Talk about a bad day: That's how you'd feel if a hacker managed to gain access to your home computer. Yes, it may seem that hackers primarily attack large companies, but the truth is that they can also target your computer just as easily.
Of course, they can't do anything until they get "inside" your computer, but there are plenty of ways they can make that happen.
One way hackers have attacked computers in the past is through a program call "Sub7" (or SubSeven). But for that to happen, Sub7 needs to get into your computer...and unfortunately, there are a few ways that can happen to you: Sub7 can work its way into your computer through an email, or the program can be "delivered" to you if you use the Internet Relay Chat (IRC) protocol.
Today's hackers are automated.
You might think that a hacker just gets lucky and happens to target a victim who's in the wrong place at the wrong time, but that's not the case. Hackers rely on sophisticated hardware and software to help them scan thousands of computers at a time. That's one way they can find out whether or not you have the Sub7 program on your computer.
One of the tools a hacker uses sends out packets of data to probe computers and find out if there are any vulnerable ports available that are ripe for exploitation. All computers have ports that are open when they're on the Internet. The ports accept different types of data from different sources—think of them as different doors in a house, or boating docks in a busy seaside port.
The nasty Sub7 program, for example, is known to use port 27374, as well as others. If port 27374 happens to be running that day, Sub7 will open that port. The port probe then alerts the hacker that, indeed, port 27374 is open for business...or hacking. The hacker knows that with a few keystrokes, they can take control of your computer.
The hacker takes over.
Can you imagine a stranger—or even worse, a thief—sitting in front of your computer, going through your files and doing whatever they want? That's what happens once a hacker has used Sub7 to take control of your computer.
It's as if they're sitting in your cozy computer chair, using your computer and seeing all of your data and files on your computer monitor. And you have no idea that this is going on.
The hacker could be across the street or across the country. No matter where they are, they can copy photos from your computer onto theirs, or delete your tax records. They can steal your personal data or delete the programs you have on your computer.
Worse yet, they can download more viruses.
Like looking in your underwear drawer.
A sophisticated hacker might be able to find out all kinds of personal information about you. How much? That will be depend on how well you protect yourself by making smart decisions online. For example:
- Do you keep your passwords secret, or write them down and store them on your computer?
- Do you have a habit of keeping browser windows open on websites, windows that reveal your bank account or credit card numbers?
- Do you make digital images of bank or credit card statements and store them in an easy-to-get-to folder on your computer?
Skilled hackers could gain access to the following:
- Your credit card numbers
- Your bank account
- Your Social Security number
And with that information in hand, they're well on their way to stealing your identity...if that was their initial goal. Or maybe they'll just ask your credit card company to up your credit limit to $5,000—so they can buy some expensive merchandise online.
If a hacker only knows the username to your bank or credit card accounts, there's not much damage they can do. However, if they also know your passwords, your accounts could be fully compromised.
With both hijacked usernames and stolen passwords, the hacker could go online—at any time—to impersonate you digitally and use your credit accounts for illegal purchases.
Stealing programs...or storing them.
You might think that hackers don't have any friends. You're wrong: They're friendly with other hackers...and they like to share what they find.
So it's no surprise that hackers have been known to store stolen software programs on the computers of their victims. The hacker then lets his cronies know where they can find the free software—on your computer. So now the number of hackers that are coming through your computer port increases!
Your computer can be used to attack other computers.
Sometimes hackers will take over a computer, sometimes thousands of them, to launch an attack on a website they've targeted. It could be a company or government agency they have a beef with, or a popular website they simply want to take offline for a day.
When the security specialists start searching for the online culprits, the digital/electronic trail will lead to the computers of innocent—and totally unaware—victims. Meanwhile, the hacker or hackers go unidentified...that is, until they boast about their prank.
So what can you do to avoid hackers? Follow the time-tested tips you probably hear all the time:
- Don't open any suspicious emails.
- Secure your home network, especially if you use Wi-Fi.
- Use a VPN when you take your laptop to a coffeehouse, airport or hotel.
- Be careful when you're online. Avoid websites you're not familiar with.
- Keep your antivirus software up to date.