Since the early days of the internet, hackers have been finding new ways to steal data from unsuspecting computer users. While some methods are more sophisticated than others, all of them pose a serious threat to your privacy and security.
This article will explore three different ways that hackers can access your data and how you can protect yourself from them.
Firesheep Attacks/Hijacking Session Cookies [Insecure WiFi Connection]
A session cookie is a special type that saves information on your computer for an extended time. For instance, if you register on a website and save the login details in a browser, the next time you visit the website, all that’s required is to load the pages and consent to having it remembered by your session cookie.
As far as websites are concerned, this means that there is no need to keep asking you for your login credentials each time you want to access the website.
In essence, hacking a user’s session cookie gives him/her full control over another person’s account(s) across multiple websites or services. Since many people tend to use the same passwords, a compromised account frequently results in a network-wide security breach.
Suppose you are using a public WiFi connection to connect your computer to the internet (such as at an Internet Cafe or Library). In that case, other users on the same network can likely sniff all of your unencrypted traffic and read data such as passwords and cookies. This includes hackers who use Firesheep, a Firefox add-on that helps users hijack other people’s session cookies.
Phishing is a popular method hackers use to gain access to your personal details. The attackers send you an email disguised as coming from a trusted website.
The fake email may contain real working hyperlinks that point to fake login pages or fake data submission forms to increase its credibility. Another way these fake emails are designed to fool unsuspecting users is by attaching files with malicious codes in them.
If you download and execute such files on your system, hackers can use them to install keyloggers, spyware, and Trojan horses onto your computer without your knowledge.
A more sophisticated version of phishing is known as pharming. Here, the attackers do not send out emails. Instead, they hack into a DNS server running on your network and re-route you to fake or hacked websites without your knowledge.
Commonly used by cybercriminals to mine information illegally, these types of attacks are very sophisticated and hard to detect.
Security researchers have recently uncovered another method that involves hacking into popular websites with many users. These hackers then clone the original website in every way possible, including color schemes, graphics/layout, etc.
They then edit the content present inside these cloned webpages to include links that point back to their main website, where all personal data submitted by users is gathered. As far as an average internet user is concerned, they are submitting their personal details on the original website.
However, behind the scenes, this information is being stolen by criminals.
Another way that hackers are stealing data is by eavesdropping on your private conversations. If you are using an unsecured WiFi connection, ensure that the website or service offers some form of encrypted exchange to protect your data.
Generally speaking, websites offering online banking services or eCommerce sites offer an encrypted server connection. You should consider it a red flag if you are told to turn off ‘SSL’ for the website to work properly.
If possible, do not conduct any sensitive financial transactions while connected through an insecure network, especially while traveling in unknown locations/countries. Ensure that your computer’s firewall and security suite are updated with all available patches before connecting to a public connection.
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The internet is full of many dangers. Although this article has highlighted some of the most common ways hackers steal your data, they are not limited to these. There are numerous other dangerous scenarios you may encounter while surfing the World Wide Web.
The best way to defend yourself against such attacks is to be aware of the dangers, take the necessary precautions, and implement a good security suite on your computer.