Identity theft is becoming increasingly prevalent as a result of our world becoming more and more interconnected. Experts currently estimate that there is an identity theft case every 14 seconds, as a result of various forms of hacking.
With more of our private data being stored on digital devices with each passing day, being able to identify when your devices have been hacked is invaluable. While it is impossible to completely prevent identity theft due to how many platforms store personal information, you can protect your most valuable data.
Most modern operating systems have early warning features that will notify you if your data is being accessed by an unauthorized user. However, hackers are constantly finding new ways of avoiding the firewalls and antivirus software that are part of operating systems. This makes these features unreliable. Instead, it’s important to educate yourself on the risks of hacking, signs that your device may have been hacked, and the additional tools that can help keep you and your personal information safe from online criminals.
How can a device be hacked?
There are several ways through which individuals can remotely access the data that you store on devices like phones, tablets, and laptops. The most commonly used method is through an application or file that takes control over parts of the system once you run it. These programs are often disguised as regular files, making them difficult to spot, even to some antivirus software. They may appear in emails or as downloads on websites.
Once the malicious application is running on your device, it will scan your device for sensitive information, block you from accessing personal data, or even monitor your daily activity.
Most smart devices and computers can be attacked by hackers, including laptops, tablets, and smartphones. However, of all these devices, the ones that you use on a daily basis or that contain important data are the most attractive targets.
Signs that your mobile device has been hacked
If your mobile device has been hacked, chances are that you won’t see any immediate signs. Most hackers design their malicious programs to hide from you until they become difficult to remove. Luckily, there are a couple of ways to determine if your device has been hacked.
Some apps on your phone or tablet may start running by themselves or, in some cases, suddenly stop working. You may also notice that your device’s battery will drain faster than before and may run hotter than usual. This is because the malicious apps run continuously in the background.
A side-effect of the battery draining faster is the fact that the device will get hotter than usual, even when you are not using it for intensive tasks such as gaming or downloading large files.
If your Android device has been hacked, you may also notice that the internet data connection and GPS are turned on or off without your input, and at seemingly random times. You may get notifications and pop-ups requiring you to install unknown applications. These can appear to be ads or virus infection warnings and may be accompanied by the recommendation to install a specific application.
Observing strange activity across your social media accounts
Individuals that use mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets usually download apps for their social media accounts. However, after a device has been hacked, this allows hackers to steal personal details that are associated with those accounts, and even send messages and post content. A hacked device may even enable others to reset your passwords and lock you out of your accounts.
If you notice any strange activity on any of your social media accounts or start seeing emails being sent without your input, you should immediately change your passwords and disconnect the mobile apps from your social media accounts.
Determining when your laptop or computer has been hacked
Once a malicious program burrows deep into the file system of your device, it will be able to make more permanent and drastic changes. One of the most obvious signs that your device has been hacked is finding that there is new software on your system without having installed it. Computers also start working more slowly at this point. This is a result of many malicious processes running in the background.
Another sign is having your internet searches and traffic redirected. The hacker may set your browser’s homepage to an address of their choosing. You may also see a higher number of pop-up screens while browsing the internet, regardless of what pages you visit. Most of these malicious messages will urge you to install various apps under the threat of losing access to your data.
Lastly, you might receive a ransomware message. Unfortunately, this is the most dangerous sign that your device has been hacked. When this message is displayed, there is a chance that the hacker has already stolen data from your device and has also encrypted your private files. The only way to protect your data against identity theft and ransomware attacks is to install specialized software that will act as an additional layer of security.
If your device presents any of these signs of being hacked, the antivirus and firewall components of your operating system will no longer be functional. The only way to protect your data and device is to use a professional security service or software.
What kind of data can hackers steal from a hacked device?
Once a device has been hacked, the individual that is in control of the malicious application installed can access any type of data that you have stored on it. Hackers can access, copy, delete, or encrypt:
- Internet browser data
- Device usage data such as programs that you access, what you type, how you move your mouse, etc
- Personal user files, including documents, photos, and various types of records
- Passwords that you enter on websites or that are stored on your device
- Databases such as the ones created by password managers
Once your device has been hacked, the individual behind the attack will be able to access and manipulate all of your personal information as if you were doing it. This makes protecting the data that you store on your devices important.
Use specialized software to protect your private information
Although the built-in security features of most modern operating systems are designed to handle certain hacking attempts, they are not as effective at blocking attacks as the software that is designed specifically for this purpose.
The Norton 360 suite of tools, along with LifeLock, can both protect your private information from being stolen, as well as block hacking attempts, in real-time. You can use these security solutions to protect your mobile devices, as well as your computer or laptop. Norton 360 comes with a wide variety of tools such as real-time threat protection, private VPN connections, a SafeCam feature that lets you block unauthorized access to your webcam, and more.
The suite even includes a password manager that stores and encrypts your passwords so that nobody but you can access them. By using LifeLock, you can get alerts when your Identity and Social Security numbers are used, monitor your credit card activity, receive notifications when 401(k) or investment accounts use your personal information, and much more.
How to reduce the chance of your devices being hacked
One of the best ways to protect your devices is by reducing the risk of having them hacked in the first place. As a rule of thumb, you should always have the security features of your computer, phone, or tablet activated. These will serve as the first line of defense against hackers.
You should also use a VPN whenever you connect to the internet using public networks, such as those at cafes. Virtual Private Networks reroute your internet traffic through several data centers, making it difficult for hackers to trace your location. They’re also included in your Norton 360 with LifeLock subscription.
Lastly, the most often-encountered method that individuals use to hack devices is baiting users into downloading and running unknown files or having them click on malicious pop-ups. A good practice when it comes to keeping your devices secure is to never download files if you are not certain of their origin or their purpose. Also, avoid clicking on pop-up windows that seem to appear out of nowhere, regardless of their message.