How Hackers Get Into Your Computer (And How To Stop Them)

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Ryan Toohil

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    Can Hackers Get Into Your Computer? It’s Easier Than You Think

    When hackers targeted several school districts in Texas and infected their networks with ransomware, administrators were unprepared for the sophistication of the attack [*]. The hackers demanded large amounts of money in exchange for the sensitive personal information that they stole.

    Computer hackers don’t only target businesses and government organizations.

    Recent findings indicate that 93% of workplace networks are accessible to hackers, and 83% of businesses don’t even have a formal cybersecurity plan in place. 

    Even at home, you aren’t always safe. 

    Malicious hackers can easily hack your Wi-Fi network, take over remote access of your computer, or hack your passwords with phishing attacks. 

    To protect your personal information, sensitive documents, and financial accounts, you need to secure your personal devices.

    So how do hackers get into your computer? And how can you keep them out? 

    How Do Hackers Get Into Your Computer? 

    Hackers compromise networks and devices by exploiting weaknesses in their built-in security systems. Malicious hackers (also known as black hat hackers) do this in order to gain unauthorized access to personal information. 

    Victims of cybercriminals lose their privacy and financial security and face the potentially life-long consequences of identity theft. 

    Here are just a few ways that cybercriminals can hack their way into your computer:

    • Malware and other viruses. Scammers may send you fake texts or emails with links that contain malware. If you click on the link, your device will be infected — allowing the hackers to crawl your computer for sensitive data or use spyware to spy on you in the background.
    • Tech support scams. Hackers contact you via emails or pop-ups claiming that your computer has been compromised with a virus. These messages appear to be sent from reputable security companies (as in the recent Geek Squad scams) — convincing you to call the tech support number in the message. The hacker asks for access to your computer in order to fix the made-up problem, but takes control of your device instead.
    Scammers send fake text messages claiming your computer was hacked. Source: Aura team
    • Taking advantage of outdated software. Software updates from your service providers are specifically designed to address security vulnerabilities. If your operating system or web browsers aren’t up to date, hackers can break in by taking advantage of known security issues.   
    • Hacking your Wi-Fi network. Weak passwords, outdated firmware models, and missed software updates in your router’s settings leave your network vulnerable. Gaining control of personal devices that are connected to a weakened network can be as simple as hacking into the Wi-Fi network itself. 
    • Phishing attacks that request remote access. Hackers pose as well-known businesses or government agencies and send a phishing email, text, or phone call that contains an urgent message. When the target clicks on the link provided in the email, they’re taken to a bogus website that immediately compromises their device. Alternatively, victims are tricked into sharing access to their computers by following the scammer’s directions over the phone. 
    • Buying your passwords on the Dark Web. The Dark Web is a place where hackers go to buy and sell stolen information. If your sensitive information was exposed in a data breach, access to all of your private accounts could be up for grabs. 
    Take action: If hackers break into your computer, your bank account, email, and identity could be at risk. Try Aura’s identity theft protection free for 14 days to secure your identity against scammers.

    How To Know If Your Computer Is Hacked

    If you’re concerned that you’ve been hacked, here are some signs to look out for: 

    • You receive notification emails about sign-in attempts that you never made.
    • Your device becomes slow, overheated, and laggy.
    • You receive multiple pop-ups with alarming messages claiming that your device is infected with a virus.
    • Browser windows, tabs, and apps on your device pop open on their own.
    • Your place of work contacts you with a warning that the company fell victim to a data breach.
    • You experience unsuccessful login attempts with your accounts.
    • Friends and coworkers tell you that they’ve received strange messages from you.
    • Spam emails start to flood your inbox.
    • Suspicious charges appear on your bank statements.
    • New and unfamiliar extensions and add-ons show up on your browser.
    • You keep getting redirected to unwanted websites while you try to surf the web.

    Do this now: Check if your passwords have been. compromised!

    It’s quite possible that your information is at risk through no fault of your own. 

