While you are reading this, hackers may be trying to infiltrate your computer.
In today’s online world, our data is only a click away. While it makes for easy access, it’s also too easy for hackers. What are they after? Any sensitive or personal data is valuable to a hacker, including your Social Security number, bank account information, cell phone numbers, health insurance accounts, and more.
Not only do you need to worry about information stored on your personal computers, you also need to be concerned with data stored online with banks, retailers, and social media platforms. Facebook, for example, recently announced more than 50 million users’ accounts were hacked; data breaches have occurred at a number of large companies, including Facebook, Uber, Panera, and Equifax.
The most common result of hacking is identity theft. With your personal information they can:
- Steal your money and attempt to steal from others close to you
- Open credit cards and bank accounts in your name, hurting your credit score
- Use your credit card to rack up large purchases
- File a false tax return with your Social Security number
- Sell your information to others on the black market
How Hackers Hack
To understand how to protect yourself and your information, it’s important to understand the tactics used by hackers to infiltrate computers, networks, and mobile devices. Hackers use many different methods, to invade your online privacy, including the following:
Most of us have received emails which mimic legitimate sites from reputable companies like banks. However, by clicking on the link you are taken to a duplicate site and asked to submit personal information. Hackers can then steal the information you entered.
Malware is malicious software designed to cause harm to your computer, steal or delete your personal data, alter the core computer functionality, and monitor your activity without your permission.
It is often downloaded by the user through unknown links in emails, social media posts or text messages. Computers running older versions of an operating system or pirated software may be the most at risk of becoming infected.
Malware comes in many forms, including:
- Virus: infects software, files, or hard drives and renders them unusable
- Trojans: appears to be legitimate software but, once installed, takes control of your computer
- Spyware: observes your online activity and collects data such as usernames, passwords, and credit card numbers
- Ransomware: encrypts your files and demands payment in order for access to be restored
- Mobile Apps
Some apps may not be legitimate, even if they are available from reputable sources like the Google Play Store or Apple App Store. If you download the app, malware may be installed onto your mobile device, giving access to your contact lists, emails, and other data stored on your phone. Hackers can also use malware to hijack your phone and send premium-rate text messages, record your phone conversations, and wipe your phone completely.
- Unsecured Networks
Hackers use unsecured networks to infiltrate systems and help themselves to your data, view your online activity or unleash a virus. If your home network is not encrypted, anyone can connect to the network and view everything you do online.
Public WiFi networks at libraries, hotels, and coffee shops are often not secure, enabling hackers to find their way in. Another tactic hackers use is to create a fake wireless network or hotspot. By connecting to the fake network, you open your computer to hackers. If you visit sites with sensitive information such as your bank’s website, they can steal the information.
- Bypassing Passwords
Hackers find ways around passwords – whether they steal it or guess it. Another way they get around passwords is by using publicly available information to answer your security questions. If you use the same password for all of your accounts, you will make a hacker’s job easier.
Security Tips to Prevent Hacking
- Install licensed internet security software including antivirus and antispyware protection. Set the programs to scan automatically and keep the software up-to-date.
- Never open email messages or attachments unless you know the sender.
- Utilize a virtual private network (VPN) when using a public or unsecured network.
- Always review app permissions before downloading an app onto your mobile device.
- Continually check your personal accounts and correct any discrepancies as soon as possible.
- Never download or install unknown programs to your computer.
- Set your operating system to update automatically.
- Create a unique password for each of your accounts using a combination of letters, numbers, and symbols.
- Back up your files regularly to help you restore your data in the event of a virus or ransomware attack.
- Look for spelling or grammatical errors in domain names or email addresses.
- Use strong encryption like WPA2 on your home WiFi router.
- Give a random answer having to do with the security question to prevent a hacker from guessing it
When it comes to hackers, everyone is a target. If you have sensitive data, they want it for nefarious intent. While it’s impossible to prevent all attacks, there are precautions you can take to protect yourself and your information. Understanding how hackers circumvent security to infiltrate systems can help you keep your private information safe.