How to tell if your email, computer, or Facebook has been hacked

It's actually quite difficult for the typical user to tell if their computer is being hacked. Email and Facebook are another story.

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How do I tell if my email, my computer, or my Facebook has been hacked?

Well, it depends.

I’ll look at each of the ways below.

What about email?

Email hacks are one of the easiest to recognize. If you suddenly get multiple messages from your contacts – the people listed in your address book, not random people – saying that they received spam email from your address – not your name, your actual email address – then there’s a pretty good chance that your email account has been hacked.

Now why am I being so specific? For a long time, spammers have been using “From: spoofing.”  That’s when they send messages from one email address but make it look like it’s coming from another. Spam gets sent to random people and it looks as if it’s coming from you, but it’s actually coming from somewhere else.

Hacked!

From: spoofing doesn’t require that your account be hacked. But, if you’re getting a lot of reports and they’re from people that are actually listed in your address book, then that’s the clue that something’s up. That’s something you want to look into.

If this is something that’s happening to you right now, go take a look at my article, “Email hacked? The 7 things you need to do right away.” That actually runs down the list of steps you need to take once you are fairly certain that your email account has indeed been hacked. It’s not enough to just change your password; there are other things you need to do as well.

What about my computer?

This one is a little harder. When hackers are trying to attack a computer, they will go to great lengths to hide what they’re up to. That means that you can’t always easily determine when something is wrong. I do have an article, “How can I tell if my computer is being hacked?” which might give you a good start.

There are a couple of things that might give you an indication that something has happened.

  • An abnormal increase in internet or network activity. That often manifests as slow downloads or just slow internet access when you know that you’re not doing anything particularly big via your internet connection.

In this scenario, hackers might be accessing your machine remotely. The problem is that you have to watch and know what’s normal and what’s not. An increase in internet or network activity – which typically looks like nothing more than a slow internet connection – might also be related to other things, like your ISP, your internet connection, the site that you’re visiting, or the internet in general. That’s what makes it so difficult to determine if it’s a hacker at work or legitimate activity.

  • Unexpected disk activity. This is a similar scenario where a hacker is accessing files or programs on your computer. Again, you have to know what’s normal and what’s not. Even when you’re not using the computer, programs like the indexing service are running in the background and accessing the disk. Those are sometimes clues but they’re not very good ones.

The best thing that you can do to make sure that your computer isn’t getting hacked is to follow all of the guidelines that I have outlined in the article, “Internet Safety: The steps you need to take to keep your computer safe on the internet.” That’s the usual litany of things that you probably already know: get behind a firewall, use anti-malware software, watch the links that you click on, and more. Review that article to prevent this from ever happening in the first place. Like I said, if it does happen, it’s very difficult for the average computer user to tell.

What about Facebook?

Like email, a hack to your Facebook tends to be a little bit clearer. The first sign is that things appear on your Facebook wall that look like they were posted by you, but you know that you didn’t post them.

It’s important to note that often liking a page on Facebook or playing a Facebook game can legitimately cause them to post things on your wall. That’s legitimate and not a sign of a hack. The thing to look for here is if a post appears that could only have been posted by you and yet you know that you didn’t post it.

Once again, the same kinds of things that were discussed in the email hacking article apply to Facebook as well. You need to change your password and change your recovery settings as well.

The bottom line for both Facebook and email is simply to look for unusual activity that originates as if you had done it. It’s not always accurate, but it’s often the first clue that something might be up.

There are 33 comments:

  1. Bill Reply

    Regarding email hacking, Leo’s article describes the case of a person, say A, suffering an email hack (contacts/address book compromised), whereupon A’s address book contacts, say B, C and D, receive emails apparently from A, without A being aware of it (and without any sign in the “Sent” folder).

    Question: Is it possible that under the same circumstance (A’s email hacked), dodgy emails can appear to have been sent, not by A, but by one of those contacts, say B, and are received by A, C and D? So they all think the hack is of B’s email, whereas it is actually of A’s email ?

    Thanks for yr advice,
    Bill

    • Leo Reply

      That can happen without a hack at all. Spammers have been spoofing the from address for years. I’m certain that the relationships that they uncover in people’s contacts list could be used as you describe by some of the more “advanced” spammers, but I would not take is as a sign that “A” has necessarily been hacked. Typically when contact lists are used the email appears to come from the contact list’s owner.

      This article is worth a read: Someone’s sending from my email address! How do I stop them?!

      • Bill Reply

        I suspected as much. Thanks for the feedback and pointer, Leo.

  2. Sonarman2 Reply

    I have a somewhat different problem. I sometimes get email from someone I know, but it is not from that person. For instance, John Doe has an address of “John Doe (john123 – at – gmail.com)”. That’s the real address. I might get one from “John Doe” with a subject of “Hey Joe”. When I inspect the email address it is different – “John Doe (flub1 – at – yahoo.com)” or the newr ymail.com. It is always from a yahoo account.

    Most all are not in my email address book and I don’t keep any on line. In almost all cases they are people on my Facebook account.

    Just in case, I have changed all email and Facebook passwords and security questions and answers. I do this every couple of months. If I find I need to change one, I do them all.

    Reply

    • Leo Reply

      This is actually very common from spoofing. In addition there was (or perhaps still is) a way that spammers could divine the relationships you might have on Facebook – i.e. who your friends are. They couldn’t get the email address, but they could get the names. So in order to trick people into opening their spams they created messages that look like they come from your friends – by name, but not by actual email address. There’s nothing that can be done about this at this point, and there’s nothing really that you need to do.