    For example, if your passwords were leaked in a company-wide data breach, any hacker who acquired them will have easy access to your private accounts — or even your personal computer or smartphone. 

    To protect yourself, you need to be aware of what personal data or passwords hackers have access to. Aura’s free leaked password scanner scans the internet and the Dark Web to notify you if any of your sensitive information is available to scammers. 

    Aura free leaked password scanner

    Was Your Computer Hacked? Here’s What To Do!

    1. Disconnect from your Wi-Fi network
    2. Use antivirus software to scan for malware
    3. Delete any suspicious applications
    4. Update all of your apps and operating systems
    5. Reset all of your passwords, and set up two-factor authentication (2FA)
    6. Wipe your device and initiate a clean install 
    7. Freeze your credit
    8. Check your credit report and financial statements
    9. Warn your friends and family about the hack
    10. Tighten the security settings on all of your online accounts
    Aura identity theft protection
    Keep constant tabs on your personal and financial accounts. Aura can alert you in near real-time if someone has gained access to your information and is trying to steal your money or identity. Learn more about Aura’s identity theft protection

    1. Disconnect from your Wi-Fi network

    Many hacking strategies require an Internet connection in order to succeed. The sooner you cut off that access point, the better.

    Here’s what to do: 

    • Select the Wi-Fi icon in the upper right corner of your computer screen and click the toggle to turn it off.
    • You can also disconnect your Wi-Fi by going into the settings menu.
    • Check on your home router and complete any software updates.
    • Disable administrator access to your home network, and make sure any remote-accessibility feature is turned off.
    • If you’re using a device with a cellular connection, turn off your cell data.

    2. Use antivirus software to scan for malware

    If hackers gained access to your computer, they most likely installed malware. Antivirus software can help you to isolate and delete any lingering viruses.

    Here’s what to do:

    • If you have antivirus software installed on your computer, now is the time to run a deep scan. Aura automatically detects threats such as malware, spyware, and ransomware. You can even try Aura free for 14 days →
    • If you have a PC, you can run an advanced scan offline using Windows’ built-in security software. 
    • Open your settings and navigate to the security settings menu. Select “Virus & Threat Protection.” From here, you can run a full antivirus scan while your computer is offline.
    • If you need help running the scan, contact Microsoft support at (800) 642-7676.
    • For Mac users, contact Apple Support online, or call 1-800-275-2273. They should be able to give you advice on how to proceed if you suspect that your computer system has been compromised.

    💡 Related: What To Do if Your SSN Is on the Dark Web →

    3. Delete any suspicious applications

    Computer hackers often use unauthorized applications to give them remote control of your computer or to install malware, trojan viruses, or ransomware onto your hard drive. To counteract this, it’s important to know how to view all of your computer’s applications. 

    Here’s what to do:

    • On a Mac: open the Finder application, then click on “Applications” on the left sidebar of the window. 
    • On a PC: select “Start” and then click “All apps.” 
    • Scroll through all of your apps and delete any that you don’t recognize. Look for apps that give hackers remote access — such as Remote Desktop, TeamViewer, AnyDesk, and RemotePC.
    • Go through recent downloads in your “Downloads” folder to make sure you didn’t miss anything.
    • If you find anything to delete, don’t forget to empty your trash when you’re done. 

    💡 Related: Do Hackers Have Remote Access To Your Computer? Do This! →

    4. Update all of your apps and operating systems

    Once you’ve removed any potentially harmful apps, it’s time to update everything else — including your computer’s operating system. This helps remove any security vulnerabilities that hackers can use to regain access to your computer.

    Percentage of Americans who wait to (or never) update their software and OS
    Many Americans wait to (or never) update their software and OS. Source: Statista

    Here’s what to do:

    • You can update any Microsoft or Apple apps by going into the app store and selecting “Updates” in the sidebar menu.
    • Update apps that you downloaded elsewhere by opening them individually and going to their settings to install updates from there. 
    • Finally, go into your computer’s general settings from your desktop and initiate a software update (if one is available). This can be as simple as typing “update” into your computer’s desktop search bar and clicking on the “Software Update” option that pops up.

