Although most of us have some form of anti-malware software installed, this cannot always offer peace of mind in regards to attacks on our networks, given that cyber attacks are constantly evolving.
In some cases, it will be extremely difficult to discern whether your computer has been the subject of an attack or not. However, there are some tell-tale signs you can look for.
Read on to discover how to tell if you've been hacked, and how to deal with it.
The first sign that your system has been compromised is often unusual activity on your computer. This can include browser toolbars that you don't recognise suddenly showing up, passwords no longer working, frequent pop-ups on your system or computer settings having been changed without you doing anything. These can all indicate the presence of malware on your system.
In the case that this occurs on your computer, immediately remove any toolbars you don't recognise and scan your computer for any programs that you don't recognise or that don't seem legitimate.
Internet searches redirected
Some hacking will take place because hackers are in service of a site that is paying them to generate clicks. If you are a target of this type of attack, your internet searches may begin to be redirected elsewhere. If the search results coming up do not match the term you entered, it's likely your system has been compromised in this manner. Again, in this case, it's useful to look for any malicious toolbar programmes and immediately disable them.
The incidence of ransomware is increasing. These type of attacks involve an attacker inflicting malware that locks up your data and request payment in online currency before releasing it. Some of these may not be genuine - 'scareware' - and can be knocked out with a quick reboot.
However, if the target of a genuine attack, you can simply recover your computer and restore your data if you have recently backed up anything important. If you use the cloud, for example, there is a good chance your data is already backed up. If this is not the case, you can decide to either pay the ransom - against most professional advice and taking the risk that your data still may not be released - or find help online from websites claiming to be able to help you unlock data without receiving an encryption code from the hacker. NoMoreRansom is a good start - it's endorsed by vendors and policing agencies and provides free access to decryptors as they're posted.
False antivirus messages
Receiving a (fake) warning message about an antivirus on your system is a surefire indication that your computer has been compromised. However, by the time you've received the message, it's too late to do anything. This message may redirect you to a professional appearing site offering you to purchase antivirus software. Do not enter any financial information on this site, or you are handing over your credit card information to hackers too.
In the case that this happens, immediately turn off your computer, before restarting it in safe mode, and attempt to uninstall any newly loaded software. Then try to restore your computer and carry out a full virus scan with the goal of removing any remaining viral software residing there.