The Hack Attack Is Back

By Hector Cisneros

Hacking: The Art of Exploitation Second Edition
Hacking: The Art of Exploitation Second
Edition (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I’ve have been working in the computer industry since 1981, and clearly remember the very first computer virus that appeared soon after the personal computer age began. Mind you, this pre-dates the beginning of Internet by 12 or so years. Computer viruses and hacking are nothing new. However, our dependency on a worldwide network to conduct business, (the internet) and the pervasiveness and frequency of massive hack attacks is new. So, if you want to learn who the hackers are, who's being hacked, and most importantly, how to protect yourself and your financial assets from these criminals, then read on and learn the answers to these and other questions in this week’s Working the Web to Win article, "The Hack Attack is Back.”

Like I said earlier, hacking is not new. What is new is our overwhelming use and dependency on computer systems, especially the Internet, which allows us to communicate worldwide virtually instantaneously.  Computing devices and the Internet have ushered in a well-spring of inventions, mass communications and innovation. Unfortunately, they’re also act as a double-edged sword, in that smart criminals can take advantage of the complexity and the massive social addiction that people have with what seems like new-found power. This allows hackers of all kinds to invade our lives in a multitude of ways.

English: Monolith as displayed at the
English: Monolith as displayed at the "Hackers at Large" conference in Enschede, The Netherlands, 10-11-12 August 2001. The monolith has been erected by the German hacker group CCC (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The invention of hacking pre-dates the Internet. However, the birth of the Internet has made it ultimately easier for hackers to take advantage of people who only know how to use computer system. “E-Hackers”, as they are sometimes called now, sprung for smart criminals that hacked phone systems, banking, or government computers before there was an Internet. The act of hacking is nothing more than circumventing a computers security system to gain access to that systems data. As the Internet grew in popularity, so did online hacking.

Hacking is just one of many cybercrimes that follows the money. The Internet has become a major part of most people’s lives and is an extremely important asset to most businesses. Hacker’s hack for many reasons. Most do so for financial gains, some to do because they’re smart and they can. Right now, our dependency on the Internet as a utility for transactions is immense. Unfortunately, our security for these transactions are a legacy from the credit cards days, all pre-Internet technology. Hackers are taking advantage of this dependency and the many security holes that these old systems have. They also take advantage of human nature for complacency, laziness and our need to socially interact.

In 2012, we predicted that massive hack attacks would take place on our banks, retailers and government institutions. This was not  far fetched because smaller “hack attacks” were already taking place back then. Today, massive hack attacks have become daily headlines.  
Courtesy of www.linux.com

Today’s headlines are shouting about massive hack attacks on Target, JP Morgan Bank, Home Depot and Apple’s iCloud. This is just the tip of the iceberg. Most hack attacks aren't even reported because companies fear the legal repercussions and the bad press. The Russians and Chinese have government-sponsored hacker teams. There are also vast criminal syndicates that are well-financed coming for us. I fear that soon will come the day, when terrorists decide to jump on the hacking band wagon as well. We’re all extremely vulnerable!

Sadly, our government has been very slow to take these problem seriously. The FBI and other agencies have announced that this is a massive problem, yet our government is not funding any kind of meaningful counter-treat to thwart or eliminate this type of crime. To make matters worse, the NSA is also hacking massive amount of information in the name of national security. This is giving foreign governments’ the ammunition to join the hack fest as well.

The problem is not just the technology. Banks and credit card companies are working on more secure cards system, but they’ll not be fully implemented for several years. The first step is to replace existing credit cards with ones that have smart chips on them. The other parts of these upgrades will be rolled out over the next two to three years, where a better verification system is added to the mix.

An Opus smart card
An Opus smart card (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
However, no amount of smart technology can protect you from foolishly using your card in an unsafe way. Nor can that technology protect you from giving away your personal information. The real problem is how lackadaisical people treat this issue. Most don't take this threat seriously until all their money is stolen and their lives are ruined. We have written, and warned about the growth of hack attacks for several years. Now it’s a fact that the chicken has come home to roost and millions of Americans’ credit card information has been compromised.

So what can we do to protect ourselves in this climate of weekly hack-a-thons? Here is my high priority list that anyone can and should implement:

1.      First, find out what your banks’ policies are with regard to your accounts being hacked. Most banks that are FDIC-insured provide protection against fraud; but don't take my word for it, ask them. If they say you’re not protected, move your money to a bank that does. 
2.      Also, inquire about single use credit cards. These can be purchased for making Internet purchases as a one-time use card (some can be refiled). This way, if the card information is compromised, you’re only liable for the amount on the card. These are good for making purchases online, especially during the holidays. 
Courtesy of www.paypal.com
3.      Another way is to use PayPal or some similar payment system. Make sure that your PayPal account doesn’t have access to your debit card or bank account directly. Only use a credit card as the final means of payment. This gives you two layers of protections for fraud.
4.      If you using a debit card to make purchases, stop! Use a regular credit card for store and online purchases. If a hacker gets your debit card number and password they can empty your account. If they get your credit card number and password you’re only liable for the first $50, or so and in most cases, nothing if you dispute the charges right away. 
5.      If you currently don't have an ID protection service, get one. There annual cost is relatively low and many offer monthly plans. These programs can help stop a criminal from assuming your identity, stopping them from wiping out your bank accounts and assuming new credit in your name that they then never pay. Anyone can purchase ID protection service like the one that Life Lock offers. Also many of the credit verification companies sell this service as well. I have even noticed that many insurance companies now offer these type of policies as an add on to a home owners policy.
English: A paper shredder
English: A paper shredder (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
6.      If you don't have a shredder, buy one. They are generally inexpensive and good ones can be had for under $100. Shred all financial documents that are headed to the trash. This includes credit offers of any kind. Some shredders can also destroy CDs, DVDs and credit cards, all of which can contain financial or sensitive personal data. Don't keep massive amounts of financial data laying around your house. If a thief breaks into your home (because they saw you post on Facebook that you were on vacation, for example), they’ll have free reign to gather whatever they need to steal your ID and access your financial accounts.
7.      Speaking of keeping your data secure: Make sure your smart devices (computers, tables, smartphones, etc.) are password-protected with at least an eight-digit password made up of numbers, letters and some special symbols. This way, if they steal your any of your digital devices, you’ll have time to take measures to protect your accounts while you file a claims and replace your gear.
Courtesy of soft102.blogspot.com
8.      Every smart device needs to have a couple of layers of anti-malware protection. I use Trend Micro, Malwarebytes, Spy Bot’s Search and Destroy and Advance System Care on my computer. These programs need to be run on a weekly basis. If you’re not scanning your devices, you’re still vulnerable! My tablet and smartphone have two of these anti-malware programs and an application that can lock and locate my devices if they’re stolen.
9.      Make sure you keep your all your smart devices up to date with regards to security updates. If you’re running Microsoft Windows, this is almost a weekly process. Check for these update regularly or better still, turn on automatic updates so they’re added as released.
10.  If you love free apps for your tablet and/or smartphone, beware! Many of these apps compromise the security of that device. Even if the app is legit, a not legit app may be able to use the legit one to steal your data. Free apps have their price as a real risk to your security.
11.  Regularly check the FBI and other scam/fraud websites to learn about and lookup current or suspected threats and scams. Many anti-virus software vendor also have free database lookup services where you can check for suspicious and malicious software threats. These databases often provide information on how to remove the treat, even without purchasing their product. Some even have free online scanning services to help you remove the malware, absolutely free of charge.
English: Jodi
English: Jodi (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
12.  Last but not least, refrain from visiting websites of a dubious nature. This includes porn sites, warez, free software apps, online first-run movies and music sites. Criminals are betting on their ability to hook you with their tempting bait and once you swallow the hook, their hack attack begins. I use a browser plug-in call Web of Trust that’s free and rates web links (websites in real-time in your browser), even before you click on them. Also many antivirus programs such as Trend Micro have built-in warning systems to stop you from visiting questionable sites. However, as I said before, no amount of smart technology can keep you from acting in a very stupid way.

In this article, I discussed the new hack attack era we’re now living in. This new climate of wide-spread hack attacks can adversely affect every man, woman and child in America, (or any other countries for that matter). I have provided my high priority list of a dozen things anyone can and should do to protect their financial assets and identity. This way you won’t become a victim during this new era of hack-a-thons, taking place worldwide.
If you'd like to read more articles like this one, check out "Trick or Tweet? The Vulnerabilities Inherent to Twitter and All Social Networks" and "Working the Web - Is There a Cyber Attack in Your Future?" or enter the words “hacking” or “hack attack” in the Search box at the top of this blog. If you found this article useful, please feel free to share and repost it. I welcome your opinion and comments, just add them to the Comments section below.
That’s my opinion; I look forward to hearing yours.

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Hector Cisneros is COO and director of Social Media Marketing at Working the Web to Win, an award-winning Internet marketing company based in Jacksonville, Florida.  He is also co-host of the weekly Internet radio show, "Working the Web To Win" on BlogTalkRadio.com, which airs every Tuesday at 4 p.m. Eastern. Hector is a syndicated writer and published author of “60 Seconds to Success.” 

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4 comments:

  1. Thanks for the advice. I'm definitely going to read "heed."

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  2. Spam is becoming more pervasive and sinister. Thanks for this article; I'm going to implement all the steps you recommended.

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  3. if that very first hacker, and every one since, had been promptly and publicly exterminated, we might not have this problems today. hey, Hector, thanks for reminding us all how vulnerable and subject to attack we all are! but at least you also gave us sound tips to help us protect ourselves. good stuff!

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  4. It's getting scary out there. If you aren't taking your online security seriously you are in for a world of hurt.

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