    5. Reset all of your passwords, and set up two-factor authentication (2FA)

    Password security is a huge part of your computer’s security overall. If your passwords are weak or compromised, you’re more likely to fall victim to a cyberattack. Make sure you update all of your passwords and use additional security measures such as two-factor-authentication (2FA).

    Here’s what to do:

    • Go through all online accounts and start changing passwords. Start with the most important ones, like bank accounts and email accounts. 
    • Download a reliable password manager. This tool will store all of your passwords in one place (so that you don’t have to worry about remembering them) and will help you generate strong passwords that are more difficult for hackers to crack.
    • Download an authenticator app that enables two-factor authentication (2FA) when you sign into personal accounts. This extra step will significantly boost the security of your passwords.
    Take action: If you accidentally give give hackers your personal data (or its leaked in a data breach), they could take out loans in your name or empty your bank account. Try an identity theft protection service to monitor your finances and alert you to fraud.

    6. Wipe your device and initiate a clean install

    Running an antivirus program is usually the first line of defense when it comes to cybersecurity attacks that corrupt your computer. But for added security, you’ll also want to wipe and restore your hard drive. 

    Here’s what to do:

    • Back up all your data onto an external hard drive or a cloud-based storage system. 
    • For Mac users: you can use the Time Machine application that comes with your Apple computer. Restore your system back to the way it was before it got hacked. 
    • For PC users: you can also initiate what’s known as a System Restore Point, which functions the same way as Apple’s Time Machine. It allows users to wipe all installations that occurred after a given point in time (for example, before a hack occurred). 
    • If you’re still having trouble, you may be dealing with persistent malware that’s more deeply embedded into your computer. In this case, you might have to wipe your Mac or PC completely.

    💯 Pro tip: Make sure you’re using a backup from before your computer was hacked. Otherwise, you could accidentally reinstall malware or malicious apps

    7. Freeze your credit

    If your personal information is stolen, your credit and financial accounts are immediately at risk. Hackers can sell your information or use it themselves to open up new lines of credit in your name.

    Placing a credit freeze restricts access to your credit report. Since any new creditors need to review your credit report before approving new loans, a credit lock or freeze will prevent anyone from attempting to use your financial information.

    Here’s what to do:

    You can initiate a credit freeze online with the three main credit bureaus: Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. You can do this online or over the phone.

    • Equifax: 1-800-685-1111
    • Experian: 1-888-397-3742
    • TransUnion: 1-888-909-8872

    8. Check your credit report and financial statements

    Once your passwords are safely changed, it’s time to see if any suspicious activity has surfaced on your financial accounts. 

    Here’s what to do:

    • If your computer is infected, sign into your bank and credit card accounts on your mobile device. 
    • Request a free credit report from Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax at AnnualCreditReport.com.
    • Examine the charges on your bank and credit account statements.
    • If you see any activity that you don’t recognize, contact your financial institutions and notify them immediately. 

    9. Warn your friends and family about the hack

    Once a hacker has control over your computer, you never know how far they’ll go. They could continue the damage by baiting and scamming others via your social media and email accounts. 

    Your friends, acquaintances, and family members are much more likely to fall for a scam or click on a corrupting link if they think they’re communicating with you.

    Here’s what to do:

    • It’s a good idea to send an email addressed to “all contacts” to let them know you’ve been hacked. This way, they’ll know to ignore any strange messages that they may have received from you. 
    • Contact your friends and family directly — preferably over the phone — so they can be sure it’s not a scam.
    • For social media accounts, you can try to alert as many of your friends as possible by posting a general message to your feed.

    💡 Related: Internet Safety Tips for Kids & Teens (Parents Need To Know) →

    10. Tighten the security settings on all of your online accounts

    Every personal service and account you use has customizable security settings. It’s a good idea to go through the security features that are available and choose the ones that will best protect your information.

