It’s only because you are.
Remember “the information age?” That was the now-dated shorthand for our vision of a new era in which computers would exponentially expand our potential to solve problems and create opportunities. Now that we’re more than a full generation into it, we’ve learned there’s a downside to all the convenience of life online: the risk of our security.
In 2014 alone, more than 110 million Americans were the victims of online hacking, essentially one out of every two of us. “Too many of us get online every day and just roll the dice,” said Nicole Henley, Information Security Officer at Emprise Bank. “We know the hackers are out there, but we think they won’t get us. Unfortunately, the truth is, they probably already have. Knowledge is power for the hackers. But a little knowledge of how they hack can also be a powerful defense against them.”
How the hackers hack
We’re all too familiar with reports in the news of breaches in the security systems of businesses like Target and eBay that compromise our information simply because we had the misfortune to shop there when the hackers came calling. But there are a number of specific tricks up the sleeves of the sleuths who target your home computer as well.
- Keying in your password. Believe it or not, hackers can actually penetrate your computer with programs that can recover your keystrokes. That means they can essentially “see” you enter your username and password. Wherever you enter a password online, including your bank and shopping accounts, the hackers can capture it.
- Kidnapping, cyber-style. There’s a place on your computer where you keep your cyber identity and hackers can find it. They can literally steal your identity on social media and messaging accounts and use it themselves or sell it to others.
- Absorbing you into the Botnet. Have you ever received spam that appeared to come from a friend, but you know it couldn’t have? Like as not, your friend has been hacked and his or her computer has been connected to a network of other hacked computers called a Botnet. Open the spam and faster than you can say uh-oh, your friends could be receiving strange emails from you.
- Inhospitable hosting. Here’s a scary prospect: Hackers can actually turn your computer into their own web server, making you unwittingly complicit in criminal activity that ranges from phishing expeditions to steal usernames and passwords to the distribution of pirated or pornographic videos.
- Mining your inbox. Want your cyber neighbors going through your mail? It might be happening right now, and you haven’t got a clue. It’s not just a breach of your own messages either. These hackers are just as interested in stealing information about the friends and business associates you write.
- Gaming your system. Do you play online games or have any software licenses you’ve purchased? Hackers will see them as fair game for cyber theft and selling to the highest bidder.
So what’s a computer user to do?
When it comes to hacking attacks, being forewarned is definitely a big part of being forearmed. But there are also some good habits you can form to boost the level of your security against these and other cyber attacks. Here are a few simple, but effective ones:
- Up the “Anti” Regularly. Make sure you regularly update the antispyware and antivirus software on your computer. Most operating systems have this security programming built in and keeping your system current will also automatically update your protection. Be sure to research any online software before you buy, though. Some antispyware can actually download a pack of cyber wolves in sheep’s clothing.
- Be a frequent password changer. The more often you change your passwords, the safer you will be. There are even applications available that will automatically generate new passwords for you, so you don’t have to stretch your imagination, and your memory, to come up with an endless array of new ones.
- Shut downs are a turnoff. Hackers can’t hack when your computer isn’t on. So get in the habit of turning off your computer when you’re not using it.
- Don’t get attached to attachments. Never click on any attachment in an email from someone you don’t know. If the email comes from someone you do know, but the subject or the attachment looks suspicious, it probably is. It is best to delete the email versus sending it to the junk folder. Send it to junk before you download a cyber spy right into your hard drive.
At Emprise Bank, we know the battle to protect your online security requires constant vigilance. The cyber thieves who are targeting your data are always looking for new tools for their trade. That’s why we keep pushing the envelope of our protections for your accounts, and work to keep you informed about what you can do to secure your information at home as well.