Getting hacked is not like it is in the movies. When you click on an infected file, your computer does not go dark and show a skull and crossbones; in most cases it is simply business as usual. Many will continue going about their daily routine without being aware that their information is being stolen.
This is why it is important to know the signs to look out for so you know when malware or a virus has gained access to your computer.
Your Computer has Slowed Down
If your computer has slowed down for no discernable reason you should contact your IT department immediately. This is not to say it is cause for alarm if your 10-year old computer does not download files as quickly as it used to, as devices do tend to slow down over time. But sudden, significant and long-term drops in performance should be taken seriously. Running malware takes a lot of processing power.
Your Security Software Is Disabled
When malware enters your system, it wants to stay there for as long as possible. To ensure this, it may disable your antivirus programs. If you find your program is disabled or won’t run a scan if you ask it to, this is cause for concern.
You Have New Programs You Don’t Recognize
In addition to wanting to stay awhile, malware likes to invite more friends to join the party. New programs you don’t remember downloading or new add-ons to your browser are an easy-to-spot sign that that something is wrong.
You Have More Pop-Ups Than Normal
With a good ad-blocker, you should get very few pop-ups in your daily life. If you suddenly are getting inundated with pop-up ads, no matter how legit they look, something is wrong.
Your Email Sends Messages For You
This one is pretty simple: if people on your contacts list let you know they received your email with an “awesome offer” or a program they “need to try,” something is wrong. Unless of course you remember sending an all-company email about the wonders of male enhancement drugs.
How To Recover
Once you have enough signs your computer has fallen victim to a malware or virus attack, don’t panic. The first thing to do is to run a virus scan; this can be done by an already installed program or an on-demand scanner.
You may also need to perform a complete system reset. Hopefully you have been backing up all of your data (most of us do, especially when at work).
Finally, make sure to change all your passwords. This is especially important if you use the same password for a number of programs.
Determining a hack has taken place is just the first step. But the sooner you can figure out that something is wrong, the better the outcome.