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Getting hacked is a terrifying concept. In fact, a Gallup poll found that 62 percent of consumers are worried about their personal computer or smartphone getting compromised. In contrast, only 18 percent of the same group are concerned about being murdered.
The reason for this is simple: Becoming the victim of a hack is a very common occurrence in today’s world, much more so than murder. In fact, a 2014 joint study from CNN and the Ponemon Institute found that around 110 million Americans had been compromised in the previous year.
That said, just because your device has been compromised doesn’t mean you have to give up hope. To that end, let’s jump into what you should do in order to clean an infected PC.
Ensure that you have been compromised
First things first, you need to make sure that your computer has, in fact, been infected with malware. To do this, you’ll need to observe how your machine acts on a regular bases.
Do you receive an alarming amount of pop ups? Does your computer take forever to boot? Are there a bunch of unknown and disreputable programs running in the “Processes” tab of your Task Manager? Can you not even load the Task Manager or other tools?
If you answered yes to any of these, you’ve most likely been compromised. Sadly, an infected machine sometimes doesn’t even show signs, so if you have a feeling in your gut that something isn’t right, you may simply want to proceed.
“All unnecessary tools are shut down in Safe Mode.”
Get into Safe Mode
Safe Mode basically allows your computer to run with only the most essential programs needed. This means that all unnecessary tools are shut down, including most forms of malware. This can be done on Windows 8 and 10 by taking yourself to the login screen and holding “shift” while clicking the “Restart” selection.
Run a scan with a trusted program
Once you’ve done this, it’s time to scan your system. Doing so in Safe Mode is a great idea because it basically negates the possibility of a false sense of security. Certain forms of malware are designed to trick your computer into saying that it’s perfectly fine, thereby destroying the entire purpose of running a scan to begin with.
Selecting a solid scanning service is incredibly important here. Those looking to ensure the security of their computers should look into the wide variety of products sold by Total Defense.
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Online commerce has become a hugely popular enterprise. The convenience and deals people can find via the internet simply cannot be paralleled in a brick-and-mortar store. In fact, on Black Friday and Thanksgiving alone in 2015, consumers spent an incredible $ 4.45 billion through online shopping, according to Adobe.
However, this popularity hasn’t gone unnoticed within the cybercriminal community. These individuals know how much money is flowing through these sites, and they’re doing everything in their power to get their hands on some of it. That said, there are some things you can do in order to mitigate the risks of fraud.
Look for the green lock
The first aspect you’ll want to look for in an online shopping vendor is whether or not they have enough security to ensure your financial information won’t be stolen by a hacker. Although sites have many ways they can go about doing this, the most important and easiest to check is HTTPS encryption.
At its most basic, encryption is where data sent over a connection is scrambled during transmission and then descrambled by the machine at the other end. The reason sites need to do this has to do with the fact that hackers have the ability to intercept information via something called a man-in-the-middle attack. If you’re using HTTPS encryption, all a hacker will be able to see is a bunch of indecipherable nonsense.
What’s more, checking to see if a site uses HTTPS encryption is incredibly easy. Simply take a look at the far left side of the address bar. If you see a green lock, any data sent through that website will be encrypted. If not, it’s probably best to move on to another site.
Use a different password for each site
A huge mistake a lot of people make is using the same password across different sites. Many users don’t understand why this is an issue or simply trust their online shopping vendor of choice too much. That last point is especially poignant, as it’s vital to understand that no company is ever 100-percent secure. Even Amazon has been the victim of a login credential data breach.
“Using multiple, complex passwords ensures you compartmentalize a breach.”
The reason this is such a big problem is that once a hacker compromises one account, he’s instantly able to access the information contained elsewhere. Using multiple, complex passwords ensures you compartmentalize a breach.
Credit cards are better than debit cards
When you actually get to paying for your item, it’s generally a good idea to use a credit card rather than a debit card. Although debit cards aren’t inherently unsafe in and of themselves, the actual issue comes from the process of filing a fraud claim after you’ve been hacked. When you use a credit card, you aren’t actually losing your own money. If you can prove you weren’t negligent or an accomplice to the criminal, the credit company will generally cancel the charge.
However, when a hacker gains access to your debit card, he’s stealing the actual money that you’ve earned. You still most likely be able to get it back, but if the theft was large enough you may have to go without money for a good amount of time while the bank figures the situation out.
