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