While these lower-profile exploits may not appear in articles about computer hacking, like the story of the Equifax hack, they still pose a significant threat to your privacy and security. Although a hacker likely wouldn’t target you specifically, cybercriminals use automated computer hacking systems to target thousands of unprotected internet users at once. So no one’s really safe from PC hacks or those that target other types of devices.
Hackers prefer easy targets or weak entry points, which is why using strong and unique passwords for your online accounts is so important for limiting your vulnerability to hackers. Computer systems can be hacked in various ways, including via viruses and other malware. So if you visit compromised websites or use unsecured Wi-Fi networks, especially without strong antivirus protection, the risk that you may be hacked can increase markedly.
Why do hackers target individuals?
The most dangerous hackers today target victims indiscriminately. They usually care only about gaining access to as much information as possible, so the individuals with the weakest cyberdefenses are targeted first. A hacker doesn’t need to know whether you’re a bus driver or investment banker — they can make money by leveraging your information regardless.
Here’s what hackers can do when they gain access to your computer:
Extract data and account details to steal your identity or sell your data to companies
Target your contacts via phishing attacks
Spread computer viruses and malware
Connect your computer into a botnet and use it to launch further attacks
When hackers take over computers, they can access all kinds of data and do all sorts of damage.
While hacking in movies looks dramatic, hacking in real life is more mundane. But the results, like widespread data breaches, can be just as devastating. So, what does a hacker look like? The truth is, the person hacking your PC, bank account, or social media profile could be almost anyone. For a behind-the-scenes look at a hacker at work, check out the time our cybersecurity experts chatted with a hacker inside the hacker’s own malicious code.
How are computers hacked?
Most hacking attacks occur via malware that infects victims’ computers through malicious links, corrupted attachments, or fake websites. But cybercriminals know how to hack computer systems more directly, too, especially if you don’t have firewall protection, or if you use weak passwords that leave you susceptible to password cracking techniques.
It’s not just PC hacking anymore — Macs and phones can be hacked as well. And while iPhones and Macs are usually less vulnerable to hacking due to their more tightly controlled, closed systems and in-built security protocols, they’re still not immune. And even if your physical device is secure, your social media profiles and email account can still be hacked.
Here are the most common ways that computers are hacked:
Phishing emails are designed to get you to click a malicious link or divulge private information. Although phishing emails contain deceptive content intended to make you think the email is legitimate, there are normally telltale signs, such as typos or strange formatting, that signal the message is malicious. Remember: never click on any link you’re not sure about.
When hackers are learning how to hack a computer through the internet, phishing is usually the first method they try, because it’s not a technically demanding technique. And by spraying their phishing emails widely, one victim is almost guaranteed to take the bait and click on a malicious link.
Hackers often use phishing emails, like the example above, to hack into computers or systems.
Spam emails are usually more annoying than dangerous, but they may try to get you to visit illegitimate websites that harbor malware. Deleting spam emails without opening them is one obvious solution, but are there also other, more proactive ways to avoid spam that keep your inbox cleaner and more secure.
Fake websites like pharming sites try to deceive you into entering your personal details or login credentials, which can then be used to hack your devices and accounts or even steal your identity. Just as you wouldn’t give your home address and credit card information to a stranger, you should never do so online, unless you’re sure it’s legit.
A particularly sneaky hacking ruse is to buy up URLs for common misspellings of popular websites such as Facebook (Faecbook) or Twitter (Twetter), and copy the page design of the real site in order to trick people into entering their username and password combinations. To be on the safe side, always check the website safety of any page you visit.
Through social media pages
Social networks are increasingly home to malicious activity, usually in the form of phishing and variations of common Facebook scams. If you get a message from an old friend and it doesn’t seem quite right, their account may have been hacked. Clicking a link in their message will lead you to the same fate, leaking your information and potentially locking you out of your account.
Bogus friend requests are one of the quickest and easiest ways hackers can get access to your computer, so reject strange or suspicious friend requests. And don’t click any links that they send to you out of the blue or post on their profile.
