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  • Writer's pictureBurton Kelso, Tech Expert

How To Know If You've Been Hacked or If You're Being Paranoid

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In recent months, I have been getting a steady stream of phone calls, real-life conversations, and social media messages from people wondering if they have been hacked. When you look at all of the things that have happened with cyber security breaches as well as knowing that Big Tech companies are listening to you on your devices, it's understandable that you think everyone in the world who has some tech savvy can easily drop in on your tech devices. Well, let's take a look at the security of your technology devices so you can get a better understanding of whether criminals and tech-savvy folks can gain access to your devices, or are your devices really being tracked or hacked.

The overall landscape of cybercrime and the Internet of Things.

Cybercrime is a human problem and has been for a very long time. 99% of all cyber crimes require some form of human interaction. Every device you own such as your computer, your smartphones, tablets, smart TVs, smart home devices, and everything else that connects to the Internet is secure enough that the FBI would have a very, very, difficult time gaining access to the technology devices you own. Criminals now carry out socially engineered attacks to get you to volunteer your information. That's why you continue to see an increase in phishing, SMShing, and Vishing attacks. Added to that mix are companies that keep falling for data breaches (which normally occur when an employee at one of the corporations that are hacked falls for a phishing scam) which allows your personal data to be leaked onto the dark web. What's worse, along with your personal information, criminals can use the information that's been gathered about you and compare that information with what you post on social media. It creates a perfect storm in which criminals can give you the illusion they know your every move. It's almost "Every Step You Take" by The Police taken to the digital level.

Here are some situations that might make you think your devices and online accounts are hacked or that someone is spying on you.

My computer and devices have been acting strange lately. With any tech device you own, you're bound to have a problem from time to time. Things like a computer that reboots itself or a smart device that's acting weird don't mean you've been hacked. It doesn't mean you have a virus. It means your device is malfunctioning and you need an IT pro to come help you solve the problem. Here are some things to look at:

  • How old is your device? It may be time to take it to the cyber graveyard to be retired

  • Have you rebooted it? Simply turning off and on your device fixes most issues.

My computer or devices are saying I am hacked and want me to call a number to get them fixed. Tech support scams scare a lot of people into thinking their devices are infected with the latest cyber threat. The message might say your anti-virus is out of date or maybe inform you that your IP address has been hacked. Whatever the message, it's another way criminals are trying to get access to your money and your personal information. Here what you need to do:

  • Reboot that computer or device to remove the message. You can click on it all you want, these messages are designed to be hard to remove.

  • NEVER call the number. Tech support companies won't call out of the blue to help you.

I didn’t install that program. Sometimes, there are people who call the office that have discovered unknown apps or programs installed on their computer or smart devices. If it's your devices, obviously it's a sign of concern. Well, 99% of the time, those mysterious programs appear because you unintentionally click on a link in an email or website that activated the download on your devices. There are malicious websites that are designed to install dangerous apps on your gadgets. If you find unknown apps on your computer or devices, simply uninstall them. They are designed to take you to dangerous websites or to create popup messages that will cause you to panic and think your devices are infected. If you are really concerned, you can back up your information and do a full factory reset that will remove those visible and invisible programs on your devices.

Is Google stalking me? Are my devices listening to you? We hear from customers who are concerned that social media accounts, Google, and their smart devices are spying on conversations. Now that is true these devices and services are listening to you and your conversations. Alexa and Google claim their smart devices are only listening to the 'wake' word, but they are gathering your data. Keep in mind, that they aren't gathering this data to spy on you for nefarious reasons. They just want to be able to do a better job to show the people that advertise with them, that they know how to target the people their advertisers want to reach. Your only concern in this instance is that your information doesn't fall into the wrong hands. Social media companies usually do a good job of protecting data, but it's always wise to do the following:

  • Surf the web in 'in private' or incognito mode with your favorite browser.

  • Step away from those smart devices when you are having personal conversations or simply unplug them.

They know my location. I've had dozens of customers over the years who have been victims of abusive partners and had claims of being stalked or have had their devices tracked. In a lot of those instances, it's just a case of a coincidence of a device flaw or a glitch that causes to user to think they are being tracked. However, there are instances when my technicians and I have encountered abusers attempting to keep tabs on their victims. You understand that your phone knows where you’re located. This is how GPS works, how Find My Friends sees your location and why you get local ads on Facebook and Google. That location data, like other data on your phone, is a hot commodity for internet marketers in today’s digital economy.If you feel this is happening to you do the following:

  • Check Yourself, your vehicles, and your home for trackers such as Apple Air Tags and Samsung Smartags. If you find them, remove the battery and take them to law enforcement.

  • Wipe all of your devices back to factory defaults to remove any tracking software and keylogging software which can keep track of passwords and things you type.

  • If you had a shared account with Google and Apple, create a new account to prevent being tracked by your devices

  • Get off social media.

Strangers know my name and know information about you. There are several ways complete strangers know things about you. They can follow you on social media. Maybe you put your phone number on your accounts. Have you been a victim of a large company data breach and your information is being analyzed by criminals? Have crooks been logging into your accounts because you haven't changed your passwords in a long time? Understand crooks are looking at all ways to get access to your personal information, so you need to take these steps to keep your info private.

  • Visit to see if your information was leaked in a large-scale breach. If it has, time to change passwords.

  • Stop using passwords and use passphrases. Passphrases tend to be more secure and you probably need to change them anyway.

  • 2 Factor authentication needs to be configured on all of your accounts.

  • Stop giving out your phone number to everyone. Crooks can learn quite a bit of personal information if they have your mobile number

My social media account has been hacked. We've all seen the 'Don't accept a friend request from me. I've been hacked. When you see this message, in most instances, people have just had their social media accounts duplicated. This means a criminal found your account, made a copy of your picture and other information on your existing account, and created a new account. The purpose: To sucker your friends and followers into thinking you created a new account and the crooks hope they will open phishing messages from you. If your account was really hacked, you would not be able to log into your account. Once you lose your account, it's gone forever. To stay safe, hide your account from being seen from a simple Google search.

I hope you can use these tips to help you quickly figure out if you've been hacked or if it's you doing a little overthinking. Building your human firewall is a very easy thing you can do to keep your devices permanently hacker-proof. This means using strong passwords, keeping your devices up to date, using a VPN, a firewall, and some common sense about the things that pop up on your devices. If you need further assistance, please reach out to me with any questions you might have. I am always happy to help.

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