12 Red Flags That Someone May Be Spying on Your Computer (Readers Digest article)

Even if you’re not a CEO or government official, hackers may be out to steal your private information. Here are the signs that you might be under attack, and what to do about it.

What is spyware?

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“Spyware is any piece of software that collects and transmits information without the user’s consent and with covert methods,” shares Steven Solomon, co-founder and CTO of Arcutek. It is used to gather information on a target, usually passwords, credit card, and financial information, system files, and, in extreme cases, keylogging and screen capture, he says. Find out the clear signs you’re about to be hacked.

Your computer starts running slower

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If your computer suddenly starts taking forever to turn on or open up applications, that could be a symptom of malware infection, especially a worm or a Trojan horse, warns Sophie Miles, CEO and co-founder of elMejorTrato.com. “This happens because malicious software consumes too many CPU resources, which overloads your computer and causes it to run much slower than normal,” she says. However, computers can be slow for a host of other reasons, including lack of maintenance, full hard disk, overheating of the processor, and more, so it’s not a definitive sign that it has a bug. (These are secret ways that the government could be spying on you.)

Your fans go into hyperspeed

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“One the simplest ways to tell if a machine or mobile device has spyware, crypto-mining malware, or other viruses that consume processing power is paying attention to the physical temperature and battery life of the machine,” says Bill Siegel, founder of Coveware. So if your phone suddenly needs to be charged three or four times a day, its fan is running more than half the time, and it is always hot in your pocket or handbag, this can be a sign that malware is running and burning a significantly higher amount of CPU power. Learn these tech myths that you need to stop believing.

You used a stranger’s USB drive

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Just like you wouldn’t eat food you found sitting in a library or other public place, don’t pick up any old USB memory stick and put it into your computer, advises Mike Bradshaw from Connect Marketing. And, if other people have access to your computer, whether it’s co-workers or the person sitting next to you at a Starbucks, always check to see if any mysterious drives have been plugged in without your knowledge while you were away from your machine.

Your webcam randomly starts recording

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If your webcam or microphone turns on by itself that could be a sign of an infection, says David Geer from Geer Communications. And spies aren’t only trying to see you in an uncompromising position, hackers will try to catch your various passwords as you type them in. Find out why else you may want to cover your laptop camera.

Unknown sending and receiving

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Another indicator that someone else is controlling your computer? “Blinking send and receive lights when your computer is idle is a warning sign,” says Jack Vonder Heide, president of Technology Briefing Centers, Inc.

Your apps act up

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“A known approach to data collection is injecting attacker code to the target application,” says Lindsay Hull, Senior Strategist at Zer0 to 5ive. The result is an app may run slowly or crash frequently. Here are 17 everyday things you didn’t know could be hacked.

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You start seeing more pop-up ads

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“If all of a sudden you have browser add-ins or plug-ins you don’t remember installing, your machine may be infected,” says Richard Ford, PhD, chief scientist at Forcepoint. “Often, these add-ins help an attacker monetize their access to your machine. Similarly, if the web now seems full of pop-up advertisements, you may be infected.”

Your homepage changed

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“If you open your web browser and are taken to an unfamiliar page instead of your normal homepage, or if you type a search term into your browser, and another browser pops up with a list of websites for your search term, this could be a sign of spyware,” says Stacy M. Clements of Milepost 42. “This is especially true if you realize your browser settings have been modified and you are unable to change the settings.”

Mysterious tools show up

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“Other signs of potential spyware are files appearing on your computer, or toolbars and tray icons that you didn’t install suddenly showing up,” Clements says. You may also find that your antivirus software or some system tools on your computer are unresponsive or don’t work properly. Watch out for these 20 tricks hackers use to scam you.

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