The Importance of Online Privacy (III): Ways by which hackers threaten your personal data
This is the third installment in our series on online privacy. In the previous two parts (I & II), we have already extensively written on how the government and tech companies get access to your personal data and what the consequences are. Aside from them, there is one more group that probably constitutes the most immediate threat: hackers. Not all hackers are necessarily malicious (consider the hacker-group Anonymous, who are trying to achieve political goals). In general, however, hacking cannot be considered something positive. E-crime is a growing threat. Hackers can use all kinds of tricks to obtain your personal data and the consequences – ranging from stolen banking data to identity fraud – can be disastrous. But how bad is it, really? And how can you protect yourself from hacking? Read all about it down below.
Hacking and selling
We have already discussed the weak spots of public wifi and how easily these can be exploited by criminals to gain access to your personal data. But hacking people who are using public wifi is the equivalent of pickpocketing: very troubling when it happens to you, but as long you keep your guard up and take certain precautions, the odds of it happening to you are reduced significantly. It’s a much bigger issue if you store sensitive information with an external party (like a website or a company) and this subsequently get hacked. This happens more often than you think, even to larger corporations. One of the most notable cases was the Ashley Madison hack from 2015: hackers acquired the personal data of users of a website used to cheat on romantic partners and leaked all of this information, with terrible consequences, from the end of relationships and marriages, to suicides. Of course, the users of Ashley Madison were knowingly engaging in behaviour that is not considered socially acceptable, but the hack brought all of this to light. Even users of less shady websites become the victim of these kind of attacks. In 2016, LinkedIn announced that the data of over a 100 million users had been hacked and sold on the black market. All of this data can be used to cause great damage (consider identity fraud), but don’t forget that this also includes passwords. If you are using the same password for your LinkedIn account for other websites, hackers will have access to this too, in the case of a succesful hack. Websites like eBay, Yahoo as well as shops have all been victims of hacking (creditcard data has been stolen as well).
Hackers have access to a large variety of techniques to gain access to systems. Of course, there is a difference between the methods that are used to acquire access to individual users and those designed to cracking the systems of a professional website. Some dangerous hacking techniques to watch out for are:
- Phishing: A hacker rebuilds a known website and ensures that you end up on it (through, for example, a link in an e-mail that appears to be from that website), so that you will enter your personal data;
- Keyloggers: hackers can use software or hardware to keep track of which keys you are touching on your computer, to discover your passwords;
- Viruses: A hacker can use viruses such as Trojans to achieve a large number of goals, such as installing ransomware (so that your computer gets locked until you transfer a payment to the hacker), malware (to install ads on your computer that are then used to get your data) and much more;
- The ‘evil twin’: a hacker sets up a public wifi network, with the same name as the network of a legitimate service, to trick you into logging in there;
- ‘Bait and switch’: ads that lead to different websites, designed to obtain your data.
Protecting yourself from hackers
There is not a lot that you can do to protect your data if you’ve entrusted it to a website or a corporation. You can only hope that their cybersecurity is up to snuff, so be careful with who you give your data to. But you do have options to protect your own data from hackers. The most important thing is that you keep in mind what kind of techniques hackers can use and never to open any e-mails or click any links that don’t seem trustworthy. Besides that, a good way to shield your activity on the internet is through the use of a VPN, like Goose VPN. In addition, other good ideas are to always make sure that the security of your software is up to date, to use strong, unique passwords (download a password manager to keep track of them), to use two-step authentication for as many accounts as possible and to only send crucial data over HTTPS. With these methods, you can already significantly reduce the risk of being hacked.