How to Protect Yourself From Being Hacked

Maybe you think that you are too small to be targeted by a hacker, or you think that you have nothing to hide. Not too long ago that may have been true, but recent trends have shown shifts in the hacker world. A persons unprotected personal data can be low-hanging fruit with a small, but easily accessible payday for a small-time hacker. Compared to the sophisticated firewalls and complex security protocols they would find in larger corporate systems, accessing your personal computer can mean a quick lunch.

If a hacker does get access to your home computer, they are free to do any number of nefarious deeds from holding your data hostage, stealing your identity, or using your computer to commit other attacks or crimes, leaving you with the bill.

The best way to protect yourself from these attacks is to understand a little about how they work and what they may intend to do.

How do they infect my computer?

The first thing a hacker needs to do it get access to your computer. There are three basic technologies that hackers use to get access to your computer:

1. Trojans
A Trojan is a virus or malware that looks like harmless software. The hacker asks you to install a program, but when you do install it, it also installs a second program that lets the hacker do anything from logging your keystrokes, to accessing your personal files.

The most common way to infect your computer is a phishing attack. Basically, you receive a email from your bank, the IRS, or a friend with a request to click a link or install a program. It is also possible to accidentally install a virus by clicking on a malicious link on Facebook or other social media sites. Even though sites like these take security very seriously, people have been infected by Trojans this way.

2. Drive-By Downloads
In a drive-by download attack, your computer automatically downloads and runs a file from a webpage without you doing anything. A drive-by download exploits unpatched security flaws in your web browser, operating system, video player or other software.

Unfortunately, the downloading and installation of the malware is usually invisible and there is no way to tell if a website has been infected just by looking at it.

Since this is such an effective method, this form of attack has been on the rise lately. Keeping your operating system and applications updated is the best defense since patches will close any security holes as they are discovered.

3. Rootkits
A rootkit goes beyond what malware or a virus can do. It is a program that is completely invisible, has administrative access and can do anything with your computer without your knowledge. Once a root kit is installed it can cover an intruder’s tracks, hide evidence of malicious processes running in the background, hide files of all types, and hide in your computes bios so that it can re-install itself after a factory reset of your computer.
Since root kits can hide themselves from the operating system, even advanced users have a difficult time dealing with them. The only way to protect yourself from a root kit is to avoid questionable sites, diligently updating your antivirus software, and avoiding dubious email attachments.

What does the hacker do next?

The technology to infect your computer is complex and takes time and effort to create. Once it is created, most hackers have one goal, to make money from you. Here are two ways that a hacker may do once they have access to your computer.

1. Turn Your Computer Into a Zombie
A zombie, or “bot,” is a computer that is being controlled by a hacker without the owner being aware of it. The malware which makes this possible is called a bot program and the goal is usually to link thousands of these computers together in a network called a botnet. Once they are connected, the “bot herder” can then control these computers to do anything they like.

Sometimes the bot herder will use it to send spam and viruses, steal your personal data, or perform click fraud scams. A hacker may even just rent out their botnet to other hackers.

2. Perform Extortion Through Encryption
Imagine waking up and finding that all your personal data, pictures, work files and messages were lock away so you couldn’t access them. Then you get a single email that asks you to pay for the key to unlock all your data. This is classified as ransom ware, and it is an extremely profitable endeavor for cybercriminals. PCWorld reported that the ransom for a malicious program such as CryptoLocker can range from $300 to $2,000. Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that paying ransom will give access to your PC or files again.

How do you know if you have been hacked?

Hackers try very hard to make sure you don’t know if you have been hacked, but there are a few red flags that you can watch out for as seen professional help if you suspect there is a problem:

•Antivirus software is disabled and you didn’t turn it off
•Unfamiliar software has been installed
•Random Pop-Ups especially if they continue after you close your browser
•Internet searches are redirected to a different website
•Your passwords have been changed and you need to reset them
•The mouse moves by itself and opens folders or starts applications

How can you Protect Yourself?

There is no way to be 100% safe from a cyberattack. The best you can do is make it difficult for hackers so they look for lower hanging fruit. Here are 9 things you can do to reflect potential attackers.

1. Install or Update Antivirus Software. Norton and McAfee products are fine, but freeware such as Avast and Malwarebytes will also do the trick.

2. Secure Your Home Network. Make sure your network is password-protected and you have a firewall to keep out intruders. Most routers today come with pre-installed firewalls.

3. Update Your Software. Hackers and providers are constantly finding and fixing security holes. Once a patch is released, the hackers know exactly how to exploit it so it is important to patch your computer as often as possible.

4. Download Only From Trusted Sources. Even if you trust the site, you can not always trust all the content on the site.

5. Be Vigilant With Email Attachments. These are still a favorite with hackers. Be very careful about what you click on, even if the email says it’s from the government, your bank or a friend.

6. Never Visit Questionable Sites. If you’re not sure whether a website is secure, verify it first with online site checking services such as Norton Safe Web.

7. Maintain Your Passwords. Use passwords that are difficult to guess, change them regularly, and never reuse the same password for multiple sites.

8. Try Not to Use Free Wi-Fi. When using a Wi-Fi connection at your local café, anyone can view your browsing. Don’t access back account information on open networks. If you need to do banking online, a tool such as PocketGuard can give you read only access to your banking information so that even if someone is watching they are not able to access your back accounts.

9. Turn Off Your Computer. You computer is only safe when it is turned off. This is the only way to 100% your computer from attacks, so don’t be afraid to use it.

The most important thing you can do to protect yourself is to educate yourself so you understand the security setting of the software and operating system you use. A healthy fear of the Internet can serve you well as you surf.
The Internet is a great place to connect, communicate and work. By being cautious as you explore all the wonderful things it has to offer, you can enjoy the perks while avoiding the perils.

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Oleksandr graduated from Dnipro National University of railway transport in Ukraine. At first, he was a customer success manager at PocketGuard and in 1.5 years has been promoted to product manager....

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