How do hackers hack? Common, sneaky attacks

By: IT Donut contributor

Date: 1 October 2014

A hacker hacking?{{}}If you pay attention to the headlines, it seems like hackers are hacking more than ever. Large companies like Apple and US giant Home Depot have fallen victim to security breaches of one kind or another.

Information relating to tens of millions of people has been compromised. But, how do hackers hack? What techniques do they use to infiltrate business networks and gather valuable data?

In this ongoing cyber conflict, it’s important to know your enemy. Read on to find out what strategies hackers use when they hack.

How hackers hack #1: intercepted passwords

Using strong passwords is certainly a smart idea, but in some cases it’s not enough. Although strong passwords are hard for hackers to guess, many will simply try to obtain the password through illegal means.

This usually involves breaching the security measures of a website or company, thereby gaining access to a list of user passwords. This recent password hack is a great example.

You can protect your business by using unique passwords for each individual account and changing them every few months. You should also protect your systems from hacking attempts by using up-to-date security software.

How hackers hack #2: fake wireless networks

If you ever go to a café, pub or airport, you might be tempted to connect to the free wireless network available there.

Free Wi-Fi is one of modern life’s conveniences. But be careful, because it can also be a prime target for hackers. They can set up fake wireless networks with legitimate-sounding names.

Once you’ve connected, hackers can steal your personal information and any unprotected data that you send over the network.

Be cautious when connecting to public Wi-Fi. Only use networks that require a password to connect and check the network name with the establishment you’re in.

Even then, don’t assume you’re safe. Consider connecting through a VPN to protect all the data you send across the wireless network.

How hackers hack #3: phishing

Ah, the old fake email scams. Hackers try all kinds of approaches to snare victims via fake emails.

You can often spot them through telltale inconsistencies or spelling and grammar errors. In any case, never give sensitive information out through emails, especially if you’re unsure of the source. Be wary of phishing attacks through social media too.

In 2012 alone, social media phishers were able to steal more than a billion dollars from small businesses. Spear phishing, where hackers target specific individuals, is also on the up.

Learn how to stay safe from fake emails >

How hackers hack #4: cookie hijacking

Cookies are small pieces of data that websites place on your computer. They’re used to provide certain functions online (like remembering when you’ve logged in to a website, or what’s in your shopping cart).

Some hackers hack using a technique called ‘cookie hijacking’. Basically, they steal the cookies on your computer, then use them to pretend to be you when they visit a website.

Because cookies are often used to remember when you’ve logged in to a website, cookie hijacking lets a hacker pretend to be you without knowing your username or password.

Using good security software is a good precaution against cooking hijacking. There’s also a lot websites can – and should – do to make their users less vulnerable.

If you’re particularly worried, you can regularly erase cookies from your computer. However, this may cause your preferences on websites to vanish, so it can be inconvenient.

These four techniques are by no means the only way that hackers hack. But they’re some of the most common and sneaky.

This is a post from Rick Delgado, a freelance writer and tech commentator.

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