These are scary times. No matter how well protected you keep your PCs, any system can be compromised. Computer security is getting better, but so are the cybercriminals.
Luckily, there are a number of alerting tools and applications that you can install on your devices. They will send you alerts when someone accesses your machines or networks. With the right setup, it is even possible to catch the hackers when they are connected to your device.
We’ll list several of these tools that you can download and deploy today.
The State of Security
Security is only as good as the last attack you faced. Microsoft and security vendors, both, continue to refine their approach to computer security, but attack surfaces are getting larger and wider. Just take a look at how many computing devices you own, from your desktop computers and laptops to smartphones and tablets, modems and networking hardware to IoT and smart devices.
And that’s not even talking about rogue apps that try to spy on you, or when hackers phish away and breach your accounts. With major parts of our lives now being lived online, in interconnected systems, security has become paramount.
You can have all the latest patches and Windows updates installed, run the best security suite, take necessary precautions, and still end up with a breach. The only way to stay on top is to know immediately when something suspicious happens, and stop the hackers right in their tracks.
Recounted below are various scenarios that an average user may encounter when interacting with their computing devices — whether logging into social media or sending payments via their online bank accounts, sharing their files and folders on their home network, or plain using their PC, the usual stuff.
We also take a look at the best software to install on your computers to get alerted when something shifty happens.
Catch them in the act!
When new devices connect to your Network
Someone leeching off your internet is a genuine worry. Not only could they be siphoning off your bandwidth and getting access to your files, they may also end up doing something illegal. And that’s the last thing you want to deal with.
An easy way to find out for sure that no one else has hopped onto your network is to download and install the excellent Wireless Network Watcher. Developed by the experts at NirSoft, this program lists connected devices on your network. This is a highly advanced and feature rich application, and reveals plenty about your network activity, so you can keep up with what’s going on there.
Run Wireless Network Watcher, and pay attention to the column marked Last Detected On. Click the column so that it displays a down-arrow. This way, the newest device that connects to your network will always show at the top. You can now easily spot any suspicious connections at a glance.
You can also set up alerts when potentially rogue devices enter your network. Go to Options, and turn on the Beep on New Device and Beep on Disconnected Device options. Make sure your system volume is turned on, and you will get alerted whenever something out of the ordinary happens.
You can also set up your own connection and disconnection alerts if you don’t like the default, and it is also very easy to create a log by generating an HTML Report.
When someone logs into your PC
Need to be away, and want to keep your PC locked away? You could do with a notification anytime someone logs into your computer. The trusty old Microsoft Task Schedular comes in handy here, and can be tasked with sending an email every time someone logs into your machine.
The Windows Task Schedular can send emails in a variety of events — assuming your PC is connected to the internet, obviously. This functionality is worth its weight in gold if you have a computer that you don’t want other people accessing, a server for example.
Now, while the Task Scheduler includes an option to send an email, it unfortunately does not work properly for most users. We’ll be using a free tool for sending emails, called SendEmail. Download and extract it, and then step through the follow instructions.
Open Windows Task Scheduler, and in the Actions panel, click Create Basic Task. Give it a name and description for easy remembering. In the Trigger tab, tick the When a specific event is logged, and then clock Next. Use the dropdown under Log to select Security, and then under Source, choose Microsoft Windows security auditing.
Type 4624 in the ID box, and click Next.
Now, on the Action page, check Start a program, and choose SendEmail. In the Add arguments box, type the following selection of text, replacing everything in square brackets with your own data:
Be sure to change the information in the square brackets with your Gmail account information, including your from and to emails, as well as subject and message.
Ironically, it is necessary to tun on the Less secure app access option in your Google account, so that Windows can actually send you the email. For this reason, we suggest creating a dummy Gmail address specifically for these notifications .
When apps Spy on you
Face it, it will happen sooner or later. No matter how watertight the security of platforms like Windows, iOS and Android gets, there will be applications that slip through the cracks. Particularly, ones that seem completely innocuous from the outside.
It is mostly these types of apps that ask for access to your camera, microphone, or storage. They have no business asking for these permissions on your device, no evident use of these elevated privileges. But the primary reason they do is that developers might be spying on you and your usage habits.
Even legitimate applications like Facebook have come under fire for this. Supposedly, these apps snoop around so that they beam targeted advertisements directly to your devices.
The only way around this is to take control, check the permissions of all the apps that you have installed on your PC or phone, and find out whether they really need access to your sensitive tools like microphone, camera, Bluetooth, WiFi, or location. Revoke the access of the applications that you feel don’t need these privileges.
In fact, it is actually recommended you ditch the app altogether if you don’t entirely trust it.
If you would rather call in extra help here, then there are a bunch of software available that do the heavy lifting for you. To get started, search for antispyware solutions on the app repository of your particular platform.
A firewall is compulsory, but Windows users may also need to give O&O ShutUp10 a look. This lightweight program gives you control over the privacy of your operating system, protecting your user and diagnostic data. It also lets you controls your location services and Windows updates.
The UI is simple, and you can easily enable and disable settings via toggle switches that turn red or green. An entire section for app privacy is also available. Best of all, this program is entirely free and comes as a portable package that does not need to be installed — doesn’t download and deploys unnecessary software, either.
