We are more comfortable being electronically connected to the world than ever before. Though this connection offers incredible advantages, it does come with a level of risk. The term “hacking” has become commonplace in the nightly news. We often hear about hacking influencing elections or large corporations having their databases compromised.
However, hacking also affects everyday technology users. It can be as basic as stealing personal information like someone’s email address, but can also involve taking full control of devices to cause grief or even extort money from vulnerable users.
Hackers find vulnerabilities in software and technology, but they also find them in human nature. They exploit our trust and our fear and use it against us. I’ve had several clients affected by a specific type of money extortion scam.
Victims of this scam will usually be called by someone claiming they work for Microsoft saying that their computer is infected with a virus. Alternatively, hackers reach the user when they visit a malicious web page or click a suspicious link in an email. A window will often pop up that can’t be closed conventionally. It will make terrible noises and may flash in an irritating manner. A text box will read something like, “Your computer is infected, please call this number for support.”
Most savvy computer users won’t fall into this trap, but less experienced people panic and turn to the first outstretched helping hand. Once the hackers have the victim on the phone, they will get the owner to enter an address into their browser and download a malicious program. Terrified of losing everything, the user will comply and unknowingly give the scammer full access to their computer. Now that the hacker has access, they will insist the victim pay several hundred dollars for one year of “protection” from further problems. If the user refuses to comply, the hacker is able to put a password on the computer, rendering it inaccessible.
So how do you protect yourself from being hacked?
First of all, never rush to make a decision on your computer when it’s regarding something you don’t quite understand. As I stressed in my previous article, consult with a family member or friend if you feel something suspicious is happening on your computer.
Furthermore, never click links in emails unless you’re certain they came from a legitimate source.
Always consider if the person who appears to have sent the email would send a link or file like this. Often, a friend’s email account will have been compromised and their account will be sending out malicious links to everyone in their contacts list.
Install Antivirus software! Although this remains less imperative on Apple computers, they are definitely not invulnerable to attacks. On Windows computers, make sure to install a paid program like Norton or use a free program such as Windows Defender or Avast.
Avoid installing free applications or games directly from the internet. If you aren’t sure, always use the App Store (Mac) or Store (Windows) to find free software to install. There are a lot of excellent free applications available directly from the internet, but it takes experience to recognize which ones are safe and which ones are not. I often need to remove harmful or nuisance programs from clients’ computers that posed as helpful applications.
Finally, the most important thing I can advise is to always – and I mean always – back up your documents and photos. This means spending a small amount of money on an external hard drive to keep irreplaceable files on your computer safe. This protects you against viruses, hardware failure, and theft.
The more we all work to evade hackers, the less power and resources we give these individuals to continue their unethical and malicious attacks on our privacy and financial security.