Over the last few years, hacking has changed from something only criminals and spies do to a sport that 1 out of 3 teenage geeks are playing.
Hacking attacks might sound like something that is too rare to bother about unless you are a bank or the Pentagon. However, it’s now something that every normal person who goes online needs to be aware of. While the art of hacking has evolved significantly in the last decade, most internet users are still using the internet naively.
In 2017, the global cyber security market is expected to skyrocket to $120.1 billion, from $63.7 billion in 2011.
With about 556 million victims per year and 232.4 million identities exposed, it is not something you want to be too casual about.
In this article I will explain the most common methods hackers use to get your info and abuse your online data, and the best ways to prevent it.
Common hacking techniques
Cookies are text files that are stored on your system or browser cache. They are used by websites to store information about you, usually to “remember” returning visitors, or to allow automatic login to member’s areas. Cookies often hold personal info such as passwords and user info.
These cookies can hold a wealth of information about you, including personal and financial data, user credentials, and passwords.
Cookies may be stored as plain text or with varying degrees of encryption depending on the website.
The use of browser add-ons has made the decades-old practice of cookie theft a richer and easier prospect for hackers, and it’s becoming much more widespread.
Once hackers get their hands on them, cookies can enable access to your personal private data such as financial accounts, social media and emails.
The main way to avoid this threat is by staying away from public or unprotected networks. Cleaning your system caches will reduce your number of cookies. However, the safest way to protect yourself from hacking is to use a private search engine.
Private search engines are special web browsers that don’t store your info, or create cookies, unlike the major data aggregators such as Google, Yahoo and Bing.
Obviously, you might leave cookies on the sites you visit. However, most search engines that are not private will collect your information, usually for commercial purpose.
This information can be hacked and used to harm you.
Using Google’s Incognito mode, while far from perfect, creates fresh cookies every time you activate it. So it does protect from cookie theft, though it’s still preferable to use a private search engine.
Malware is a popular hacking method. Viruses, Trojans and worms are just a few infamous types of hacking malware.
Innocent-looking emails, software downloads and pop-up’s could become a hacker’s weapon of mass online destruction.
It is recommended to restrict your downloads to approved app stores and sites, keep your anti-virus program regularly updated and don’t open emails from sources you don’t trust.
Keylogger is software that saves the info you type into a log file on your system. A hacker can then see what you type by accessing the file, allowing him to see your sensitive info.
Keylogger is one of the reasons online financial institutes such as banks sometimes offer virtual keyboards.
Scanning your computer often with the most recently updated anti-malware software is a good defense.
Just as water sources are the easiest place to find animals of prey in the savanna, so are public WiFi spots for hackers.
Usually hackers will create a fake WiFi network, such as “Starbucks 2,” and will spy on the info of those who logged in to it.
Waterhole attacks are usually personally targeted. A private eye might follow a person and set a trap for him when the person is sitting in an internet cafe.
Public networks are the least secure way of using the internet. Use caution and common sense when you log into them.
Phishing is a hacking method based on sending internet users to fake sites. The fake site looks like a recognized and trusted site that lures the visitor to submit sensitive information.
Usually hackers who use phishing send an urgent email from what seems as a trusted source such as the gas company or a bank.
The victim who follows the link will see a site that looks like the original but instead connects to the hacker’s system. The site will ask the victim to submit a form or give away sensitive info such as login credentials.
Defend yourself from these attacks by being very careful when following links from received emails.
Especially when you are asked to give away your personal data, you should be extra vigilant and check the authenticity of the site. If something seems suspicious, you might even make an offline call to the company who allegedly sent the email, just to verify its authenticity.
File name tricks
This technique is very simple. It’s one of the oldest tricks in the book.
For this, you will be offered a file to download with a clickbait name, such as KatyPerryHalfNudePics.
Some operating systems, such as Microsoft Windows, hide some common file extensions. A file under the name CrazyCelebsExposedPics.Gif.exe will appear on your system as CrazyCelebsExposedPics.Gif so the file harmful potential will not be revealed.
Your main defense against this one is to check the complete name of files before you open them.
General guidelines to avoid hacking
Common sense and caution are your best friends when it comes to avoiding digital attack. Here are some essential guidelines to keep in mind.
Minimize your digital footprint with a private search engine
It is very unlikely that hackers will target you if you don’t leave personal data that’s easy to trace.
The easiest way to do this is by using private search engine.
Private search engines are designed to protect your personal information. They usually don’t create cookies or store your info. So it is hard for hackers to know anything about you.
Two of the best and most popular private search engines are DuckDuckGo and MyPrivateSearch.
It might feel strange at first to use these if you’re accustomed to Google or Yahoo, but with their simple and clean design you’ll find them easy to use. Sometimes a little investment in digital privacy can save a lot of money and trouble.
Create secure passwords and change them often
This is obviously easier said than done. Unless you have a super powerful memory, it will be hard for you remember 10 different passwords that include over 10 letters each, special characters and numbers…
This is why most people use one password for all their logins. People often use words that are easy to remember and thus easy to guess, like their kid’s name or their birth date. This habit is a hacker’s dream.
Here is a great technique to generate unique, hard to decipher and easy to remember passwords.
Step 1: Take a sentence you like from a book or song. Let’s say, “To be or not to be, that is the question.” Now take the first letter from each word and you have: “tbontbtitq.”
Step 2: Add as a prefix the first letter of the site you’re logging into, as a capital letter. For example, F for Facebook or T for Twitter.
Step 3: Add a suffix that includes a number and special character such as 0! (The same one can be used for all the sites.)
You now have a unique password for each site that is easy to remember and impossible to decipher.
If you need to periodically change the password, all you need to do is add a number such as 01! instead of just 0!
Never download from unknown or incredible sites.
Always check that the site you download from has a credible certificate, the author is known, there is a valid address and contact information, the site is updated regularly and is cited by external sources.
Never click on links in emails you don’t recognize
This is common sense. Sometimes malware links can be sent via Skype and in-site chat windows or social media as well.
Secure your WiFi network and limit use of public WiFi
WiFi networks are a very easy access point to your system. Make sure your office or home network is password protected. When you use a public network, such as at a coffee shop or airport, make sure you have good security software installed. Also avoid entering sensitive data like bank information when you use such networks.
Modern hackers have many tools and creative methods with which they can steal your information, identity and money.
However, with some attention and security awareness you can block most of the hacking attempts.
Being digitally protected might takes some effort, and force you to change a few habits. But since it will keep your privacy and save you from a lot of potential disasters, it’s well worth it.