Black-hat hackers, script kiddies, camfecters, and malicious programmers. Those aren't non-sense words, they are each a particular type of internet derelict who aspire every day to invade your privacy. And there aren't just a few, there are thousands of these people scouring your home computers, your work networks, your kids laptops, tablets, and phones who do it for one of two reasons.
First, to get paid. There is a market for just about everything, and your personal information is no exception. For example, a hacked credit card will go for about $12.00 - $30.00 (Wired Black Market Article).
Second, because they can. You may have heard "With great power comes great responsibility". That is the tenet of a popular super hero. Unfortunately, most people aren't super heroes. Most fall to the common saying, "Power corrupts".
How can you protect yourself?
To be brutally honest, if someone who knows what they're doing wants your personal information... it's very difficult to stop them without making major changes to the way you live.
But most instances of identity theft, camfection, or hacking aren't committed by a person who is actively seeking to gain entrance to a specific target. Most of these people have software running 24 hours a day that search for known exploitable weaknesses on random devices on the internet.
We can make a few small changes and avoid a large percentage of these kinds of attacks just by not wearing a figurative sign with the words "exploitable" printed in large letters across it.
3 attacks we're going to try and prevent are Malware, Hijacked Web Sessions, and Webcam Theft.
Step 1: Install Anti-Virus Software
The first step towards a solid defense against malware is having anti-virus software installed. There are quite a few options out there, but (2) do a good job and are free. They are AVG Anti-virus (AVG) and Microsoft Security Essentials (MSE). Both do a superb job of protecting your computer (MSE only works with PCs) from known malware, but they're not infallible.
Malicious programmers work very hard to beat the anti-virus software development teams to create malware that exploits known operating system (OS) weaknesses before they're fixed by the OS manufacturers (like Apple or Microsoft) or stopped by the anti-virus software developers. And sometimes they get there. But having something like AVG or MSE is a great first line of defense.
Step 2: Practice Safe Surfing
This is the most overlooked method to protecting yourself online. Here are a few simple rules to safe surfing:
- Make sure your OS and browser are up-to-date.
- Never click on a link in an email from an unknown sender.
- If you're planning on entering personal information (Username, Password, Credit Card Info, etc...) make sure the web address starts out with HTTPS. The S stands for secure and is much, much more difficult to hack.
- Never allow anything to be installed on your computer from a webpage unless you're certain it's safe, and you've scanned it for viruses (which you can typically do by right clicking the downloaded file and selecting "Virus Scan" or "Scan for Virus").
- Don't visit sites with questionable content.
- Get Web of Trust (WOT) browser add-on. WOT is a wonderful free app that gives you a rating for each site you visit inside your browser.
Step 3: Disable Your Webcam
Webcam hacking (also known as camfecting) has become very popular over the past several months and should be a real concern for everyone. Webcam hacking is exactly what it sounds like, a hacker breaks into your computer and activates your webcam to spy on you. Sound scary? What's worse is it happens a lot. Just today (9/27/2013), a college student was arrested for hijacking the webcams of young women (CNN).
How can you protect yourself from Webcam Hacking?
The simplest and most secure way to protect yourself from webcam hacking is to put something over your webcam like a piece of tape or a Band-Aid.
But what if you use your webcam regularly?
For people who use their webcams often and don't want to be forced to peel a piece of tape off their device, there are free software solutions like WebcamWarden that allow a user the ability to temporarily disable or enable their webcams.
These are just a few easy ways to protect yourself while surfing the internet from a number of malicious attacks.