News of websites, email accounts and companies’ databases being hacked has become so frequent lately that it makes you wonder if any of your online information is secure enough.  Having your calendar, contacts, videos and photographs online along with your email is very common these days and your username and password getting in the wrong hands could mean serious damage.

So, in an effort to avoid such a situation, let’s take a look at why and how hackers break into accounts and what you can do to best prevent this from happening.

Why do hackers want to steal my information?

While there are several reasons why a hacker would choose to go out of his or her way and attempt to hack into a computer system, here are some of the common ones:

Just for fun:

Novice hackers with no serious intention to steal information generally hack websites or user accounts just for fun or to show off their skills to their hacker friends.  Most of them are just curious about the intricacies of the computer world and want to test their skills against online security systems.

To find weak spots:

Some hackers try to hack sites, not to infiltrate the network or steal information, but rather to determine if there are any loopholes in the security system.  Often they then report those loopholes to the concerned authorities so that they can be fixed and better security systems can be constructed.

To cause serious damage:

This is the type of hacker that causes high severity security breaches. They use their hacking skills to alter data, infect networks with viruses or gain access to information about web servers and the usernames and passwords associated with the website.  Using this information they can gain access to bank accounts, merchant accounts and other online information.  People who tend to use the same password across many sites can be particularly vulnerable if their password is discovered.

How do hackers break in?

Hackers nowadays can make use of a number of tools that help them automate their attack.  Using scanning tools, the attacker can examine multiple gateways, routers, servers and computers at once searching for vulnerable areas within the network to target.  On finding such an area, the hacker uses a tool such as “Whisker”, a software designed to hack web servers by sneaking carefully disguised HTTP requests past the Intrusion Detection System (IDS) to identify what operating system the machine is using and whether any security leaks exist.

In the case of email account breaches, in almost every case, hackers get through using a legitimate password, i.e. they crack the password rather than hack the account.  Therefore, the key to protecting your email accounts is to have secure passwords.

What can I do to prevent hacking attacks?

Keep your software up-to-date:

Make sure you upgrade the softwares you use to the latest release. Most updates to software are security or functionality related, so if you aren’t running the latest version you are most likely missing some security patches.

Keep your machines virus free:

A large amount of hackers gain access to your hosting account via a Trojan horse or virus which crept into your computer when you visited a seemingly-innocent website or downloaded software created by the hackers.  Having your antivirus software and firewalls in place and up-to-date reduces the risk of a potential attack.

All these precautions are good to keep hackers away but at the end of the day, your security depends on your passwords.

Never reuse the same password:

Most people use the same set of a few passwords for all their online accounts.  A hacker with access to one of your passwords could get into many of your accounts in an instant.

Use a strong password:

One that is eight or more characters and is alphanumerical; randomly generated is best.  Don’t use passwords such as ‘123456’, ‘password’ and ‘letmein’ which are known to be amongst the most commonly used passwords.  You’d be surprised by how much just adding a few special symbols (e.g. @$#^%) could increase the strength of your passwords.

Never write your passwords down or share them with anyone:

Writing your passwords down is a habit you need to get out off, for the simple reason that if anyone finds them they can break into your account.  Sharing your passwords is also a practice that is not recommend.  Even if you trust someone enough to share access of your online account, make sure to change your password immediately thereafter.


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