What is a Hacker?
If your identity has been stolen online or if you hear stories in the news about others who have been victimized by cybercriminals, there’s a good chance you’ve seen or heard the word “hacker.”
But do you know what or who a hacker really is?
A hacker is anyone who uses a computer to gain access – sometimes without permission – to particular data, including operating systems or personal user information.
Hackers: Good or bad?
In some instances, hackers use their skills to help corporations or government entities learn about vulnerabilities so they can respond with the proper security measures.
By definition, hackers can essentially be anyone who is familiar with a computer and who can use those skills to do anything they want.
Those skills alone do not mean hackers are bad or that all hackers are criminals; in fact, many hackers aren’t criminals at all.
Some hackers are perfectly legitimate and use their skills for a profession or hobby rather than to commit illegal activity.
But other hackers use their knowledge to infect computers with viruses, or to steal your private information in order to take control of your identity.
There are skilled computer experts who have essentially gone to the dark side, and can create tools that allow them or other criminals to force their way into your computer.
How do hackers hack?
Hacking is one of the most common means of criminals to commit identity theft.
Hackers may attack a computer when a firewall is down or never existed, or by installing keyboard loggers or malicious programs through email attachments or other dangerous links.
Hackers also target unprotected computer networks, including wireless networks at your home.
They exploit bad or non-existent passwords in some instances.
And while some hackers employ secretive measures, others may simply gain access to your computer at work or in a public setting where you’ve left your network unprotected.
In recent years, some hackers have made global headlines by stealing customer identification from large corporations.
Then, they try to extort those businesses by threatening to release customer information if a ransom isn’t paid.
In some instances, law enforcement authorities have been able to track down the suspected hackers and put a stop to their threats.
In other cases, hackers have enough skill to keep their identities anonymous.
Identity theft rings often employ the use of a hacker to gain access to online databases.
The information they steal could include your name, your Social Security Number, your home address, your birthdate, or other details.
Some may also target your personal photographs, or perhaps your text messages or saved phone numbers.
What can I do to protect myself?
Use strong passwords for your network, email, computer and other devices.
Some security experts believe the longer the password, the stronger it is – especially if it can include a combination of letters, numbers and symbols.
Be sure to install and use a firewall and up-to-date anti-virus software on your computer.
Keep your Internet browser updated so it isn’t susceptible to hacker attacks.
Be careful when opening suspicious emails or visiting questionable websites, and warn others who use your computer about the threats they could face by doing so.