How to stop Mobile Apps spying
On the mobile side of things, there are many such privacy apps available both for Android and iOS. One of the best ones that you can download right away is McAfee Mobile Security — available both on the App Store and Google Play. This is a complete mobile security suite, with antivirus, antitheft, and antispyware capabilities, alongside phone security and VPN encryption.
Another good packages is MalwareFox, available in both free and pro flavors. It does a good job of detecting spyware software that you may have been installed on your device, without you even knowing. Install and run this app, and it starts scanning your device for suspicious activity, and reports the findings of software that may be spying or stealing your information in the background.
When your Shared files are Accessed
Sharing may be caring, but you still need to keep a close eye on all your shared network locations. Files and folders that you are sharing may be accessible to nefarious eyes. For the most part it’s a safe endeavor, as long as you are securely sharing your data on your own network, and have changed your default WiFi password.
But this can, so very easily, lull you into a false sense of security.
To be in the know if someone accesses your shared files, you can download NetShareMonitor and use it to keep a close eye on all your shared folders. This minimalistic app may not ace it in terms of the user interface, but it nevertheless gives you almost everything when it comes to features.
It sits in the system tray and alerts you by blinking its icon whenever any remote user accesses the content that you have shared. The IP address, user name, and the files being accessed are shown for each connection.
Three tabs display all the action — Active Sessions logs remote users, Accessed Files displays which files and folders remote users are currently connected to, and Shared Files lists the shared folders on the network.
NetShareMonitor does not require any complicated additional setup, as it automatically finds and scans your shared folders. If you are new to sharing, then Microsoft offers a handy guide to sharing content on Windows 10. Once you have set up your files and folders, simply install NetShareMonitor, which will then pick things up automatically from there. It will notify you the instant changes are detected, with a beep and flash. The program will also log all the details in a separate file.
For a cloud storage alternative, the OneDrive service has already got you covered. It can send emails and push notifications to your phone whenever other users open your shared files or make changes.
When changes are made to your Folders
No better way to find out whether your machine has been messed with than when your folders are tinkered. Good thing, then, that there are programs that alert you when changes are made to folders that you have under surveillance.
Install Folder Monitor, which can be best described as a local equivalent of Net Share Monitor.
This application lurks quietly in your system tray. Simply double-click to open it, then add the folder you want to observe by right-clicking anywhere in the main window. It will be added to the watchlist. If you’d rather cast a wider net, then you can add a path. This lets you put every folder in This PC under the radar, for instance.
With your folders added, you can set options, including the events you want to check for. These range from Created, Changed, and Renamed to Deleted. Now anytime an unscrupulous being takes remote control of your PC, Folder Monitor will trigger an unmissable alarm and warn you of any changes being made to your chosen folders.
When something messes up with your system
If you don’t like anyone toying with your rig, then you need to get a digital guard dog. The best one available is called WinPatrol, a software designed to protect your personal computers from intrusions via hacks, suspicious software, ransomware, malware, 0-day threats and more.
Granted, the application has not been updated in a while, and its UI leaves a lot to be desired. But the feature set it provides is hard to beat — if you look beyond its visually busy interface that crams 15 tabs up top and provides absolutely no direction to use.
WinPatrol, basically, monitors for changes made to your system, and any alterations made to the files and folders on your computer.
You can use WinPatrol purely as a passive program that runs silently in the background and gives a visual and audio alert whenever a new application runs or is installed on your system. You then get the choice of either accepting or rejecting any changes, if you don’t recognize the program in action. If you fear that it’s malware or worse, simply block it from running and ruining your PC.
Worth a mention here that WinPatrol does not properly remove the threat it encounters. This program only halts the malicious software, and you will need to track the threats down yourself in the application.
Get alerted when your accounts are breached
Reality of life. Cyberattacks are now a common occurrence. It seems like every week brings news of a major new hack to worry about. Doesn’t matter how secure your system is, your online accounts are always at risk due to data residing on cloud servers.
And with more and more people living their lives online, keeping an eye on their various accounts is an absolute must these days.
Luckily, there’s a nice little service that goes by the name of Have I Been Pwned.
It cross-references your email addresses against accounts that have been breached. These are accounts that are hacked or stolen and made available for purchase on the various nooks and crannies of the dark web. You can easily search its database and find out whether any of your account was part of a collection put up online by cybercriminals.
Breaches here are in the hundreds of millions — the largest one some 772 million accounts. Total number of hacked accounts as of this writing comes up to 7.8 billion. Point being, don’t be surprised to see one of your emails in here!
Along with searching its database, the service also lets you protect yourself against future breaches by setting up emails notifications. This way, you are informed as soon as an attack happens, and you can then immediately change your login details.
So far, so good?
Why not amp things up another level and get extra security by installing the HackNotice extension for Chrome. This handy browser tool notifies you when you visit a website that has been hacked. Not only does it tell you right away, you can even set up a watchlist for sites that you regularly visit, or those that you know store your personal data.
Great way to learn about new hacks and leaks, while also finding out where your digital identity has been leaked.
The security landscape may be terrifying, but with proper preparation and precautions you can make sure that you stay in the know anytime something suspicious happens. These steps outlined above are easy enough to implement, no matter your level of computing experience.
And for power users and professional that deals with computers all day, these measures are almost a necessity in order to ensure a safe and secure experience. Make the effort to tight up!