Advertisements that look real can actually hide malware, and even genuine ads can infect your computer or even hijack your webcam to spy on you. Since adware and malvertising can end up on legitimate websites and look just like the real thing, the best advice is simply not to click on any ads if you’re suspicious. To find out more, Google the product or service featured in the ad instead.
Some fake software is just useless (and generally harmless) bloatware. But other fake downloads may be vehicles for spyware and ransomware used by hackers. One of the most dangerous and widespread types of fake software is known as scareware, which spreads through popup and banner ads. Scareware tries to make you think there’s a problem with your computer, when in fact it’s their program that contains a malware threat.
Trojan horse malware
Trojan horse malware is a program that installs malware in addition to serving the function you downloaded it for. Although you can remove a Trojan with the right tools, they’re tricky to detect, and you may not notice anything’s wrong until it’s too late. Use strong antivirus software with real-time threat-detection to identify and block threats before they do damage.
Hackers will use any way they can to gain access to your system and compromise your data. It’s always best to stick to the best antivirus software from well-known companies. And always research the program first and check out user reviews to make sure it’s reputable.
How can you tell if your computer has been hacked?
Strange popups, slowdowns, and new desktop icons are all signs that your computer has been hacked. You may notice the effects of the hack immediately, or they may be so subtle that you don’t realize it for weeks.
If you’re seeing any of the following warning signs, it might mean your computer’s been hacked:
A slow computer
An unusually hot computer
Unwanted software or browser toolbars
Strange activity on your social media accounts
Passwords that aren’t working
Missing money from your online accounts
If you notice any of those signs, investigate immediately and act quickly to secure your device and accounts. It’s likely that you haven’t been hacked, and you just need to clean up your computer or update your software to solve the issue. But if you scan your device with an antimalware tool, you’ll know for sure whether your device has been compromised and can then deal with removing the virus.
Can your computer be hacked remotely?
Hackers can access your computer remotely by taking advantage of Windows’s RDP (remote desktop protocol) client, which lets them see your computer screen and control everything just as if they were physically using your machine. Tech support scammers can try this method to convince you there’s a problem with your device and that they are the experts who can fix it.
Hackers can gain access to your system using the remote desktop protocol.
Thankfully, some signs of RDP are easy to spot, like a mouse moving on its own (though faulty drivers can also cause your mouse to act up). Updating your operating system makes it more difficult for hackers to exploit your computer through RDP. And RDP can be disabled simply by shutting off your internet connection.
How can you protect yourself?
There are several quick and easy steps that you can take to defend yourself against computer system attacks. Here’s how you can protect yourself against hackers:
Use strong passwords
When someone tries to hack your computer or online accounts, they often first try obvious passwords or use password crackers that can be bought on the dark web. Creating strong passwords can help stop cybercriminals in their tracks.
Detecting threats with a malware and virus removal tool that scans your computer in real-time helps close security holes before hackers can exploit them.
Installing software updates as soon as they’re available
Software updates often include patches to vulnerabilities that hackers can target. Keeping Windows and all your apps and programs updated is critical to securing your system.
Protect your router and network
Like other connected devices, your internet router could provide a backdoor into your network or machine. Learn how to prevent router hacking and make sure your network security isn’t a weak link.
Avoid suspicious links and software
Don’t make hacking easy for hackers by doing the work for them. Never click on suspicious links or open questionable attachments, especially from people you’re not expecting to email you. And download software only if you’re sure it’s 100% legit.
Use AVG to protect against hacking
Hackers have all sorts of tricks up their sleeves, and trying to close off all attack vectors can feel like never-ending work. That’s why the cybersecurity experts at AVG built award-winning antivirus and threat-detection software — to safeguard your system 24/7 without you having to worry about a thing.
Along with shielding your computer in real-time against the full range of malware threats, AVG AntiVirus FREE blocks infected email links and attachments, prevents unauthorized access to your device, and adds an extra line of defense for your network. Get the hacking protection you need today.