16 common hacking signs: How to tell if you’ve been compromised

Ray Fernandez

Jul 17, 20237 min read

16 common hacking signs: How to tell you've been compromised (Header image)

How many devices and accounts do you use every day? From personal social media to work-related email accounts and messaging apps, the digital landscape continues to expand. And with this expansion, your data’s security and privacy face new challenges. You can take note of simple hacking signs to stay one step ahead and keep your online life, computer, tablet, or smartphone safe.

How to tell if your social media account has been compromised

No matter what social media platform you use, your Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, or Snapchat can be hacked. Social media presents cybercriminals with the opportunity to steal data or financial information, spam and release malware, spy on you, and even create highly personalized phishing campaigns. Here are five main hacking signs for breached accounts.

1. Getting locked out

If you try to log in to one of your social media accounts and find out that your password is no longer working or that your account has been suspended or blocked, this is a clear sign that your account has been hacked. The first thing cybercriminals do when they breach an account is change your password and recovery options, including two-factor authentication. This locks you out of your account and gives them full control.

2. Unsolicited login notifications

You might notice that you’re getting unsolicited push notifications asking you to verify access or emails warning you that someone is trying to log in to your accounts. These are all signs of hacking. Take immediate action, change passwords on other services, try to recover the account through official channels, and report the incident to support teams.

A verification request that might be a sign of hacking

3. Strange and suspicious activity

Have you ever logged in to your social media and found strange messages or notifications? If that is the case, you should not ignore them. Hackers take control of accounts to breach friends and family and, most commonly, to launch spam malware campaigns. If you see messages you did not send, new friends and contacts you do not know, or any activity you do not recognize, you should take these hacking signs seriously.

Signs your messenger account has been hacked

Slack, WhatsApp, Telegram, Zoom, and Microsoft Teams: the hybrid-work world has most of us living and working online at least part-time. Know the hacking signs to keep your messenger account safe.

4. Noise in the background

If you are making a call or attending a virtual team meeting and you hear static noise or other strange sounds in the background, it could indicate that someone else is on the line. However, not all spyware works perfectly, and some can create interference, revealing the bug. You should be asking yourself, “Am I hacked?”

5. 2FA requests from “friends”

Often, cybercriminals will spread through an entire network. They first hack one messenger account and later move on to hacking all the contacts in that account. To do this, they employ a simple but effective social engineering trick. They will contact you using an account of your friend or a close family member, which they hacked, impersonating them. Then they might ask you to accept a push notification, enter multi-factor authentication, make a call, download a link, or something else. Do not fall for clear hacking signs.

When a contact asks or approaches you with these types of messages, try to speak to them in person, face-to-face, or at least call them to confirm the story.

6. Random logouts and disappearing data

If you notice that you keep having to log in to your account, it could be a sign that someone else has been logging you out in an attempt to gain access. It’s also possible that you’re just having one of those days when the network glitches and your messenger app logs out repeatedly. But if you log in and see missing messages, files, or contacts, this should raise a red flag. Secure your account.

7. Spam messages and calls

Your account is sending out a massive amount of spam. You’re seeing calls you did not make. And strange, unknown contacts are talking to you. This is about as clear as hacking signs get. Don’t just write this off as the app “acting weird.”

How to tell if your phone has been hacked

Many users still wrongly believe that cybercriminals hack only computers. But these days, nothing could be further from the truth. As smartphones have become increasingly woven into our everyday activity, attacks on phones have increased exponentially.

8. Malfunctioning after a system, security, or software update

While you should always keep your smartphone’s operating system and software up to date, cybercriminals will often try to mimic official-looking update requests to install malware and viruses on mobile phones. If you recently installed new or updated software, and your phone is malfunctioning after it rebooted, take a close look at what you installed. You might be in for a surprise.

9. Unfamiliar payments on your bank statements

Did you get notifications about payments you did not make or see strange financial movement in your bank account, digital wallet, or credit card? Assume that a criminal has hacked your phone and stolen your financial information. And if this is the case, immediately notify your bank and digital financial services organization and try to shut the hacker out of your accounts. Always keep financial services information and passwords safe, and never store them on your phone or share them with strangers.

