For those of us who grew up in the 80’s, we can probably think back to a time when hackers were looked upon as being pretty cool robin hood style outriders who dared to stand up against oppressors. The movie Wargames demonstrated that fascination about the possibilities of connectivity. Drinking terminals, discarded fast food boxes and unfinished cans of flat cola. The reality nowadays is considerably murkier. Hardly a week goes by without a story breaking about the nefarious activities of the hacking ‘community’ which is nowadays better described as organised criminals. As we’ve seen in the past it’s not just security agencies, nuclear launch facilities, or evil dictators that get stiffed by hackers, it’s more often normal folk like us.
In recent years hacking has continued to hit the headlines almost every week. The most well known has to be the UK phone hacking scandal. Ironically, that wasn’t even a true example of hacking as the clueless victims of the “hack” had merely neglected to change the pin on their voicemail from its default setting. It all goes to show that the weakest link in the security chain is usually human stupidity. I suppose calling it “hacking” deflected the glare of publicity away from their own stupidity but thats another discussion for another day. The ones that hit the headlines are usually interesting in some way, but they pale into insignificance when compared to the millions of attempts that occur every day to the rest of us. Cybercrime is big business. We hear it so often that the words threaten to lose their impact.
According to the Trustwave 2016 Global Security Report, there was a recorded 26.6 million victims of hacking and identity theft in a 12 month period during 2015. A number which roughly equates to one person being hacked every second. In 2015, 96% of all hacking attacks were credit card, or payment data theft used in fraudulent online or at the till transactions. Over £24 billion was estimated to be have been lost to identity theft from hackers, with a potential loss averaging £5,061 per household globally.
The checklist of items the hacker tends to go for are usernames, passwords, PINs, National Insurance numbers, phone and utility account numbers, bank and credit card details, employee numbers, driving licence and passport numbers, insurance documentation and account numbers, and any other financial background account details.
How they get this data ranges from acquiring remote access to your computer, SQL injections to a popular website, spoofing a banking or other financial website, remote code execution, exploits in website trust certificates, physical theft, and through social media.
On the subject of social media there are some interesting and worrying facts. According to sources, 18% of people under the age of 19 were the victims of a phishing scam, and 74% were victims when they followed links posted by they know that they believed were legitimate. Furthermore, 74% of all social media users share their birthday information publicly. 69% shared the schools and universities they attended. An amazing 22% of users publicly share their phone numbers, and unsurprisingly, 15% share the names of their furry little friends.
If these numbers aren’t scary enough, there’s the fact that 15% of all Wi-Fi users worldwide are still using WEP encryption for their home WIFI and, 91% of all public Wi-Fi hotspots are unsecured, unmonitored, and available 24x7x365.
And finally, it’s estimated that 11% of all spam contains some kind of code designed to hijack your computer if opened. A further 8% of all spam contains links to websites that have been designed to grab information or download some trojan to gain access behind your firewall.
WHAT CAN WE DO?
We’ve put together a number of measures to help you prevent hackers invading your private domain, whether in the cloud or locally inside your trusted networks.
We don’t suggest you take thing to the extreme but there is a happy medium where you can do everything you reasonably can to protect yourself and educate yourself to spot the signs when they arise.
Starting with the home network there are a number of easy wins we can gain to stop the baddies from getting too close. Most of these steps are surprisingly simple.
CHANGE ROUTER ADMINISTRATOR CREDENTIALS
This is one of the most common points of entry for someone to gain access to your home network. The router you received from your ISP may well be up to date and offer the best possible forms of encryption, but they have a weakness. They usually come with a limited number of preconfigured SSIDs and WIFI keys which can be found on the back of the router on a sticker.
It doesn’t take too much gumption to do a google search and find out the SSIDs and WIFI keys used by the big ISP’s. It doesn’t help that your router is usually advertising itself as a BT, Sky or Virgin Media router and that just makes life easier for the baddies.
A reasonably savvy hacker can therefore gain access to your router, get connected, and even log in using the weak default logins. For this reason we recommend that our customers change the default router usernames and passwords to something more complex.
