Hackers: The New Big Brother

Monday Author:  Susanne Skinner

Social engineering has become about 75% of an average hacker’s toolkit, and for the most successful hackers, it reaches 90% or more.  ~ John McAfee

Anyone who uses a computer that is connected to the Internet is a target for a computer hacker. Why? Because hackers are also connected to the internet and their main purpose is to gain access to information you do not want them to have.

hacked, hackers, hacking, Susanne SkinnerThey accomplish this by breaking into your system without your knowledge even though you may have unwillingly given your consent by providing information—most likely through social media—that unlocks the door to your data. How is this possible?  Because it is people, not machines, that create computer threats and cause data breaches.

A computer hacker can install malware without your knowledge and monitor every single thing you do. Hacking is the new Big Brother.

How Hackers Work

The term hacker wasn’t always negative, nor is it new terminology. Hacker had its genesis in the early days of the computer industry, when people like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs were pioneering new ways to use technology.

A hacker was simply a programmer; someone who wrote code. But that programmer was writing code light years ahead of its time. These people were creating the operating systems of the future; networking machines together to build shared systems.

But not every network was shared. Sometimes programmers would explore networks they did not belong to, and accessing them became a challenge. They ‘hacked’ them, or breached their security and were able to get in.

In most cases there was no malicious intent, they just wanted to understand how the network worked. By learning how other programs worked they often found and corrected bugs in the system, writing code to fix or patch the bug and sharing it with fellow programmers.

In some cases, their extensive knowledge and understanding benefited corporations and even the government by exposing weaknesses that led to better security.

By the early 1990s, the term had morphed into the bad guy/black hat genre we know today and hackers became a recognized security threat. 

The Unethical Use of Hacking 

Once a skilled hacker knows how a system works, he can design a program to exploit it. Not all hackers are bad—in fact, white-hat hackers work in legitimate jobs, using their significant skills and knowledge to develop and improve virus protection software.  That’s not who we’re talking about.

black hat, white hat, black hat conference, hackersWe’re talking about the bad guys and how easy it is for them to (1) find you and (2) exploit you and your information. Once they have it, there is nothing you can do to stop that train.  In most cases they have it because you unwittingly gave it to them.

Yes, you can change your password or close your account, but the data train has left the station and if it’s carrying your social security number, credit card information, children’s names or home address, you are a hacker’s dream.

Hackers are motivated by curiosity, profit, anger, protest, information gathering, and the thrill of the challenge. Serious hackers are masters of their technology but anyone can be a hacker. For $3,000 you can buy a complete and fully operational hacking kit that will do the dirty work for you. I’m not kidding – Google it.

These are programs hackers use to trick you into giving up personal or banking information; sending it straight into their hands and ultimately on to the black market.

A Faceless Crime

No one is immune to hacking.  Most of us have experienced a hack or two; made more likely by participating in social media. What many people fail to realize is that once a hacker gains access to one account, like Facebook, they can find information about other accounts and it starts a chain reaction. They don’t just steal your information; they can also delete it, hold it hostage, and use it to infiltrate the accounts of your friends and family. You will never see them coming. Hacking is a faceless crime.

If your social media profiles list too much information you are setting yourself up to be a victim. Did you know that a screen name is actually your email address? Every hacker knows this.

For example, if your email is rockinhotmama@gmail.com, it is a unique address owned by you that everyone can see…even people you don’t know. Once a hacker has access to your email, the rest is easy. If you have an email address on social media make sure it is detached from all other accounts and web sites.

Most people don’t realize the security questions they set up for additional authentication are easier to hack because we answer them truthfully. But you don’t have to answer them truthfully! Your dog’s name can be whatever name you want to give it. In fact, you don’t even need to own a dog—just make up a dog and a name!

Big Brother Is Watching

We live our lives online. Email and social media are a given, but most of us also use online banking and shopping, health care and insurance portals, and even online grocery shopping.

V for Vendetta, faceless crimeA hacker can simply write a program that searches information in these data bases until they find what they need to hack an account. These programs exist for any service imaginable, and are legendary in the hacker underground.

Online security is a topic I am passionate about and in today’s era of data breaches and identity theft think twice before you take online quizzes or share personal information on any social media site. Human error remains the leading cause of data theft.

The question is not if you will be hacked but when.

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About Aline Kaplan

Aline Kaplan is a published author, a blogger, and a tour guide in Boston. She formerly had a career as a high-tech marketing and communications director. Aline writes and edits The Next Phase Blog, a social commentary blog that appears multiple times a week at aknextphase.com. She has published over 1,000 posts on a variety of subjects, from Boston history to science fiction movies, astronomical events to art museums. Under the name Aline Boucher Kaplan, she has had two science fiction novels (Khyren and World Spirits) published by Baen Books. Her short stories have appeared in anthologies published in the United States, Ireland, and Australia. She is a graduate of Northeastern University in Boston and lives in Hudson, MA.

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