Unless you’ve been cast adrift in cyberspace you can’t fail to have noticed news stories and reports about hackers and the havoc their activities cause. Even the least techy inclined amongst us will be aware of hackers and hacking. But what exactly is ‘hacking?’
Hacking as a term actually covers a broad spectrum of actions but is generally defined as a cyber-attack which results in the gain of unauthorised access to private data. In the movies, the act of hacking is often massively over dramatized and usually the stakes are so high it’s potentially world-ending.
As for reality, it’s not quite so glamorous and won’t involve gaining secret nuclear launch codes, but it could involve your private data being accessed, identity stolen, or bank account emptied. Businesses and governments are also vulnerable to sophisticated cyber-criminals. While large scale cyber-attacks do happen in the real world, we’re going to be looking at the cyber-attacks which can affect you and how to avoid them.
What is hacking?
Well, as we mentioned above, hacking is gaining unauthorised access to a system or private data. It’s not always for malicious purposes, but hacking is illegal, so therefore ‘hackers’ are essentially criminals.
Hacking can occur on any device including smartphones, laptops, desktop PCs, tablets and even entire networks. Often is someone is hacking your device, they will be attempting to steal your private data, or gain access to your system to plant dangerous viruses.
When you think of a ‘hacker’ you probably picture someone hunched over a laptop, in a dark room, wearing a black hoodie and possibly even a V for Vendetta mask. But, in reality they look nothing like that. So, what do they look like?
Who are ‘hackers’?
Well, most ‘hackers’ aren’t as glamorous as the movies make out, nor are they burdened with a crippling knowledge of all things computer science. No, in reality many hackers utilize lowcode software to create viruses or break into systems with little to no programming knowledge.
There are several stats which have been collated to predict the profile of the average hacker, such as the average hacker being a male under age 35 and that they often target small businesses rather than large corporations.
Not all hackers are in it to ruin your business, though. The reasons why someone may hack vary from disruption to financial gain or even just for the fun of it. Whether they’re acting as part of a team or as a lone wolf, hackers motivations are not always clean cut.
But who are the targets?
Targets of hacking
Anyone can be susceptible to hackers, but which are targets are the most common?
Managed Service Providers
MSPs are a goldmine of valuable data which has been collected on multiple customers across different industries, which makes them prime targets. ‘Island hopping’ is a common hacking technique where hackers jump from one business to another using stolen login credentials.
Hospitals and other healthcare practices are easy targets for cybercrime due to their chaotic and sometimes slack security. Medical data and research is extremely valuable and if it falls in to the wrong hands, could end up on the dark web with a healthy price tag attached.
Municipalities, Infrastructure, and Utilities
Networks which support entire cities are also a target for cyber-attacks. Not only is the huge amount of data stored in city systems appealing to hackers, but they also launch a disruptive ransomware attack, shutting down infrastructures or utilities until the ransom is paid.
Government agencies can hold a lot of sensitive information and private data, which again, is hugely appealing for hackers to get their hands on.
Banks and other financial institutions have long been targets for hackers due to a masses of extremely important data and money. Back in 2018, over 25% of malware attacks targeted banks, which is more than any other industry.
Celebrities, Politicians, and High-Profile Brands
Hacktivists are politically or socially motivated and seek targets such as celebrities, politicians, and other prominent organisations as targets. The most recent example of this was in July, when the likes of Kanye West, Elon Musk and Barack Obama all had their Twitter accounts hacked to promote a Bitcoin scam.
What is good hacking?
Not all hackers have malicious intent, some of them are here to help. Technically what they’re doing isn’t hacking but they’re using their expert computer knowledge to help a good cause. For example, there were a team of researchers, scientists and engineers developing the world’s first surgical robot. Due to the robot being remote controlled, it would need to be sufficiently safeguarded against any attempts to commandeer the robot.
Enter the hackers. In this scenario you would refer to them as ‘white hat hackers’ as they’re using their ability for good. The hackers used their expert skills to make it near impossible for any malicious hackers to attack the robot.
The government even launched a Cyber Discovery programme in order to teach teenagers about cyber-security in an attempt to create a generation of ‘ethical hackers’. The best people to prevent or defend against a cyber-attack are those who would know exactly how to create on.
So, we’ve mentioned ransomware and how it can be used to target large organisations and infrastructures, but do you know what it is? The name is pretty self-explanatory. Ransomware is basically a malicious type of software which holds a system at ransom until a sum of money is paid.
Ransomware is most effective when it’s deployed on a large and highly relied upon network, as the owners of the network will want to solve the issue as quickly as possible, meaning they’re more likely to pay the sum than a small business would be.
More often than not, ransomware is deployed through a phishing scam, which is where a malicious file is sent masquerading as something harmless. Once opened, the ransomware can take over the victim’s computer and even deploy social engineering tolls which trick the user into allowing administrative access.
There are more aggressive forms of ransomware which target holes in security and can still infect systems without even needing to trick users.
Ransomware can be pretty prolific too with The Hiscox Cyber Readiness Report revealing that in 2019 the total cyber losses around the world amounted to nearly £1.4 billion. Cyber-attacks are becoming increasingly common in the UK with one of the most memorable attacks coming in2017 against the NHS. A ransomware virus known as WannaCry was released, affecting the NHS. The virus encrypted data and demanded a ransom or sensitive data which had been stolen would be released.
How to avoid being hacked
The best way to avoid being hacked is to make sure you’re aware of potential threats. Often those oblivious and most gullible will fall victim to attacks such as phishing or security hacks due to lack of firewalls.
So, now that you’re on high alert, let’s talk about putting that into practice. Firstly, you’re going to want to make sure you’re using the most up-to-date versions of software. The more recent the software the better the security and any bugs in security are likely to have been fixed. It often take a lot of patches to improve software from it’s first release.
On top of that, you’re going to want to kit your computer out with some good antivirus software. We stock a few great ones which will help you stay protected. If you keep important data on your smartphone, you’re going to want to protect that with antivirus software too which, luckily for you, we also stock.
Another way to keep yourself protected is to change your passwords regularly. It’s difficult to remember lot’s of different passwords for various accounts, but changing passwords is a good way to keep any potential attackers at bay. Furthermore, if you are changing your passwords regularly, don’t store them on your computer! Unless the file containing that information is password guarded itself, if a hacker gained access to your system you’re practically gifting them access to all of your other accounts too.
It may sound a little old fashioned in this day and age but writing these down in a notepad manually is the safest way to keep your passwords and private accounts secure.
How businesses avoid being hacked
With businesses small and large such vulnerable targets for cyber-attacks, how do they protect against hackers looking to take down their business? Well, some businesses employ hackers! It sounds unusual, but it takes a hacker to catch a hacker.
It’s actually a pretty smart move as hackers more knowledge than anyone on how to hack. Back in 2011, Facebook hired 21-year-old George Hotz onto its development team. However, before he was hired by Facebook, Hotz had been involved in a court battle against Sony because he had hacked into the company’s PlayStation 3 platform. How’s that for a job application?
Will hacking evolve?
Hackers and their ways of attacking will inevitably evolve. Not only will they find new ways of creating unbeatable attacks, but with more services being online based, that means more targets. This is just the potential of what’s to come, too. There has already been a tremendous evolution of hacking.
Since the days of someone launching a simple virus from their backroom, entire states have gotten involved. Governments have utilised hackers and their abilities to spy on their enemies and get their hands of secret information.
Hopefully, this has helped shed some light on the subject. But if you’re still searching for answers, feel free to explore our other blogs explaining more specific subsets of hacking.