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How To Get Hacked In 10 Seconds Or Less!

Apr 14, 2008
I do computer repair and consulting service in the Houston, Texas area. One of the most frequent service requests I get is on security issues. And the number one call I get these days is on a computer that is gone maverick (spyware or malware infected). The first thing most people notice is that their computer slows down, their browser opens to some strange web page, or the computer starts doing weird things. These are all signs that the computer has been compromised somehow by malicious software.

Depending on the situation, this can range from inconvenience to identity theft. Having your browser hijacked, slowing down your computer, or pop up advertising of less than stellar products is very frustrating. Having your personal data (like login and passwords to financial websites or social security numbers) can be a nightmare.

Just how bad is this threat? According to the FTC, as many as 9 million people get their identity stolen every year. Since there are about 200 million adults, that's almost 5% of the adult population. Those are incredible numbers and should get anyone's attention.

Most computer repair service calls used to involve hardware, either adding new components or replacing damaged or worn out parts. Now it's all about software configuration, security breaches, and data recovery.

And any qualified computer repair guy like me can always fix your computer, but that's after the fact and won't fix any stolen data issues. Of course the best defense is prevention, but many computers don't have the proper software installed and configured correctly, or it's been disabled due to inconvenience, or never installed at all.

WiFi Connections, the new #1 threat. There are two ways to get hacked by a WiFi connection and not even know it.

#1. There's a new scam hackers use and it's very easy to get caught up in it. Many people have laptops that they take everywhere (or it could also be a Smart Phone too) that are highly susceptible to this method. Many restaurants, coffee shops, hotels, or other public places offer free access to a WiFi connection to the Internet.

Most of these free WiFi connections are open to login for anyone. And when someone does, they also get a warning that you are logging into a connection that it is an unsecured network and asks if you're sure you want to access. Most users are used to this message and ignore it. The only thing they may want to do is check email or surf the web for weather, sports, or news. In most cases, that's pretty harmless.

But what if you just connected to a WiFi connection on someone's laptop two tables away, and not the one provided by the business establishment? Yep, that's right, that's the new trick. Hackers will sit in a coffee shop or other place that offers free access and mimic the free WifFi access point. Now you just logged into a private network that gives the hacker access to your computer. Sure, you still get to the web, but they get to your computer. And they can install software that does whatever they want.

Most times it's some type of monitoring software for the next time you login to the Internet using that computer. Even if it's on a secure connection, they own your computer once it pops up on the web. Think your firewall, antiviral, antispyware, or other software will protect you? Not if they know their business, and many do.

#2. Let's say your are sitting in an Airplane winging your way to wherever. You've got time to kill so you do a little work, or maybe watch a DVD you brought along. Hey, you're at 30,000 feet with no WifFi available, right?

Not necessary. If a fellow passenger has a software program looking for probes by other computers that automatically look for preferred wireless network connections, you are at risk. When you turn on your computer, a probe request is beaming out on a routine basis, seeking any wireless network you may have defined in your Preferred Networks section. Many people set up wireless connections using default names and unsecured logins (no password). If your computer sees one of these it will automatically connect, with no user involvement.

Bingo, this other computer is now connected to your computer, and you don't even see it. And once again, depending on the software and it's primary mission, you can be susceptible to monitoring or worse yet, data theft.

So, how do you protect yourself and data from this kind attack? There are several good solutions but one thing I always stress is awareness. A little common sense and the right software can eliminate about 99% of the common WiFi threats.

#1. Install a good antiviral software, one that updates automatically and covers files and emails. Ditto for antispyware software. Turn on the Microsoft Firewall or get a good third party firewall software package. I know many users have a problem with Microsoft's product but it's better than none at all.

#2. When you setup up any wireless connection that is unsecured, make it a manual connection. If you have a secure connection that uses a common name and or password, make it manual too. Many of the newer laptops even have a button to turn wireless adapters on or off. Turn it off when you don't need it. I know this is an inconvenience but how inconvenient is being hacked?

#3. Turn on the automatic updates from Microsoft. I know that they roll out a less than tested update every once in awhile, but it's important to keep your OS patched. Many of the patches are due to a new security threat, so it's not optional.

A little common sense, current updates to viral, anti-spyware, and operating OS software can provide the protection you need to keep you, your equipment, and data safe. And you should also backup any important data on a regular basis, but that's a whole different article.
About the Author
John Dow owns Houston Computer Repair, a computer repair and web development company in Houston, Texas. If you want to learn more about computer security, go read his web page here: Computer Security.
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