What suspicious charges on your card may look like

10. Overheating battery

The process of malware, spyware, or a hacker remotely using your phone will push its processing power beyond the limits. And when that happens, your battery will begin to heat up as if it’s been left in the sun. So always be cognizant of your phone’s battery. Is it hot? Has it been depleting more rapidly than usual? Does it take longer to charge? All of these issues could indicate that there’s some hacking going on behind the scenes. 

11. Annoying pop-ups that won’t stop

Cybercriminals code adware to infect any kind of device, including your smartphone. The main goal of this type of malware is to show you a lot of ads. Meanwhile, the attacker reaps the economic benefits of distributing those ads. Not only is adware annoying, but it can be difficult to remove. Plus, it can affect your phone’s performance and even damage it or cause it to crash.  

12. Messages and calls forwarded to an unknown number

A sophisticated and trending attack technique on smartphones is the use of International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) codes. These codes can be used to forward your calls or SMS, receive your verification codes, and reset passwords on your accounts. If you notice that you haven’t gotten any calls or SMS messages in a while, or if you have been recently convinced to dial a code on your phone by a stranger, check your forward phone status. Simply dial *#004# to learn the status of all existing forwards on your phone number. If a forward is there that shouldn’t be, dial ##004# to erase all forwarding configurations for calls and SMS.  

13. Unwanted browser redirects

Are you constantly redirected to sites you didn’t want to visit while surfing the web on your phone? You might mistakenly pass this off as an error at first. But it could also mean your phone is infected with a browser hijacker. While browser hijacking malware attacks used to be limited to computers, they now can infect Android and iOS systems too. There are several ways to solve this, including the use of antiviruses or doing hard resets. Always check the extensions and apps running on your phone, as one of them could be the culprit. 

How to know if your computer has been hacked

Desktop computers and laptops are where most users tend to keep their personal and work information. They are the most powerful devices for working, creating, and sharing content and have the most storage capacity, so it’s easy to lose track of what is happening with your computer until it’s too late.

14. All of the above

All the aforementioned signs and methods used to tell if a smartphone, messenger app, or social media account has been hacked also apply to computers. If it crashes, the fans randomly turn on, the battery depletes quickly, or you notice suspicious messages, a hacker may be hitching a ride on your completer.

15. Ransomware messages 

Nothing says “you have been hacked” like getting a ransomware message. If you think this can’t happen to you, you might want to check the latest stats on ransomware. CISA asserts that a ransomware attack occurs on average every 14 seconds. And the targets aren’t just small, medium, and large businesses — individuals are at risk too. You should never pay the ransom, as it doesn’t guarantee that your data will be recovered, nor does it prevent hackers from leaking or selling your information. The best protection is prevention, a good malware solution, and recovery and backup.  

Ransom message displayed by the Petya A ransomware
The message displayed to users infected by the ransomware Petya.A. in 2017. Source: Wikimedia Commons

16. Ads pretending to be antiviruses

As mentioned before, it’s common for users who have already been breached by adware to see an excess of online ads. Some ads will even pretend to be helpful antiviruses. They simulate a fast scan and give users warning messages claiming that the computer has been infected. If you are seeing an ad like this, it’s likely that you have already been hacked and that the malware installed on your computer is directing you to this site. Never believe messages from an antivirus you have not installed, no matter what it says. The solution? Use a trustworthy antivirus program to scan your computer for adware malware and clean up your browser extensions. 

With so many hackers out there and so many different devices and accounts to keep track of, you might think that keeping all of them safe is virtually impossible. Thankfully, it’s not. If you know the hacking signs, you can stay secure. Just remember to always keep your devices updated, and never share your passwords or other sensitive information. And, of course, make sure to use good anti-malware, and stay away from suspicious and unknown messages, contacts, websites, and emails.

Ray Fernandez Ray Fernandez
Ray has been covering tech and cybersecurity for over 15 years. His work has appeared on TechRepublic, VentureBeat, Forbes, Entrepreneur, and the Microsoft Blog, among others.