You may think that hackers are excessively clever people who are coming up with improbable hacks around elaborate security systems, and some are, but most rely on a few old tricks that have been around for years.
I am going to look at 5 common hacks that are used so that you can become aware of them, as knowledge is the first line of defense. I will then give you some actionable advice on what you can do to defend against these common hacking techniques.
There have been countless ‘bait and switch’ scams over the years. I’m talking “years” as in over the last century. Things haven’t changed much in the computer age as bait and switch style hacks are still used.
How to defend: Given the large variety of bait and switch hacks out there, it’s difficult to give advice on them. The first point is to make sure that you understand that anything you don’t control can be manipulated. If it isn’t your web counter, someone can exploit it. If you didn’t find the website yourself, the ad can direct you somewhere you don’t want to be. These can be defended against by simply going to trusted resources for your web counters, or doing your own search for the content within the ad.
Cookie theft, also known as session hijacking, enables people to assume your online identity on popular websites. This allows them to log into your accounts, taking over your social media accounts, as well as making purchases in your name.
To make matters even worse, there’s even a program called Firesheep that allows people to do this with a few clicks while using another trick we’ll talk about next, the fake wireless access point. All it takes is a few clicks, and they’ll take over your identity.
How to Defend: Try to always use websites that have secure development techniques and the latest cryptography. A tool that can help you do this while using Google Chrome is called KB SSL Enforcer.
The KB SSL Enforcer plug-in forces your browser to go to the most secure version of websites. This will be the one that starts with HTTPS, with the ‘s’ being ‘secure’ and referring to TSL cryptography. It is not 100% protection, but it does make things more difficult. If hacking you is a challenge, hackers are more likely to move on to someone who hasn’t read this list!
Everyone loves free wifi, including hackers. How this hack works is a hacker will set themselves up in a public location, a coffee shop, restaurant, airport, or public library as examples. They’ll establish a fake wireless access point (WAP) of their own and name it something that makes it sound official: “McDonalds Free WiFi” or “Laguardia Free Connection.”
Those who are looking to make a quick connection, for free, will then establish a connection to these WAPs. There are two ways that a hacker can steal information. The first is that they can set it up so that you have to enter a username and password to connect. Most people use a common username and password for these quick “set it up and forget it” accounts. Hackers will then take that information and use it to try to log into your Twitter, Facebook, Amazon, iTunes and other popular accounts. This is one example of online identity theft.
The other way that a fake WAP will work is by the hackers just sifting through the information that is going through the connection and taking whatever isn’t protected or encrypted.
How to defend: First, ask the proprietors of the establishment what the correct name is for their WiFi. That’s the easy one. Next, be sure to always use a unique password and login for public WiFi. It may be a pain, but it’s your best form of online protection.
To protect against those who sift through and steal information that isn’t encrypted, use a personal VPN to encrypt all of your communication. You can read more about top VPN services over on the blog I work for.
This work by tricking people into clicking on files that look enticing, like BeyonceNipSlip.avi, but are actually files full of malicious code when opened.
One of the most famous examples of this right now is one known as the Unicode character switch. It fools computers into displaying a file that is actually BeyonceNipSlip.exe (an executable file that can tell your computer to do things) as the less harmful looking BeyonceNipSlip.avi (.avi being a video file).
You then open it thinking you’re going to see a video of a small slice of heaven (sorry, clearly Beyonce biased), and instead get a computer full of something bad.
How to defend: This is one of those instances where you have to do your homework. If someone is sending you a file, be sure that you know what the full name is with the extension. If you don’t know who is sending you the file...don’t open it! If you have a virus scanner which allows you to scan individual files before opening them, put it to work.
Watering hole attacks can be related to point 3, but with more focus and malice. Hackers will scope out a common place where employees of their target company hang out for drinks, dinner, or even online social platforms - a ‘watering hole.’
The hackers will then use the login details or compromised workstations to gain access to the inner workings of a company. Notable wateringhole attacks have happened to Apple, Microsoft, and Facebook.
How to defend: Making it known to your employees is the first step. They can not use their same credentials on their workstation and on these types of sites, or in these locations. Like it or not, in today’s digital world, your employees have to act as if they’re always at work.
About The Author:
Marcus is the resident security writer over on the Best VPN Providers blog. He writes about internet security issues, occasionally goes on rants about the government, but doesn't go too far off the rails...most days.