found your culprit.
Mac: Use Activity Monitor
The Mac equivalent to Task Manager is the Activity Monitor. And the quickest way to access Activity Monitor is by using Spotlight Search.
Click the magnifying glass on the right side of the menu bar at the top of your screen, or press Command + Spacebar to open a Spotlight window. Then, start typing the first few letters to auto-complete “Activity Monitor.” Press Enter to access the tool.
Like Windows Task Manager, Mac’s Activity Monitor lists all your open processes with tabs for CPU, Threads, Idle Wake Ups and Network usage. If you see something using too many resources, research it, reset it and closely monitor it.
Are you experiencing sluggishness and heat on a smartphone? This isn’t always due to malware, though that could be the culprit. Smartphones tend to heat up and slow down with age, and processes that used to work smoothly can bog down the phone as updates become more demanding.
Consider how old your phone is before you jump to any conclusions. Still, ruling out malware can give you peace of mind. Your best bet is resetting the phone to clear its memory banks. We’ll go over how to do this in more detail below.
2. You’re using way more data than usual
Adware-infected gadgets usually perform unsolicited clicks in the background to generate profits for cybercriminals. These stealthy tactics use up bandwidth, and the unauthorized data they consume should be pretty easy to spot by simply checking usage stats. Here’s how to do it.
Every internet provider has tools that keep track of your monthly bandwidth consumption. Visit your service provider’s website, log in and go to the user portal.
Look at Data Usage Meter or Data Monitor, depending on your provider. Compare the amount of data used from the prior months. Minor changes are normal, but if you notice sudden spikes in data activity that don’t align with your behavior, you’re likely infected.
You can do the same check on your smartphone.
To check data usage on an Android, open the Settings app and tap Network & internet, followed by Data usage. Under Mobile, you’ll see how much data you use for the month.
To check iPhone data usage, open the Settings app and tap Cellular. If you’re on an older version of iOS, open Settings and tap Mobile Data. You’ll see your cellular data listed under Cellular Data, as well as the individual data usage for each app or service on your phone.
3. Videos refuse to buffer and pages take forever to load
When a streaming video suddenly freezes and your device appears to be “thinking,” this is called buffering. Despite being annoying, it’s normal — especially if you play a lot of videos or your Wi-Fi connection is weak.
But if it’s happening often or videos fail to play, you’re wise to suspect neighbors are piggybacking on your connection. Tap or click here for steps on how to check for Wi-Fi thieves.
Malware can also slow down your internet traffic through DNS hijacking. When this happens, hackers redirect your internet traffic to unsafe servers instead of secure ones. This will not only slow down your browsing experience but can also put your security at risk.
An excellent way to tell if your DNS settings have been hijacked is if the pages you end up on differ from the addresses you entered. Imagine attempting to visit your bank’s website and ending up on a shabby, typo-filled version of the page with no encryption. Red flag alert!
To check your router’s DNS settings, you can use online tools that offer advanced hijacking protection, like Cloudflare or Quad9. Tap or click here to find out how to make your router hacker-proof.
4. Programs and apps start crashing
Programs crashing frequently is a common sign things aren’t right. This goes double if your antivirus software and task manager are crashing or disabled. This can mean a nasty virus has taken hold of your files.
In a worst-case scenario, ransomware-type malware can even prevent you from opening your files. But a tried and true method to diagnose and fix the problem is booting your gadget in Safe Mode.
With Safe Mode, your computer runs with just the bare essentials. That way, you can safely delete and uninstall any programs and files you couldn’t access otherwise.
On Windows, click the Windows logo key + I. This opens Settings. Choose Update & Security, then Recovery. Under Advanced startup, choose Restart now. After your computer restarts to the Choose an option screen, click Troubleshoot > Advanced options > Startup Settings, then Restart.
After it restarts again, you’ll see a list of options. Choose 4 or press F4 to start in Safe Mode. If you need to use the internet, choose 5 or press F5 for Safe Mode with Networking. To exit Safe Mode, restart your computer.
On a Mac, start or restart your computer and immediately press and hold the Shift. Keep holding the key until the Apple logo appears and release it when you see the login screen. To exit Safe Mode, restart your computer.
Android has its own version of Safe Mode. Due to the varying models of Android phones, each one has different steps. Learn how to access Safe Mode for your model here.
iOS doesn’t have a Safe Mode, but you can try a soft reset to fix most issues. To do this on older iPhones, press and hold your iPhone’s Home and Sleep buttons simultaneously. Wait for it to restart, then release the buttons when the Apple logo displays.
The iPhone X and newer models don’t have Home buttons, so the process is slightly different. Press and quickly release the volume up button, press and quickly release the volume down button, then press and hold the side button and release when the Apple logo appears.
5. You start seeing pop-up ads
Malware can add bookmarks you don’t want, website shortcuts to your home screen that you didn’t create and spammy messages that entice you to click them. In addition to slowing down your gadget and eating away at your data, these intrusive notifications can install more malware on your system.
Criminals can also use DNS hijacking to modify the ads you see while browsing. Instead of the regular sponsored ads you see online, you might see pornographic or malicious ones. This is a huge red flag that somebody’s messed with your system.
On Windows, certain programs can help you eliminate adware and spyware. One example is Norton Power Eraser, which can help you find stubborn bits of software that antivirus programs can miss.
Since adware tends to embed itself deeply in other programs, Power Eraser helps clean out your system without harming other files. Tap or click here to learn more.
On a Mac, Malwarebytes for Mac gives you free system cleaning services and can help you remove problematic malware that hijacks the ads you see.
6. Unexplained online activity
It is no surprise that hackers are after your usernames and passwords. These details, coupled with social engineering tricks, can help them gain access to your banking accounts, social media profiles and just about every other part of your digital life.
Monitor your email’s “sent” folder and social network posts. You may have been hacked if you notice emails and posts you don’t remember sending or posting. Vigilance is critical to staying safe.
You should check your accounts regularly for unauthorized activity. This includes monitoring movies in your Netflix watch history, app and digital purchase history, songs on your Spotify playlists and, most importantly, your bank statements. Unknown charges are one of the biggest red flags of all.
If you find someone is pretending to be you and buying things in your name, don’t panic. You can take actions, such as performing a credit freeze, that lock down your identity and prevent anyone else from opening accounts in your name. Tap or click here to learn the benefits of a credit freeze.