Hacking is an old game in the cyberworld with ever changing players and techniques. It may be done with good intentions or malicious motives. It is growing rapidly because of the proliferation of devices.
What is hacking?
Hacking, as the world knows it today, is the act of exploiting computers and other digital devices through unauthorized access. It is often associated with illegal activity, but it is not always a malicious act.
An old school view of hacking and hackers is a lone con artist who specializes in modifying computer software and hardware. This is a narrow view that does not cover the highly technical and sophisticated nature of hacking. It also stereotypes hacking as a criminal activity, which it is not always. Hackers have different motives when doing their act and they may be either good or bad.
A brief history of computer hacking
Hacking started for fun and curiosity. Back in 1878, a group of teenage boys hired to run the switchboards of the Bell Telephone would tinker with the boards to misdirect or disconnect calls.
The 1960s saw the first serious hacking attempts. At that time, computers were mainframes housed in temperature controlled glass rooms. Computer programmers had limited access to the machines because it was expensive to run them.
To satisfy their curiosity, a group of smart students from MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) created programming shortcuts they then called “hacks” to complete computer tasks more quickly. Some of those hacks were better than the original programs.
Towards the end of the decade, two employees of the AT&T Bell Labs namely, Ken Thompson and Dennis Ritchie, created an open set of commands called UNIX. UNIX is a computer operating system that has come to be identified with the concept of open systems now widely used in PCs,
In the 1970s, hacking went from being fun to serious business. John Draper, a Vietnam veteran, found a way to make free long distance
During the 1980s, there was a drastic increase in personal computer use in the United States. From just over a million units in 1980, the figure increased to 30 million by 1986. Other highlights of the decade included the formation of hacker groups, such as:
- The Legion of Doom or LOD
- The Master of Doom or MOD
- The “414” Group which later got raided by the FBI
- The Chaos Computer Club based in Germany
- 2600: The Hacker Quarterly, a hacker magazine
The succeeding decades made hackers even more notorious. You may have heard of:
- Kevin Mitnick, the most wanted cybercriminal of his time who engineered the Motorola and Nokia hacks
- The Morris Worm, the first worm on the Internet created by Robert Morris.
- The Love Bug from the Philippines that spread to 45 million computers worldwide
- The Democratic National Committee hack that may have cost Hilary Clinton her defeat in the 2016 U.S. presidential race
- Kevin Poulsen, Datastream Cowboy and Kuji, the Stuxnet worm, LulzSec, and so on and so on
We have highlighted the historical significance of hacking to let people know that since it began, malicious hacking has done extensive havoc to their victims. There are no signs of hacking letting up and hackers are getting bolder, more sophisticated and always wanting to get ahead of cybersecurity capabilities.
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Types of hacking and hackers
In hacking there are good actors and bad actors and some are in between. Be they white, black or grey, hackers have extensive knowledge and skills in breaking into computer networks and bypassing protocols. Let’s take a look at the common types.
In white hat hacking, hackers use their skills for good rather than malicious activities. White hat hackers can either be employees or contractors working for companies to test the
White hat hackers use the same methods of hacking as black hat hackers, except that they do it with the permission of the owner of the network, making the process legal. They perform penetration testing and vulnerability assessments and recommend solutions to patch them.
Black hat hackers break into systems without the permission of the owners for one or more of the following motives:
- Financial and gain
- Corporate espionage
- Personal gain, such as a show of notoriety for their hacking talent, revenge, protest or for fun
- State-sponsored hacking to spy on national intelligence or steal business information
- “Hacktivism” or politically motivated goals
They are the bad actors who either spread malware or aim to steal data, such as personal information, financial details or login credentials. They may also seek to modify or destroy data for ransom purposes.
Gray hat hackers are a hybrid between black and white hat hackers. What they do is to look for vulnerabilities of a system without the owner’s permission, but often not for malicious purposes. If they find issues, they then inform the owner and may offer to fix them for a small fee. If the owner does not comply, some grey hat hackers may post the findings online to warn the public.
How do hackers hack?
The simplest way to hack a computer is taking physical possession of that computer, say a laptop or a
Another common tactic of hackers is exploiting human frailty through social engineering. They use phishing techniques to trick people into giving away their login credentials. They will follow them on social media to gather more personal information about them. Then they pose as someone who knows them so their victims finally soften up and give in to their requests.
