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How much information does a hacker need to hack?

NetworkTigers discusses what a hacker needs to hack.

Instances of hacking are increasing in frequency, scale and cost. In 2021, the average ransomware attack left organizations with a $4.62 million and the price of recovery is expected to continue to rise as cybercriminals become more resourceful and bold.

While Hollywood movies make hackers out to be outrageously technical, often working from fully-equipped vans or pursuing targets through cyberspace in front of towering monitor arrays, reality is far less dramatic.

Using automation, tools that can be purchased online and a basic understanding of computing and networking, almost anyone can at least attempt to generate a successful cyberattack.

Hackers don’t need much

The code crackers and network penetrators in entertainment make for interesting cinema, but most of today’s hacks occur thanks to the procurement of a few key pieces of information that allow someone access to the backend of a targeted system or account.

Login credentials

Usernames and passwords continue to be the most highly prized pieces of information that hackers seek. Successfully logging in to a victim’s account can allow access to payment information, full names, addresses and more. If you are one of the many people who still use the same password across multiple accounts, the hacker will surely make attempts on them.

Depending on the nature of the account that is hacked, criminals can pose as you to send fraudulent messages to friends, family and colleagues. Using your account as a launchpad, they may then be able to trick others into clicking links that lead to malware or even simply turning over their own login credentials when asked.

Full name and address

Most hackers won’t be able to get too far with publicly available information like your full name and address, but they may still be able to achieve success depending on their goals.

Many companies ask for this information to validate your identity if you call asking for support or assistance with your account. If a hacker has other information about you at their disposal, your personal information can help complete the arsenal of data that they may use to falsely impersonate you and gain access to your online accounts.

Contact information

Sometimes, all it takes is an email address.

Criminals compile huge lists of phone numbers and email addresses to stage phishing campaigns with. They play the numbers game by launching fake emails to as many people as possible, hoping to achieve success through scale.

Unfortunately, this data is easy for hackers to get ahold of. Using data scrapers, people can compile millions of email addresses from social media sites like Facebook and then sell the information to scammers.

While someone knowing your email address poses little threat on its own, that knowledge allows criminals to reach you directly with scams and malware attachments that could lead to a network or system takeover.

If a hacker wants to launch a spear phishing campaign, they could potentially craft very convincing messages and send them directly to your inbox. These can appear to be from a customer, a colleague or, in many cases, a superior asking for urgent help.

Because businesses need to have contact info easily available, company owners need to be sure to keep their employees diligently informed and aware of the possibility of phishing attacks.

Compromising personal information

Not all hackers use code, software tools and malware to strongarm their way towards their goal. In some cases, old fashioned blackmail does the trick.

Information that you want to keep secret from employers and family can be used against you if it falls into the wrong hands. This can include photos, videos, messages or even an account that can be traced to you on a website or platform that may prove to be destructive to your personal or professional life.

A criminal may threaten to reveal private photos of you to your employer if you don’t pass on your login credentials or passwords. Since the vast majority of hacks are financially motivated, they may simply ask for money in return for not exposing you.

Holding onto potentially damaging media can allow a cybercriminal to make demands indefinitely for as long as its existence poses a threat. Because of this, people need to think very carefully about what they post online and understand that a determined hacker can almost always trace posts back to the source.

Your hardware and devices

From passwords saved in your browsers, personal photos and immediate access to your files and accounts, your laptop, tablet or phone is a treasure trove for hackers.

With a direct line of communication to your employer, friend and family, a hacker can use a stolen device to wreak havoc on your life. 

In addition to using your messaging and email accounts to steal information and hack into other platforms, many peoples’ devices are loaded with photos that contain data that they may not realize is dangerous.

For example, a photograph you took of your driver’s license or passport years ago to complete a travel document is extremely valuable to someone who may wish to commit identity fraud. Combine this data with a photo that may include your license plate in the background or a scanned credit card and a hacker has a blank check that they can use to steal from you or impersonate you to attack other victims.

Always keep a close watch on your devices. Password protect everything and use multi-factor identification wherever possible to limit the possibility of someone gaining access to your hardware. 

Aside from our connected devices, a misplaced USB or hard drive may also contain data that can be sold on the dark web or used to compromise accounts.

Stay safe from hackers!

With so much of our personal data online and so many hacks taking place on a weekly basis, personal cybersecurity can feel like an impossible goal. It is true that much of your data is out of your hands, left to tech, finance and telecom companies to, hopefully, protect. However, there are still steps you can take to protect yourself from being hacked:

  • Practice good password hygiene by only using passwords that are impossible to guess strings of random numbers and characters. Use a unique password for every account.
  • Engage two-factor authentication across all devices and accounts that allow it.
  • Keep informed on cybersecurity threats and always confirm that a message including any attachment or link was sent from who it purports to have come from. 
  • Be careful not to lose your devices. Our laptops and phones are full of information that can be used to steal everything from finances to your identity.
  • Keep your software updated to ensure that the latest patches are installed to meet new cybersecurity threats.
Derek Walborn
Derek Walborn
Derek Walborn is a freelance research-based technical writer. He has worked as a content QA analyst for AT&T and Pernod Ricard.

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