CHECK WIRELESS ENCRYPTION
Most routers come with a level of encryption already active, but there are some examples where the default state of encryption may be extremely weak, or worse still, completely open.
If you scan your WIFI using your phone and you see a padlock beside your network name then you at least know you have some encryption active. If you then look on your router and it tells you that the encryption method is WEP then you’ll need to fix that PDQ. WEP is the older standard of wireless encryption and can be cracked in less than fifteen minutes by using a variety of tools, all of which are freely available on the net. Unfortunately, WPA isn’t great either, but the its generally strong enough to hold back low level hackers.
USE MAC ADDRESS FILTERING
Every network interface has a unique identifier known as a MAC (Media Access Code) address, regardless of whether it’s a computer, tablet, phone, or sky box.
The idea behind MAC address filtering is simple enough. You obtain the MAC addresses of your devices at home and enter them into the router so that only those you know about are able to connect. Obviously, if you have loads of network connected devices this could take a while. But it will improve your chancer against a drive by hacker in a car outside your home with their laptop balanced on their dashboard.
But hey, MAC addresses can be spoofed, so while the junior hacker will likely give up the more determined one will not. Think of MAC address filtering as putting a padlock on the garden gate; it may stop most casual nasties from entering your garden, but those who really want to get in there will just jump over.
DISABLE SSID BROADCAST
There are two schools of thought when it comes to hiding your network SSID. The first recommends hiding your router’s SSID from the public view, with the idea that invisibility to those around you makes you somehow immune to their attempts. But a hidden SSID may seem like a far more juicy target to a determined hacker with an SSID radio grabber. Both sides of the argument have merit. Are you successfully hidden by being invisible, or is the best hiding place in plain sight? Probably invisible on balance.
USE STATIC IP ADDRESSES
By default your router will automatically assign an IP address to any device that connects to it, so the pair, and the rest of the network, can communicate successfully.
DHCP (Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol) is the name for this feature, and it makes perfect sense. After all, who wants to have to add new IP addresses to new devices every time they connect to your network?
On the other hand, anyone who gains access to your router will now have a valid IP address which allows it to communicate with your network. So to some degree it’s worth considering opting out of DHCP controlled IP addresses and instead configuring your devices and computers to use something like 10.10.0.0 as their range of IP addresses.
Like most good anti-hacking attempts though, this will only slow the intruder down.
This simple network protection act is one of the best, if done correctly.
Believe it or not, by moving your router to the centre of your house, or more to the rear (depending on where your closest neighbours or the road is), you are limiting the range of your wireless broadcast signal.
Most routers are located in the front room where the master phone socket usually is. This means the router can reach most corners of the house, and to some degree beyond the house. If someone was moving down the road, for example, sampling wireless networks then they would come across yours as they passed your house.
If the router is situated in a more central location, away from the front window, then the signal may be too weak to get a successful reading without having to stand on your porch.
SWITCH OFF THE ROUTER WHEN YOU’RE NOT USING IT
Most people will already do this anyway. Since no one is using the router, what’s the point of wasting electricity?
However, a lot of people simply have their router powered on all the time, regardless of whether they are in the house or not. Granted there are those who will be running a server, or downloading something while at work or asleep, but the vast majority just keep it on.
If you’re not using the internet or any other home network resource, it’s a good idea to power off the router. And if you’re away for an extended period, then do the same.
BEYOND THE HOME NETWORK.
Home network security is one thing, and frankly it’s not all that often you’ll get a team of hackers travelling down your street with the intent of gaining access to you and your neighbour’s home networks.
Where most of us fall foul in terms of hacking is when we’re online and surfing happily without a care in the world.
Passwords are the single weakest point of entry for the online hacker. Face it, how many of us use the same password for pretty much every website we visit? Some people even use the same password for access to a forum that they use for their online banking, pretty alarming we think you’ll agree.
