Hacking affecting rich, poor alike

Hacking affecting rich, poor alike

It is a new nightmare, and cyber security is something everyone must worry about, experts tell Metrolife

Once an idea in sci-fi and dystopian movies, hacking is now an ugly reality in our everyday lives.

Once an idea in sci-fi and dystopian movies, hacking is now an ugly reality in our everyday lives. The most recent example of how hackers can target just about anyone in the world comes from a study at Tel Aviv University, Israel, which found that hi-tech ‘smart lights’ could compromise home and business networks.

The researchers from cyber-security firm Check Point discovered vulnerabilities in the communication protocol used by Philips Hue smart light bulbs, ultimately attacking the target’s computer network.

There are over a hundred potential ways hackers can ruin your life by having access to your Wi-Fi network, typically connected to your computers, smartphones, and other smart devices.

In the recent past, hackers have targeted the rich and the famous. The Guardian recently published a report on the alleged hacking of the personal phone of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos (in 2018), allegedly after receiving a WhatsApp message sent from the personal account of the crown prince of Saudi Arabia. The fact that this happened to Bezos, the richest man in the world, raises many questions about application and device security.

Or take the infamous ‘Pegasus’  case, where malicious spyware was deployed through WhatsApp, which allowed authorised governments to snoop on lawyers, activists, dissidents and diplomats. The spyware is also known to have been used against several Indian journalists and activists.

Info goldmine

Amber Sinha, research director at The Center for Internet and Society, says the ubiquity of personal data available in the public domain puts the common citizen at the mercy of hackers.

“It comes from indiscriminate sharing of databases by both private and public actors online, and stems from a lack of data protection laws. There is a mine of personal information about common people that is available online, including sensitive data, and it can be used in many ways to harm them,” he says. 

He lists financial fraud as among the top consequences of data being shared indiscriminately. 

When databases maintained by private companies are compromised, something like your password can become known to the hacker. “Even if the capacity of harm on a particular password is limited, it might enable them to hack into other websites and platforms where you might have the same or similar passwords. It can also allow people to guess the pattern of your passwords,” he adds.

Another way of targeting people is by accessing sensitive medical information, which can be used by a hacker to his advantage.

Social engineering

Hackers take advantage of people who are not aware of cyber security and related aspects, explains Sai Teja Bachewal, a member of The Hackers Institute, an ethical hacking institute in Indiranagar.

 Nowadays people overshare on social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram. Hackers gather all the information available about a target from these places and use different techniques to attack them.

A common trick is phishing (fraudulent attempt to obtain sensitive information such as usernames, passwords and credit card details by disguising oneself as a trustworthy entity in an electronic communication).

“They might send a mail saying that the recipient has won a large amount of money or has to file his IT returns immediately — basically to force the target into sharing personal details.

Another common method is impersonation — they claim to be a bank representative and ask for an OTP (One  Time Password) the person has received,” he says.

 

Three types of hackers 

Hackers are broadly divided into three categories based on their intent.

White hat: In Internet slang, this refers to ethical computer hackers, or computer security experts, who work with companies to protect their software infrastructure.

Black hat: Cyber criminals who hack for malicious purposes.

Grey hat: Hackers in this category may sometimes violate laws or ethical standards, but do not have malicious intent typical of a black hat hacker. 

 

Some ways to protect yourself

Create complex passwords and ideally use different passwords for different websites. 

Change your passwords often

Don’t share your passwords with anyone

Avoid visiting sensitive sites, like bank websites, over public Wi-Fi

Disable and manage third-party permissions

Make sure your security software is up-to-date

Disable connections (like Wi-Fi and Bluetooth) when you aren’t using them. 

Only install trusted applications.

Delete suspicious emails.

Sign up for account alerts.

Back-up important data on an external hard drive

Never use real answers in security questions – make up memorable answers that will only make sense to you.

Check your privacy settings.