  3. mohdabraar Reply

    i want to know that what had happen on my wall when it was hacked by my friend so i want some suggesion from u plz help me my fri had behaved very badly so i just want to check on my wall becz they had written lot of horrible to my family ,friends and also to my sister so plz help to check my wall

    • Leo Reply

      I’m afraid I have no idea what you are asking. If you just want to look at your hijacked wall, just have a friend who is still friends with the account help you to look at it. Other than that, start the process of regaining your account using your Facebook recovery information.

    • Connie Delaney Reply

      Mohdabraar,
      I’m taking a wild guess here that you may be confused about the way posts happen in Facebook. It is easy to be confused because it really is confusing! When your friends make a post it often (not always) shows up on your wall. So they could very well be posting things about you without hacking your account at all. If the posts are actually comments to things you have posted on your timeline you can delete them. If they are on your wall you can only hide them. And you can also take steps to report bad behavior to Facebook. So, if you take Leo’s advice and make sure you have exclusive control of your account, then that is the next thing to look for.

  4. Judy Reply

    Can a hacker run a google search on my computer (it looks like I searched on my computer, but I didn’t) and then click into websites from that search. In other words, if someone hacked into my computer, will it look like I looked at websites, when I did not?

    • Mark Jacobs Reply

      Judy,
      Unfortunately, it’s possible. If a hacker or malware gets into your computer, there’s almost nothing they can’t do.

    • Leo Reply

      If a hacker truly has access to your machine – via malware or some form of remote access – they can do anything.

      • yel Reply

        if you have been hacked and decided to reformat your PC does it mean it is free from being hacked?

        • Leo Reply

          Nope. Reformatting a computer doesn’t affect whether or how an online account like Facebook is or has been hacked. Reformatting a computer simply removes malware (and everything else) from your PC. You still then need to take all the appropriate steps to keep your computer and online accounts secure.

  5. Jason Reply

    I have someone that claims they were hacked through their facebook app on Windows 8. Is that possible?

  6. Annette Reply

    On frequent occasions I have to re-log into my email or facebook accounts when I know that I hadn’t logged out of them. Sometimes things that I’ve already read in email appear as unread. The last time that I logged into facebook, I received a notification of a post that I had made the day before (to myself). I am connected to a shared router. Are these “glitches” indications that my computer accounts are being monitored?

  7. ABHISHEK Reply

    Is Ubuntu or any other Linux based distro safe or hackproof ? I heard its difficult to penetrate a Linux system

    • Mark Jacobs Reply

      Linux is generally much safer than Windows or even MacOS, mostly by virtue of it not being as great a target as the OSs with the greater market share. However, no OS is hackproof. As they say, the only sure way to avoid viruses is to leave your computer turned off. I even got infected before I started using the Internet.

  8. Brandy Reply

    If someone Hacks into my ROUTER, will THEIR activity show on MY personal computer & phones?? — We Have activity as far as Websites visited But swear Router must of been hacked. Is that possible for activity to be on comp & phone if they wasn’t actually used?

    • Leo Reply

      Typically no. What shows up on your personal computer and phones is what happens on your personal computer and phones.

  9. Allie Reply

    Every time I open my email account I start reading or writing an email after about 30 seconds it flashes blank and then brings me back to the home email screen. Does this mean someone has hacked and reading my emails?

  10. hari krishna Reply

    My facebook account has been hacked and the recovery email id has been changed. What should i do now. Please help me out. I tried everything bt of no use.

  11. Judith Reply

    I go on a forum and I am being accused of sending messages to various members and the messages show my account name but I have done this and have reported several times I have changed my name and password!!

  12. marquita cravens Reply

    I have been receiving intermittent (several times a day) noises that sound like two blips. It doesn’t make any difference what sites I’m on or going to. It’s been going on for about the last three months. My computer is running fine but this noise is the most annoying mystery to me. Could it be some kind of spy program?

    • Mark Jacobs Reply

      I get blips fairly regularly. In my case it’s interference from other electronic devices. For example, one case this happens is when my mobile phone is about to ring. Other times, it just appears to be random, but I’m sure it’s some other electronic device somewhere causing this. I just got on while I was typing this :)

  13. Mohamed Reply

    I was talking to someone I don’t know on Facebook . He was able to get all my details such as : my work email, my ID , birthplace, ..etc . and he said he knows some people working in a minister of interior who deliver him my details. The question is how did they get all my details ?

    • Connie Delaney Reply

      Mohamed,
      Some of the things you mention are very easy to find. On Facebook you have your workplace listed, and all I would have to do is Google your work to find that number. So this scammer is just using easy to find things to try to get you to worry and fall for his scam.

  14. Eboni Reply

    I was reading this article and had to comment. My husband has been having an issue with his facebook. He is really not that computer saavy as I am but his facebook keeps getting hacked. He is out of the country right now and we use facebook as the main form of communication. Someone keeps getting into his facebook account and deleting me from his friends list and blocking me. I have had to create several accounts just to get a hold of him. He says he doesn’t know how this is happening . He created another account yesterday and everything was fine until today when the same issue popped up. Someone logged onto his account, saw the message that I sent him and then blocked me . How can this possibly happen?

    • retiredhacker Reply

      well the chances are that he has a malware that is key logging him so for pc try malwarebytes and avast and for cellular devices a virus/malware flash would be recommended. you can google how to and where to get these …good luck with the problem

    • Leo Reply

      It’s almost impossible to say. Since he’s travelling using open hotspots improperly come to mind, as do keyloggers and/or malware on his computer.

  15. retiredhacker Reply

    well once a hacker has your actual pc they can do anything include keylogging which happened to me recently but i used avast antivirus and malwarebytes and they got him very quickly due to the fact that i run quick scans before using my pc daily and once a week run full scans…note that these are the free version that i use and they work even better when purchased…

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