    Here’s what to do:

    • Open each of your apps and navigate to the settings menu.
    • If possible, choose the strictest security settings that are available.
    • Set social media accounts to private, turn off location settings, and limit who can contact you through your account. 
    • Go through security options for all of the Internet browsers and search engines that you use.
    Take action: Protect yourself from the risks of identity theft and fraud with Aura’s $1,000,000 in identity theft insurance. Try Aura free for 14 days to see if it’s right for you.

    Bonus: Consider signing up for a digital security solution

    Aura’s all-in-one digital security solution combines powerful device protection with #1-rated identity theft protection to keep you safe from scammers.

    With Aura, you get:

    • Proactive digital security. Aura protects your devices and home network from hackers with powerful antivirus software, virtual private networks (VPNs), a secure password manager, safe browsing technology (that warns you of phishing attacks), and more. 
    • Top-rated identity theft protection. Aura monitors all of your most sensitive personal information, online accounts, and finances for signs of fraud. If a scammer tries to access your accounts or finances, Aura can help you take action before it’s too late. 
    • Credit monitoring with 4X faster fraud alerts. Aura protects your finances from fraudsters with three-bureau credit monitoring, transaction alerts, and some of the fastest fraud alerts in the business. 
    • 24/7 U.S.-based fraud resolution specialists. When you need help, Aura’s team of specialists is always available via phone or email.
    • $1,000,000 in insurance for eligible losses due to identity theft. If the worst should happen, Aura helps you cover the costs associated with having your identity stolen. 

    Try Aura’s 14-day free trial for immediate protection while you’re most vulnerable.

    How To Keep Your Devices Safe From Hackers

    Good cyber hygiene habits are your first defense against attacks. Here are a few of the most important ways to protect your devices:

    • Install antivirus and anti-malware software onto your computer. No matter what kind of device you have or how careful you are on the Internet, hacks still happen. Digital security software is a must-have for anyone looking to keep their information safe.
    • Learn to recognize the signs of a phishing attack. Email scams are not what they once were. Hackers use advanced social engineering tactics to make their communications seem credible to the everyday Internet user. Always stop and assess before clicking on links or calling a phone number that shows up in your inbox.
    • Never click on links or download files from an unsolicited email. Hackers hide harmful viruses and malware inside Internet links and files. Once you click on a corrupted link or attachment, your computer starts getting infected. 
    • Check your credit report and financial accounts regularly. Since financial gain is a top motivator for hackers, your credit report might show the first signs of an attack. Consider investing in a financial monitoring service that will continually monitor your transactions and your personal information. 
    • Monitor and update the apps on your mobile device. Unstable apps and missed updates can make your phone vulnerable to hackers. Only download verified apps from your phone’s official app store, and customize the settings to fully optimize the security features of each app.
    Aura antivirus
    Protect your devices against hackers and text scammers. Aura’s antivirus works on all your devices to stop hackers from gaining access to your sensitive information.

    The Bottom Line: Don’t Let Hackers Access Your Computer 

    Living in a digital world calls for digital safety. 

    Although maintaining a cautious approach to unsolicited emails, links, and pop-ups is helpful, it’s only half the battle. The unfortunate reality is that hackers can still easily get to you through the devices and accounts that you depend on. 

    Don’t be an easy target! Cover all aspects of your digital footprint with Aura’s comprehensive, all-in-one security solution.

    Protect your devices and finances from hackers. Try Aura free for 14 days!

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    1. Financial identity theft and fraud
    2. Medical identity theft
    3. Child identity theft
    4. Elder fraud and estate identity theft
    5. “Friendly” or familial identity theft
    6. Employment identity theft
    7. Criminal identity theft
    8. Tax identity theft
    9. Unemployment and government benefits identity theft
    10. Synthetic identity theft
    11. Identity cloning
    12. Account takeovers (social media, email, etc.)
    13. Social Security number identity theft
    14. Biometric ID theft
    15. Crypto account takeovers