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How to Protect Yourself from Hackers

Posted on May 14, 2011
How to Protect Yourself from Hackers
 
Hackers are a group of individuals who get blamed for a lot of what is wrong with computers, servers, and the Internet. Although some hackers are also criminals, some are just mischievous people who get a thrill from being somewhere they don’t belong. This article defines the term hacker and provides some simple advice on how to protect yourself from a hacker’s attack on your computer.
 
What is a Hacker?
 
Before you can protect yourself from a hacker, you need to understand what a hacker is, what a hacker wants, and how a hacker gets what he/she wants. Although the definition of a hacker has changed over the last few decades, a modern definition of a hacker is anyone who attempts or succeeds at gaining unauthorized access to a public or private computer system.
 
However, the threat from hackers goes beyond simply gaining access. Some hackers are interested in stealing your computer files in an attempt to commit a crime such as identity theft. Others simply like to play practical jokes on people by installing an annoying program. Either way, a hacker represents a security risk so protecting yourself from them is a wise decision.
 
Let’s assume that a hacker is interested in committing a larger crime such as identity theft. In this case, the hacker is interested in discovering your personal information such as where you do your banking, your bank account numbers, credit card numbers, social security number, past residences, and anything else that would help the hacker pose as you.
 
Once a hacker gains access to your computer, he/she only needs to sift through your documents, your e-mails, and your Internet bookmarks to discover the information needed. In addition, the hacker may install a small, undetectable program that sends information such as usernames and passwords back to the hacker the next time you use them. Luckily, making it difficult for the hacker to get this information is simple.
 
Protecting Yourself from Hackers
 
The first step in protecting yourself from hackers starts with adopting a safe password policy. First, never share you passwords with anyone. Your bank, for example, would never call you and ask you for your password. Keeping your passwords to yourself is a powerful method of ensuring that only you know them. Second, change your passwords often. A moving target is harder to hit than one that sits still for years at a time. Third, avoid “intelligent guessing” hacks where the hacker tries to figure out your password but trying your spouse’s name, your maiden names, your pet’s name, or anything else that can be easily guessed.
 
The second step in protecting yourself from a hacker includes disconnecting yourself from any networks or broadband Internet connections to which your computer is connected. Hackers use these network connections to attempt to gain access to your computer. Disconnecting yourself from them is a simple way to ensure that the hacker can’t reach your computer.
 
The third step has to do with the software on your computer. First, be sure to use a personal firewall to plug up the unused “holes” or ports in your computer’s network. Modern versions of most operating systems come complete with a simple-to-use personal firewall. This is one way you can protect yourself from hackers that won’t cost you a dime.
 
Next, make sure that your operating system is up to date. Hackers often take advantage of newly discovered security holes to hack into a computer both before and after the operating system manufacturer has fixed the problem or plugged the hole. Turning on automatic updates in your operating system will ensure that you are up to date without any intervention on your part.
 
Finally, keep your software up to date as often as your operating system. Many programs such as Microsoft’s popular Word and Excel applications use scripting languages to create macros similar to a standalone application.  Hackers can exploit these macros to gain access to your computer or retrieve sensitive information such as usernames and passwords. Much like an operating system, these programs represent a threat when security holes are discovered but not properly patched.
 
The fourth and final step in protecting yourself from hackers is to use common sense when it comes to sharing personal information. Some hackers also engage in social engineering to get information from you to help them hack into your computer. Simply knowing what operating system you are running, what company provides you with Internet service, and your account username is enough to get the hacker started with hacking into your computer and gaining access to your personal files.
 
Conclusion
 
Knowing what a hacker is and what he/she wants is the right step toward protecting yourself from a hacker’s attack on your computer. Disconnecting your computer from the Internet when not in use, updating your software, and using common sense about sharing personal information are three of the most powerful weapons you have to protect yourself. Remember, that hackers are constantly on the lookout to exploit newly discovered security holes. Being vigilant when it comes to updating your computer can thwart even the most accomplished hacker.


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