Using the same password on every site you visit is like giving someone the skeleton key to your digital life. It’s a bloody pain having different passwords for every different site, but when you stop and think logically about it, doing so leaves you incredibly vulnerable to those who have ill intentions with regards to your identity and bank balance. For many a kind of compromise is usually sufficient. Many of the sites we use on the net that require us to use a password are pretty innocuous. Using the same password for this swathe is normally fine but make sure that you use strong passwords for those services that are really sensitive. More about that below.
Where passwords are concerned, using ‘12345’, ‘password’, or ‘qwerty’ isn’t going to stop someone from gaining access. And passwords such as ‘L3tmeIn’ aren’t much better either. Additionally, as we mentioned earlier, using the names of your pets may seem like a good idea, maybe even mixing their names with the date of your birth as well sounds like a solid plan, but if you then go and plaster Mr Tiggywinles, Rover, or Fido’s name all over public posts on Facebook along with pictures of you blowing out the candles on your birthday cake then you’ve just seriously lowered the strength of your passwords from staying secret.
Security questions and two-phase verification techniques are now being employed by a number of credible sites. What this means is that you basically enter more than one password to log into your account. Most online banking is done this way now, and sometimes includes a visual verification such as a pre-selected thumbnail image from a range that the user can click on to verify who they are.
If you have trouble coming up with passwords yourself, then there are a number of password managers available that can help you create highly secure combinations of letters, numbers, and special symbols unique for every website you visit. Even better they’ll even store them for you in the program itself in case you forget them. They are usually managed by one ultra secret master password. Be sure to keep that one complex and safe. Some examples are as follows.
LastPass – LastPass allows you to create a single username and password while securely entering the correct details.
Kaspersky Password Manager – A fully automated and powerful password manager that can store your username and password details, then enter them into the site for you while remaining encrypted throughout.
Either way, human beings are the weakest link in the secure password chain so any help you can get is to be welcomed.
DON’T TELL THE WORLD EVERYTHING
David Glasser, the MD at Twitter US, recently admitted, “I hate to say it, but in reality, people need to share a little bit less about themselves.”
While there’s nothing wrong with letting your nearest and dearest know what you’re up to on Facebook, you really must consider the fact that they probably aren’t the only ones reading. Facebook and Twitter often come under fire because of their attempts to make users newsfeeds public by default and where you have to jump through hoops to limit the views for your own timeline.
It’s worth taking the time to double-check the security settings on all your social media sites and check back often. Are the things you’re posting on your timeline or feeds viewable by friends only, or friends of friends? Has it mysteriously been reverted back to public viewing? Are you sure you want to display that picture of you sat at your desk with all that information on the screen behind you?
As we said before publicly announcing your private details, like when you’re on your hols and for how long, the names and birthdays of you, your nearest and dearest, children, pets and so on, isn’t particularly smart, but hey we’re all guilty of it.
The newsworthy hacking events of Pippa Middleton and many others has rammed home to us the fact that cloud storage isn’t quite as secure as we’d like to think.
Every device, either Android, Microsoft, or Apple, is capable of backing up your photos to its own particular cloud storage solution – sometimes it’s even a default setting. Most of the time the cloud solutions used are so secure that anyone trying to hack into them will have a pretty rough time of it, and no doubt bring down the wrathful vengeance of Google or Apple upon themselves. How the celebrity photos and videos were obtained is something you’ll have to find out for yourselves, but if storing stuff on the cloud is alarming you there are a couple of choices.
The first is to encrypt everything locally on your computer before uploading it to the cloud. This will take time, we’ll grant you, but it means only you’ll be able to decrypt them. Secondly, you could always compress everything first, using Winzip/Winrar etc., then password the compressed file. Breaking a password compressed file takes far longer than it’s actually worth, providing you’re not a celebrity, so most hackers won’t bother.
Finally, there are cloud storage solutions that encrypt the data on the device before uploading it to the also fully encrypted servers e.g. SpiderOak and Tresorit.
The very fact that you’re online makes you a potential target. If you’re sitting back and saying “they’ll have no interest in me” you’re sadly mistaken. Lets face it, you’re easy to find, easy to hack, and probably won’t do much about it when you do get hacked. Its in your best interests to stay up to speed with the latest hacking techniques and how to defend yourself against them.