How Much Do Hackers Know About You?
The threat of black hat hackers has never been greater than now, considering the increasing organization of their efforts to make a dollar off of your digital assets and information. The common portrayal of the hacker is someone who knows enough about programming and the internet that they can seemingly access any information or know anything about anyone.
This is mostly an exaggeration. Finding information on someone is still work, sometimes very time-consuming and usually not worth the effort from a financial standpoint unless done on a large scale. It does beg the question, however, of how much hackers might know about you. Based on the trails you leave online and who you trust your information with, a hacker might already have a file with your name on it. It is a question worth investigating.
The answer is different for every person. Here are some factors you need to take into consideration:
Public Network UsageHow often do you use dangerous public networks to conduct online transactions or communicate with others? If you use them at all without protection, you leave yourself open to data interception. Hackers will often hang out in cafes or other public places with WiFi and use a “sniffing” device to take in the traffic of anyone unfortunate enough to be sending and receiving data over the network. Think back to what you’ve sent over a public network. Anything you sent or received could very well be in the hands of a hacker.
The best way to protect yourself on a public network (other than not using it) is to equip your device with a strong Virtual Private Network (VPN). A VPN will connect your device to an offsite secure server via an encrypted connection, allowing you to keep your information a secret from anyone hoping to look on. As an added benefit, your IP address will be masked by that of the offsite server, so you will be able to avoid tracking in that manner as well.
Large Scale Data BreachesDo you know if your information has been leaked in a large scale data breach such as the Office of Personnel Management attack or the Target credit card scandal? If so, you might not have been immediately targeted for an attack, but it doesn’t mean that the information has vanished from the internet. For the right price, that data (or large sets of data containing your information at a wholesale price) could be sent to an interested party. Some might not apply anymore, but with the right information, you could be traced.
To prevent this sort of thing in the future, the most you can do is choose the right organizations to trust your information to. Try to lobby for stronger standards of cybersecurity with the businesses you use and the government. You can’t control organizations, but you can control who you trust.
Has One Account Been Compromised?Much like dominoes, the breach of even one of your accounts can lead to a loss of other accounts linked to it or sharing data. Try to imagine what would happen if someone else had access to your email account. They would likely need only an hour to completely ruin your online life, should they want to. One social media account breach could easily lead a hacker to copy all of your conversations and scan them for private information. They might not even read it until the time is right to scam or blackmail you.
Think back and ask yourself if even the most minor of your accounts has been compromised. If so, ask yourself how long ago the incident took place. Look more into the data you could have lost at that time and whether it still is relevant today (some will be). Remember that in addition to financial information, the names of friends and family members could be linked with your accounts.
What Do You Keep on Your Computer?Much of what black hat hackers do involves malware and using it to gain information on you. While some malware acts more like ransomware or a portal to let other malware in, other malware (or the same malware as a secondary measure) collects whatever information it can from you and sends the data on to its creator or owner.
If you’ve ever been the victim of malware, a lot of what you keep on your computer could be known by a hacker. Make sure that you try to avoid shady websites and use the best tools you can such as a high quality security suite to keep malicious programs off of your precious devices.
Privacy and Social Media PresenceEven if you keep your social media accounts safe, a hacker could use them to find out important information about you. Privacy is important to fend off malevolent hackers in a world of sharing.
Consider the following:
- If you tag your location in a public post often enough, they might be able to get a general idea of your routine.
- If you don’t make your accounts as private as possible, a clever hacker might be able to use your public communications with your friends against you and deduce some of your movements and activities.
- Even things such as the time of day you post can say a lot about you. A skilled hacker can use even the most basic information such as this to help build a plan to scam you better.
- Doing a quick Google search of yourself online is a great way to determine how private you are online. If you can find it out through Google, have no doubt a hacker can find out the same information.
This is clearly a difficult question to answer for certain, but hopefully by this point you have a better idea of what to look out for and what a hacker could know about your personal life and what information they could have. You aren’t defenseless, but further vigilance regarding all of your online activities is required.
Do you think there are any other factors to consider when trying to figure out how much a hacker could potentially know about you? Are there any other tools and methods of protections you would recommend? Please leave a comment below with your thoughts on the matter to continue this conversation.