How does a cyberattacker manage to break their way into your machine? Well, we can tell you it isn’t anything like what you see on TV, with a masked virtual marauder breaking through endless firewalls, whatever that means. As cool as that is for movies, the truth is a bit more mundane.
There are a hundred ways for someone to creep into your computer or smartphone, and the intruder can do just as many things to you from there. Anything goes, from theft to espionage to spamming apps. Some instances have cost companies millions of dollars. However, the most common way a hack occurs is when you accidentally divulge your personal information to bad actors.
In fact, nine times out of ten the victim brings this ill fate onto themselves.
Yes, the majority of hacks happen due to the negligence of the targeted person. And the following will explain what these hapless souls did (or didn’t do) to encourage a cyber attack.
Having weak passwords
There’s a good reason why so many sites insist that you have a complicated password when you create an account with them. If you set your password to be something along the lines of “password” (one of the most common passwords in the world, by the way), basically anyone can get a hold of your private information.
You probably want to avoid being so exposed, so here’s what you ought to do.
First, be sure to have a long password – 8 characters is an often-cited minimum.
Second, include some number or non-letter symbols, preferably both.
Third, avoid using information closely related to you (like your pet’s name) or choosing common words a password guessing program can crack.
Having a short, easy-to-guess password is bad enough, but using that same one for all your accounts is just begging for trouble. If a hacker has your virtual key, the one you’ve been using to access every account you own, you can basically kiss all of them goodbye.
The solution here is very simple:
Have a unique password for every online place you vacate. The problem is that most people are either unaware of the dangers of a one-size-fits-all password or just can’t be bothered to have more than one in their lives.
If you simply cannot have more than one, you can try having the same password but, for example, with a 3 instead of an E. This, however, can get a bit confusing if you have a lot of accounts, not to mention the fact that once a cybercriminal knows one variation he’ll easily figure out the rest. Instead, you should create unique ones for every profile.
Try putting in the first association you have with the website where you’re creating the account.
Falling for phishing
No, that Nigerian prince who wrote you that email isn’t looking to give you $60 million. This is an evergreen example of a phishing email. This is a kind of email that seeks to trick you into giving out information like your bank account number. From there, the hacker is free to relieve you of your hard-earned cash. As outlandish as this Nigerian prince scam sounds, it still rakes in over $700,000 every year.
Most phishing cons, of course, have more finesse. What’s more, many can even trick people who know all about them. That’s why the best remedy is to always exercise caution. If, let’s say, Amazon or Yahoo happen to send you an email saying your account has been compromised and you need to pay for their customer support, this should raise some red flags for you. Especially considering that Yahoo actually offers free tech support in these cases.
Be mindful of what is asked of you in emails and don’t be eager to give away any information if you aren’t positive it’s going into the right hands. This applies to more than just your bank info. If you see an email that wants your security questions for account recovery, give it a wide berth.
Using outdated software
Leaving software outdated is pretty much the same as leaving the back door open when you go to sleep. As things like plugins get updated, their developers also patch reported security risks they’re susceptible to. Not updating means having a glaring weak spot that every hacker in the world knows about on your device.
So what can happen? Well, let’s consider an example. Imagine you have an out-of-date version of Java. You come across an applet on a webpage you’re visiting. Then you click its Run button. At that point, you may have already exposed yourself to malware.
It can be any kind of malware, such as keylogger – software that tracks everything you type on the keyboard. It can then rifle through all that data and find your passwords or bank account number, for instance.
If this sounds like a movie you don’t want to star in, do what you can to keep all of your software updated. It’s equally important to keep your antivirus programs fresh as well.
Armed with this knowledge, you’ll be far safer against any hacking attempts on your personal data.
The bottom line is this:
Outdated software, poor password management, and trust in everyone online make the recipe for certain disaster.