How to Find Out If Your Password Has Been Compromised

by Will Gish

With the widespread use of computers to communicate and conduct business transactions, password security has become an important part of computer security. Bank, email and social networking accounts store personal information--such as date of birth, address and even credit card numbers--which is protected only by a password. A number of actions can be taken to determine whether information has been altered, which is a telltale sign that a password may have been compromised.

Computer Password

Inspect the icons on your desktop if you suspect the password for your personal computer has been compromised. See if there are programs or documents you didn't generate or download.

Check your anti-virus software to see if it has been disabled. If it hasn't, run a virus check to see whether your computer has infected files that are new to the hard drive.

Log on to the Internet and check the history by clicking on the "History" tab at the top of the screen. Check history on other programs by checking their last activity to determine whether programs or sites were accessed at times when you weren't using the computer.

Open a number of the programs and files on your computer to see if they take longer than usual to start, or look different than when you last used them.

Log on to the Internet. Go to a few of your preferred websites. If pop-up ads begin to appear advertising anti-virus software that are obviously counterfeit (incorrect spelling, strange syntax, awkward wording) your computer may have a virus and your password may have been compromised.

Email and Social Networking Sites

Log on to the email account or social networking site for which you suspect your password has been compromised.

Check recent activity. If you have messages in your inbox for either an email account or social networking site marked as "read" that are new to you, chances are somebody has learned your password. Check your most recent login to verify that another person, and not you, logged into your account.

Check your outbox and comments for emails or messages, from personal notes to spam, sent from an account that you didn't generate.

Keep your account logged in. Open your email or social networking site homepage and leave it up. If your password is compromised, someone will eventually log in from a different IP address. Most reputable sites will alert you to this with a message reading "Someone has attempted to log into your account from a different IP address" or something similar.

Financial Accounts

Log in to your bank, PayPal, or iTunes account. If you are prompted with security questions for the site, and you are using the same computer and IP address you always use to log in, it's possible someone has logged into your account from an alternate machine and IP address.

Check your balances and account to determine whether money has been transferred or spent that you are sure you didn't transfer or spend.

Call the business that you have an account with. All major banks, and websites such as PayPal and iTunes, have toll free numbers for customer service pertaining exclusively to web services. Ask about recent activity such as login history and money transfers. If you account was accessed during a time at which you know you weren't accessing it, your password has been compromised.

Tip

  • check Chose a complex password. Simple words or permutations of your name or address will be easily compromised. Pick invented words, combinations of words, and passwords incorporating numbers or symbols.

Warning

  • close The longer you have the same password, the more easily it will be compromised. Change your password regularly.

About the Author

Will Gish slipped into itinerancy and writing in 2005. His work can be found on various websites. He is the primary entertainment writer for "College Gentleman" magazine and contributes content to various other music and film websites. Gish has a Bachelor of Arts in art history from University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Photo Credits

  • photo_camera chiave image by Walter71 from Fotolia.com