Beware of Creepy, Lurking Hackers

Monday, October 31, 2011

I originally intended to post something in honor of Halloween today, but due to this morning’s event here at home I decided to discuss something truly frightening—Internet hackers! That’s right, we got hacked… Actually, my partner was “hacked,” so far my computer is okay.

A few weeks ago my partner decided to start his own business. Like most people he is starting out with limited funds so he decided to create his website via one of those places that offers free sites complete with hosting, shopping cart, etc. for online stores. He boasted that he could see his visitors’ IP addresses and even the types of computer systems they had. I remember saying something like, “if you can see them, then someone can see you” which, of course, did not translate into “guy speak” and was therefore dismissed.

This morning his Webroot Internet Security software sent him an alert regarding malware; someone had broken through the firewall, changed his security filter to “allow,” and received free access to all his files. What’s really scary is that he can’t reset his own system; he performed a “system restore” to an earlier time but it did not help—the hacker has apparently appointed a sentinel (probably a Trojan virus). My partner’s only option is to wipe his drive and reinstall his entire system. A hassle? Yes! But even worse—what files did the hacker peruse or download if any? Banking information? The password vault? Nightmarish!

Therefore, I thought it might be helpful for all of us to review/share some safety tips:

Know Your Magical Words

Your computer, your router, and just about everything has a password—use them. I heard that most people never change the default passwords in their systems. If you’ve left your password at “Admin”—change it today!

While we’re on the topic of passwords, please don’t use the same password for everything. You can bet that once the hacker learns a magic word it will be the first word he tries at the next locked door.

Proceed with Caution

We all do it—we’re cruising along on the Internet and come across a detour on some website, a game or some other fun temptation--Do Not Enter! If it is really so interesting then open another window and run a search for the company or program. Make sure the site or download is virus free and find out what personal data is collected and how that information is used. Remember, everyone is handing out cookies and they might be more “trick” than “treat.”

Never Stand Alone

Don’t leave your Internet at idle for long periods of time, this allows time for hackers to be mischievous. If you are going to be away from the computer for any length of time shut down your system, disconnect your internet, or run a program such as a virus scan.

Be Able to Defend Yourself

I highly recommend having multiple firewalls and multiple anti spyware/virus software systems—what one system doesn’t catch the next one probably will. On my PC I have Webroot Internet Security Complete, ThreatFire, and Ad-Aware. (Ad-Aware and ThreatFire have free versions available for download.) There are many anti-virus and anti-spyware packages available though so find one that suits your needs and is compatible with your system.

Plan “B”

Always have a current back-up of your entire system just-in-case. I back-up to an external hard drive with Acronis, some people prefer online back-up plans like Carbonite. If you end up in a situation like my friend—having to wipe the entire drive—you will be thankful to have one.

The Internet is a wonderful tool—a gateway into new places. Stay alert and practice a routine cleansing ritual and you will be safe from those creepy, lurking hackers.

post and image by Robyn Chausse

Share! Treat us to your tricks for a safe and sane Internet adventure… 


Shyxter said...

What happened to your partner's website is really scary especially that it is an online store. And those nasty hackers!, I wish we could get rid of them.

I've had my own share of bad experience like yours but is only on my Facebook account. I was not able to properly log out my FB account and when I logged in again, nasty pictures were posted all over my wall. I had to explain to all my friends that I did not post them. I had to delete the pictures manually and change my username and password to fix everything. From then on, I always make sure that I log out from any online account properly.

Thanks for giving us the heads up, Robyn. Happy Halloween :-)

Carradee said...

The danger of having multiple anti-virus packages is that they can interfere with each other.

You also want an alphanumeric password—numbers, letters, symbols, capitals, lower case, whatever you can. The more you have in there, the harder it is to hack, particularly if it's a nonsense password.

Robyn Chausse said...

Hi Shyxter-
That's terrible!!
Thanks for the reminder about signing out.

Hi Carradee,
Good Points!
Not all anti-virus programs play nice together-some will view other programs as invaders and block their functions. I think the main goal would be to have a strong firewall program, anti-virus and spyware whether in one packaged product or two compatible products. It's the full coverage that's important.
Thanks for the great advice on passwords:)

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