Check your bank accounts regularly
On that note, it’s also vital that you remain an active participant in your financial well-being by constantly checking your bank accounts. Unlike in the movies, hackers are often extremely quiet and the online vendor that was hacked may not notice the fraud quickly. If you notice any charges that you can’t personally take responsibility for, follow up with the bank immediately.
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Proper password creation and protection are by far the most important parts of personal cyber security. A hacker with access to your login creden ials can pretty much steal your online identity. In fact, the Verizon 2016 Data Breach Investigations Report found that 63 percent of observed hacks originated from poor password control.
So, what kinds of mistakes do you need to avoid if you want to keep your information safe?
1. Not using capital letters, numbers and symbols
This is probably the most common mistake users make when it comes to password creation. People want to keep their phrases simple so they can remember them, and in doing so they set themselves up for failure. This is because cyber criminals have tools that can automatically guess passwords, and only using lowercase letters will enable such a program to find your phrase incredibly quickly.
Therefore, it’s imperative that you rely on both lowercase and uppercase letters, as well as numbers and symbols.
2. Using dictionary words
Another major issue a lot of people don’t know about is the usage of dictionary words. Again, this has to do with the kinds of tools that hackers have at their disposal. A robust password cracking program will basically run through a dictionary in order to unlock your account.
In fact, the University of Chicago stated that even using a misspelling of a word – such as using an “@” symbol rather than an “a” – can lead to a data breach.
3. Relying on information that can be found online
Outside the realm of a program cracking your password, hackers also often rely on the information you post online in order to access your accounts. Your child may be the center of your universe, but they’re also the center of your Facebook timeline. Using his or her name in your password followed by their birth year is a surefire way of letting an ambitious hacker in.
4. Writing them down or storing them unencrypted
In order to meet all of these requirements so far, you’ll probably have to create a long string of numbers, symbols and both upper and lowercase letters. While this will certainly keep a hacker from figuring your password out on his own, you now have the issue of having to remember the phrase.
“Complex passwords create the issue of having to remember the phrase.”
Many people decide to fix this by writing it down or storing it unencrypted on their device. However, this simply creates another problem. Keeping your password list on your computer or phone means that anyone who gains access to it – through theft or more complex digital means – now has complete control over all of your accounts. A paper list is even worse, especially if it isn’t kept in a secure place. Even sticking a Post-it note with your password on your monitor at work could result in a major data breach.
There are two actions you can take to avoid these scenarios: First, try to make complex passwords that you can actually remember. Something as simple as using the first letters from the first line of a poem your significant other wrote for you, followed by a few random numbers, is more than enough to stay secure and while keeping your unique password fresh in your mind.
The other action here is to utilize a password manager. These services encrypt your phrases and store them, ensuring that you don’t have to remember your login credentials for each account. There are many choices out there, but one of the best free options is Dashlane.
5. Giving up login credentials in a phishing scam
You could have the strongest, most complex password in the world, but it wouldn’t matter if a hacker was able to successfully leverage a phishing scam against you. These campaigns often involve the cyber criminal doing what he can to trick you into believing he is a legitimate source over email, generally something like a bank or online vendor. Once you’re lured in, he finds a way to ask you for your password or other login credentials. Before you know it, you’ve been hacked.
While these messages are often extremely realistic, we’ve previously written on how to pick out a phishing email. Another way to help ensure you don’t fall victim to these kinds of scams is to invest in robust cyber security software. These products often have anti-phishing tools that can help you avoid the scam before it even starts.
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Although those involved in hacking schemes are often able to hide their true identities behind a computer screen, sooner or later many of them end up in police custody. One of the most recent examples of this is Lauri Love, a U.K. citizen who will be extradited to the U.S. on charges of hacking. Love, along with associates at Anonymous, broke into computer systems hosted by the U.S. Army, the FBI, the Federal Reserve and the Missile Defense Agency, according to The Atlantic’s Yasmeen Serhan. He faces up to 99 years behind bars.
Of course, Love hasn’t been convicted of anything yet and it remains to be seen just how long he would go to prison if he was, but the point here is that cyber crime very often ends in handcuffs. To discourage any would-be hackers, we’ve put together this list of cyber criminals who were eventually caught by the authorities.
Marcel Lehel Lazar AKA Guccifer
The great power of the internet is that it has created a global community. Sadly, this level of connectivity is so powerful that cyber criminals often use it to their advantage. Hacking people or organizations in other countries often allows for an extra level of protection from the authorities. Marcel Lehel Lazar thought this added security would help hide him, but of course, it didn’t.
