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Every now and then I would hear about a big corporation, website, or some poor individual being hacked and their information stolen, corrupted or perhaps sold on the dark web. It seems as though hacking has become increasingly simple. Once thought to be in the realm of evil computer geniuses, now even your next-door neighbor’s kid could at least hack your wi-fi router.
The reason why just about every kid with a computer is a potential hacker and why you need to be very careful is because the weapons of war are readily available. You don’t need to re-invent the wheel to hack a generic router, firewall, or phish a 60-year-old pensioner. All you need is to pick your weapon of choice from a long list of phishing, malware, XSS, DDOS tools, most of which is free to download and use. Now we’re not even counting viruses, trojans and social media attacks.
The first step to protecting yourself is awareness, and in this article, I’ll try to do just that, by discussing the most common types of attacks below.
Socially Engineered Trojans
Now, this is an attack mostly endangering businesses, but you don’t have to be Walmart to be attacked. Even if you run just a small online store making a few thousand bucks a month, you’ll still be attacked. The way this works is that hackers gain access to part of your website. Then when you visit, the backend of the site a message will say that you have a virus. There will be a link which you’ll be asked to click on and install the anti-virus. Be careful because this is a fake program. As soon as you hit the link, this malware will execute and just like that the hackers have access to your entire website.
The best way to avoid a cyber attack like this is not to click links directly but instead, contact your ISP. Use third-party software to remove and scan your files for viruses.
Malware is a lot like viruses, and lucky for us most antivirus software can catch the majority of these attacks before they happen. Malware is used to gain access to your computer. It can affect both an individual and a business.
Now there are various types of malware the most popular of which is ransomware, viruses, malicious software, etc. Malware gives hackers access to everything from your keystrokes to the websites you visit and all files on your computer.
Malware is usually disbursed via email, and I can personally vouch for receiving hundreds of emails with malware. However, you’ll not be infected unless you click on the link, download the PDF file or view the attachment.
The best way to avoid being hit by malware is not to open attachments from unknown senders. Now even if that sender promises you’ll see a naked photo of her!
What are the chances that you’ll click on a random email? Little to none and that’s where phishing attacks come in. They offer you a compelling reason to take action, so to do that they pretend to be someone they are not. The basis of a successful phishing attack is leveraging human curiosity and general impulses.
I once received an email from a friend in France, and it seemed legitimate to my experienced eyes. In the email he asked me to download an album he created on his recent visit to Spain! I instantly knew that this was not him. But had I been curious, perhaps I would have downloaded the attachment. I know my friend uploads everything to Facebook and so there was no way he’d go to Spain and not boast about it there.
Usually, the phisher will ask you to click on a link to fix an issue or find pictures, etc. I also remember getting one such email from PayPal which looked legit and stated my account was frozen and that I needed to click on the link and log-in to report the problem. The only problem is that the link takes you to a phishing website and from where your information is stolen.
The only way to avoid this is never to open emails or click on links without verifying the sender. If you get an email from PayPal, don’t click on the link in the email but visit the website by typing in the address manually.
Mining cryptocurrencies viruses
I recently found out about a cryptocurrency virus called “Digmine” which spreads via Facebook. While “Digmine” is spread through Facebook, there are others that work similar and spread through Twitter, Google+, regular email, etc.
What this particular virus does is turn your computer into a cryptocurrency miner without your knowledge. It is usually executed via Google Chrome. If your Facebook account is set to auto-log-in, the virus manipulates the messenger feature to send that same link to your friends. What that does is create a potentially unlimited network of mining computers. However, all mining proceeds are sent to the person who created the virus, and you end up having to deal with an outlandishly slow computer, and at times even your CPU may burn out owing to the constant load put by the virus on the system.
2018 has been touted as the year of artificial intelligence powered cyber-attacks. What’s more is that these attacks are much more difficult to prevent and counter but thankfully not impossible.
A proof of concept AI-powered cyber attack was seen in India. Similar attacks are suspected to be ongoing across the world. These attacks work because the bots learn common usage patterns and then mimic those patterns across the network.
The traditional approaches used to combat online, and even offline fraud are not ineffective. If anything, an AI like Google’s assistant could learn your speech pattern, mimic your voice and then use data in combination with your credit card, social security number, and address to buy everything from a 4K TV to apply for additional credit cards. But this is just one instance of an AI-powered attack because the technology is already out there unfortunately and stopping it is going to be a pretty uphill task.
Denial-of-Service Attacks (DDoS)
I have personally been a victim of a DDOS attack, and one thing is for sure that nobody can help you during the attack. Short of pulling the plug on your computer, there is little you can do. However, the same can’t be done if your website is attacked.
The attack is straightforward to understand. What it does is send a massive amount of traffic to your website or IP address. So massive that it cripples the network denying the service to all other legit users and even yourself.
The attack is well planned and often involves hundreds and thousands of drone computers. These computers are usually ones that the hacker has gained access to via trojan or malware. With one click of the button, all these computers start sending traffic to this one website which overwhelms the system.
When multiple computers are involved, it is called DoS, or Distributed Denial of Service Attack. This is the hardest one to overcome since the attacker is coming in from different IP addresses from across the world.
The best way to prevent such an attack is to install good DDOS prevention software like Cloudflare. Also, continuously backup all files on your web server.
Man-in-the-Middle Attacks aka session hijacking
While technically a Man-in-the-Middle attack and session hijacking are differently executed, there still rely on the same principle. When you’ve hooked up the internet and let’s say accessing Facebook, there is a lot of data that’s sent back and forth, before even your dashboard loads. These transactions or ‘handshakes’ as they are technically referred to tell your computer that you’re connected to the right server.
When a session is established, it is given a session ID. This ID as is unique and lasts for the duration of the session. Plus, it is private for both parties. However, an attacker can use this attack to capture the session ID, and then masquerade as the legit computer, by logging in unhindered and accessing all the personal information they want. Attackers use a number of methods like cross-site scripting to pick up session IDs.
Alternatively, hackers can also become the computer in the middle, i.e. the computer in between your computer and the remote server. Now, this allows them to easily intercept information from both sides including the session ID. This type of attack is technically referred to as a man-in-the-middle attack.
If you are a regular computer user saving yourself from both these types of attacks can be difficult. However, with a good firewall and VPN in place, you can make life a bit difficult for the attacker.
In addition to the above, there are many other cybersecurity attacks that we’ve not listed. Though the vast majority of them take advantage of unsuspecting users. One way to protect yourself would be to use a premium VPN service to mask your IP and hide your location. That in conjunction with a good firewall and antivirus should help keep you protected for the most part.