Hackers’ strategies come in all shapes and sizes. This is true for both ethical and malicious hackers. Ethical hackers exploit computer system weaknesses to patch vulnerabilities and better secure the system. Malicious hackers do the same, but instead of fixing vulnerabilities, they exploit them for nefarious purposes.
Regardless of shade, hackers work in two ways.
The first category of hackers use code that has been written by someone else and is available online. These hackers do not have much programming expertise, so they download malicious software or scripts to launch an attack. They don’t understand the inner workings of computer networking or of software, so they rely on other hackers’ technological expertise.. These types of hackers are often referred to as script kiddies.
Script kiddies often target the gaming community to send off a DDoS (Denial-of-Service) attack on a game or vandalize the IRC (Internet Relay Chat) channel to disrupt group discussion. These attacks can be easily defended by keeping your computer hardware and software up to date with the most recent patches and updates.
The second category of hackers look for zero-day vulnerabilities that are often left unnoticed for a period of time. Zero-day vulnerabilities are loopholes in a system that have been discovered but not yet patched.
Zero-day hackers are highly skilled and smart. They craft their own hacking tools and take time doing it so they are on target when they launch the attack. The attacks are often carried out on national
The Heartbleed attack in 2014 is a classic example of a zero-day exploit. It affected Linux servers and websites that use OpenSSL, such as Facebook, Dropbox and online banking.
Devices vulnerable to hacking
The list of vulnerable devices includes more than just your
Hackers are now able to hack some of the most sophisticated
Phone hackers can also use other techniques, such as phishing, SIM Card hacking or Bluetooth hacking. Your
- Accidentally download malware via apps
- Access malicious content on safe-looking but fake websites
- Connect to public Wi-Fi infected with malware
- Misplace or lose your
phoneallowing physical compromise
Many of your smart devices can put your personal data at risk. And the more devices you have, the more cybersecurity threats exist. Here are some of them:
- Security systems – It only takes one vulnerable camera to compromise your whole system.
- Smart TVs – Hackers can remotely hack your smart TV by accessing streaming services, such as Netflix, to mine payment services. They can also spy on your household via a TV camera.
- Smart refrigerators – When you sync your refrigerator with your Google Calendar for easier meal planning, this opens a window for hackers to access your Gmail or Google Drive.
- Thermostats – Hackers can crank up your thermostat to make you pay for higher bills.
- Smart coffee machines – Hackers can turn on your coffee maker while you are away that could potentially start a fire.
- Garage door openers – Hackers can monitor garage door opening and closing activities to get information for when you are in or out of the house.
Just like everything that is connected to the Internet, Webcams can fall victim to hacking. This can happen through phishing scams where victims unwittingly download malware onto their webcam can give hackers complete control of the initial device and possibly everything it is connected to.
Hackers can attack routers and home Wi-Fi’s hotspots through a DNS (Domain Name Server) hijacking. This involves redirecting your traffic to fake websites or websites run by them so they can steal your login credentials and other personal information.
Email accounts are not immune to hacking. Hackers can hack emails by phishing, keylogging and password guessing. If you did not log out when you used an unsecured public Wi-Fi, chances are hackers will easily find you.
Jailbreaking is the process of removing restrictions imposed by the
How to protect yourself against hacking
Criminal hackers are a scary bunch that will relentlessly attempt to hack vulnerable victims and devices. Think of your
#1. Update your operating system and other software frequently, if possible automatically. Keep away from old programs that hackers can easily crack.
#2. Download up-to-date
#3. Do not access personal data on public Wi-Fi.
#4. Turn off anything you do not need. For example, you should turn off your GPS, wireless connection and geo-tracking all the time and turn them on only when you need them.
#5. Protect all your devices with strong passwords. The devices include your desktop, laptop, tablet, mobile
#6. Come up with creative answers to
#7. Use unique and strong passwords for each account.
#8. Use encryption.
#9. Change the default usernames and passwords on your smart devices and router.
#11. Use a
#12. Use a password manager.
#13. Do not store passwords on your browser.
#14. Use two-factor authentication.
#15. Avoid clicking on strange ads and links.
#16. Manage your social media settings.
#17. In case your device is stolen or lost, protect your data by programming your device to lock itself after a pre-set number of failed log-in attempts.
Hacking and viruses are here to stay. You might say you are just a needle in a haystack in this boundless world wide web. Think again. Hackers are skilled specialists equipped with the technical know-how and the most advanced hacking tools. They can unleash viruses that feast on every prey they find, and you could be one of them.
Safety and caution are paramount to protecting data. An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure …….. someone once said.
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