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What is hacking?

Hacking is when someone remotely gains unauthorized access to another person or organization’s computer system. They do it by finding and exploiting a ‘back-door’ or vulnerability in a device or system, bypassing the normal security procedures such as passwords, security pins and fingerprint recognition access points. Cybercriminals use hacking as a tool to extort, exploit and/or gain access to personal data as well as corporate information and even government secrets.

Although steps can be taken to avoid falling victim to hacking, nothing is 100% effective and anyone can fall victim to hacking attacks affecting individual users right through to global companies, corporations and governments.

Why do people hack?

A device may get hacked for a number of reasons affecting an individual’s use of their computer or phone where their data can get compromised and used by cybercriminals. Some of the most common reasons for hacking are:

  • Personal data – Someone may try to gain remote access to a computer to steal logins to social media accounts, bank details or personal photos. Once they gain access to this information, they can use it to impersonate an individual or distribute their details online in the form of revenge porn or doxing.
  • Revenge – Someone might hack into a computer to exact revenge. They may take someone’s personal data and share it with the purpose of instilling embarrassment and/or fear in a victim.
  • Blackmail – Cybercriminals might use information they find while hacking or using the threat of hacking into someone else’s computer to extort or blackmail an individual into doing things such as; giving the hacker money, sending or publishing compromising or sexually explicit images (sextortion) or in some cases, breaching the law.

More often than not, if one person is targeted for hacking – the perpetrator is known to the victim. Hacking is also becoming a growing problem for businesses and organizations. Some of the biggest companies in the world have experienced security breaches which have had a devastating impact on public confidence. Some reasons that a business may be hacked are:

  • Financial gain – Cybercriminals may attempt to take control over computer systems in order to stop the business from being able to function effectively. Once they’ve remotely taken over the company’s computer systems, they could ask for lump sums of money with the promise of returning the system back to normal. This practice has seen many successful businesses around the world face huge costs and legal fees to recover compromised data while having to deal with confidential information about staff being made public.
  • Gain access to personal data – Because most businesses will store the data of customers and/or clientele, cybercriminals can use this data to impersonate individuals, extort from them directly or distribute their information in the form of doxing.

The effects hacking can have on a company or organization

When a business is hacked, it can have devastating effects and in some cases, result in large fines and class action lawsuits. Some of the affects also lead to:

  • Bad reputation – After a business is hacked by a cybercriminal, they may get a bad reputation among existing and potential new customers. They could come across as untrustworthy and illegitimate.
  • Confidentiality breach – Customers of the hacked company could feel like the business itself is responsible for their information being shared or distributed online or offline, and potentially sue the company for a confidentiality breach.
  • Time cost – If the company has had to spend hours or days trying to regain access to the systems that have been hacked, they could lose a lot of time and spend significantly on resuming normal operations.
  • Loss of clientele – If the company is deemed ‘unsafe’ then people will stop using the their services which could result in the company suffering steep financial losses.
  • Direct financial loss – The hackers might request or demand money from the company with the promise of giving them back control of their computer systems.

All of these damaging affects could be detrimental to a company not just at the time of the breach, but due to the nature of the internet – as information of the breach can live on indefinitely.

How do people hack?

Cybercriminals hack other people’s devices by exploiting weaknesses in existing software and creating new programs or scripts to gather information. This can be done in multiple ways without the knowledge of the user.

Once a hacker has gained access to a device, there are numerous ways that they can exploit the system. Some of these include:

  • Hacking passwords – There are many ways that someone can hack another person’s password to gain access to their computer or social media accounts. These range from making an educated guess (if they know the owner of the accounts) or through the use of a “brute force attack” in which they use a script with algorithms to generate every possible combination of numbers, letters and symbols until they are able to generate the correct password.
  • Gaining ‘Backdoor’ access – Sometimes hackers will install a program onto the victim’s computer that will search for any unprotected entrances into computer systems. They may also be able to do this by creating and infecting the device with a virus called a Trojan horse.
  • Keystroke logging – Hackers can install a program on the victim’s computer which can read and record each keystroke made by the device user, making it possible for the perpetrator to have everything they need to gain entrance to that person’s computer system and/or possibly steal and use their identity.
  • Using “zombie computers” – Zombie computers are a network of compromised computers which a hacker will use to send out seemingly authentic emails to internet users’ inboxes. Once the potential victim clicks on what seems like a real link, it will open a portal between the two computers, giving the cybercriminal remote access and control of the victim’s computer without the victim knowing anything about it.

How to avoid being hacked

Although nothing can provide 100% immunity from security breaches, there are steps that you can take to reduce your chances of falling victim to hackers. Some of these include:

  • Keeping your passwords safe – As well as not sharing your passwords with anyone, it is important to change your passwords regularly and not use the same password for many different social media accounts. A lot of social media platforms offer two-factor authentication where you are able to add an extra layer of protection to your online accounts.
  • Being careful when using public WIFI – When connecting to public WIFI, be cautious as hackers can easily set up illegitimate WIFI networks and make them look completely authentic. The most authentic way to check the network’s legitimacy is to ask those who own the network (the shop or company that are responsible for the connection.) Another way to stay safe when roaming outside of your home is to turn off your automatic WIFI connector. You can do this in your mobile settings and this will stop you from connecting to any fake or potentially dangerous WIFI networks by accident.
  • Checking the websites you visit – When using the internet, you can make yourself vulnerable to hackers without even knowing it. The best way of avoiding this is by checking the URL bar for a lock symbol or ‘HTTPS’ in the url of the website you are visiting. This symbol or assortment of letters mean that the website you are on is encrypted and because of that, hackers will be unable to gain access to any information you enter when visiting that particular site as it will be scrambled and inaccessible.
  • App requests – When you use apps, it may ask for access to things like your photos, contacts or location. Be careful when allowing apps this level of control as it could be used to modify information on your device or access pictures and videos you don’t want to be shared or stored elsewhere on the internet.