Lazar went by the hacker handle “Guccifer,” and during his reign of terror, he hacked everyone from the Bush family to Colin Powell. He’s also credited as the one who discovered the private email address of Hillary Clinton, although Paula Reid of CBS News reported that he was not the one behind the breaching of Clinton’s server.
“Cyber terrorism has become a very real threat.”
As it is with many hackers who go after prominent political figures, Lazar was eventually caught and brought to justice. He’s since been sentenced to 52 months in prison in the U.S. Of course, Lazar also broke laws in his native Romania, and he will also be serving seven years in jail there before he is brought to the U.S.
Ardit Ferizi AKA Th3Dir3ctorY
Cyber terrorism has become a very real threat in the past few years. Gaining access to personal information allows for some pretty nefarious actions, such as those perpetrated by Ardit Ferizi. The Kosovo native hacked into a U.S.-based retailer and scanned the customer email list, looking for ones connected to government or military workers, according to Patch’s Mary Ann Barton.
Once Ferizi got all the information he needed, he compiled a list of 1,351 people and sent the data to individuals within ISIL. This allowed the terrorist group to send out a threat aimed at the professionals contained in the data dump.
“We have your names and addresses,” ISIL wrote. “We are in your emails and social media accounts, we are extracting confidential data and passing on your personal information to the soldiers of the khilafah, who soon with the permission of Allah will strike at your necks in your own lands.”
Ferizi was eventually discovered, and he was brought to the U.S, where he pled guilty to his role in this whole plot. He’s since been sentenced to 20 years in prison.
During the birth of the internet, the average person wasn’t really sure what hackers were capable of. This lead to a a lot of myths when it came to cyber criminals, and there are few better examples of this than Kevin Mitnick. When he was finally caught in 1995, Mitnick’s notoriety had caused people to think he could launch nuclear missiles by whistling a specific tune into a telephone.
Of course, none of that was true, but Mitnick did have quite the real reputation. According to Big Think’s Jason Gots, one of Mitnick’s major crimes was something called “phone phreaking,” which is basically where a person investigates a telecommunication system for weak spots. He would use social engineering techniques to do everything from tapping phones to receiving private phone numbers.
Mitnick was eventually caught and served five years for his crimes. He’s since discovered the error of his ways and has become a cyber security expert, working with organizations to ensure they don’t fall victim to the kinds of attacks he employed.
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There are few technological innovations within the consumer space as revolutionary as the smartphone. These gadgets have allowed people to access the power of the internet regardless of where they are, which is both an incredible gift and a terrible curse. While having just about any piece of information you'd ever want right in your pocket is fantastic, smartphones are also just another avenue for hackers to exploit you.
However, this doesn't mean you should chuck your device in the trash and live off the grid. Rather, you should be mindful of how you use your smartphone and how you can prevent a cyber attack. To that end, let's take a quick peek at the top three tips for better smartphone security:
1. Use a password, not a PIN
Before delving into any complicated digital attacks, let's first discuss how a hacker might gain access to your information by gaining physical access to your phone. According to a study conducted by the Consumer Reports National Research Center, around 5.2 million Americans either lost their smartphone or had it stolen in 2014. Therefore, it's imperative that you properly secure your device.
"PINs are a lot less secure than an actual password."
A lot of phones start you off with a four-digit PIN, but these are a lot less secure than an actual password with words and numbers. iPhone users can change this by going to Settings, then selecting Passcode and turning off the Simple Passcode option. Android owners should go to Settings and select Lock Screen to get options for locking the device.
2. Be cautious around public Wi-Fi networks
To encourage customers to stick around and buy more, a lot of companies have started implementing free Wi-Fi in their establishments. While this is great for those that don't have a reliable connection at home, you should be cautious about using these services. Due to the fact that these public Wi-Fi options aren't encrypted, hackers often employ something called a man-in-the-middle attack, which is where the criminal basically watches all the internet traffic that passes through the unsecured network.
This is worrisome because a lot of people transmit sensitive information over their mobile devices. In fact, the Pew Research Center found that 57 percent of Americans use their smartphone for online banking. Although there's nothing wrong with checking out your finances on the go, you should make sure you aren't doing so on a public Wi-Fi network.
3. Never trust third-party app stores
A lot of people have started to turn to third-party app stores, as the vendors sell products that the standard stores simply don't. However, there's a reason more established institutions turn these apps away. Hackers often use lax security policies at these marketplaces to attach malware to downloads without the consumer even noticing. To ensure the safety of your device, it's best to simply avoid these third-party app stores altogether.
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