5 things you're probably doing that make you an easier target for hackers


Members of the tech and business world descended on Minneapolis for the 2015 Cyber Security Summit this week.

The state's had its share of tribulations with cyber security in recent years, arguably the biggest being Target, which was the victim of a major hack that exposed the credit card details of tens of millions of customers.

But while the fight against cyber-criminals by nations and businesses was the subject of much of the discussion at the summit, there is much that individuals can do to limit this exposure online.

BringMeTheNews spoke with Ryan Manship, of Minnesota-based RedTeam Security, as well as anti-virus companies McAfee/Intel Security and Kaspersky to highlight the common mistakes internet users make that could leave them vulnerable to viruses, identity theft and hackers.

1) Over-sharing on social media

McAfee warns social media is a popular target for hackers, and urges people to be wary of suspicious looking articles or links that are posted on friends' profiles that don't look like something they would normally post.

But just in general, the anti-virus company says that some people share too much information on their social media accounts that could be used against them, even when their privacy settings are set to high.

Digital Guardian put together this infographic showing the risks inherent with sharing a large amount of personal information on social media.

2) Using public Wi-Fi

You're out having a coffee, or waiting for your plane to take off, and you hook up your tablet to the public Wi-Fi network.

In doing so, you are potentially leaving yourself vulnerable to hackers who can gain access to your device and remove private information from it – Kaspersky describes how they do it here.

To stop this, Kaspersky suggests subscribing to a low-cost Virtual Private Network (VPN) service, or use one that could be provided by your employer, which "strongly encrypts" any data you share while using a public network (which is usually unsecured).

Turning off "sharing" in your computer's control panel or preferences can also limit access to your device on public networks, and users should consider avoiding information-sensitive sites such as banking, while sticking only to sites starting with the encrypted "https:" rather than "http:."

3) Downloading bad apps

With the rise in smartphone and tablet apps in recent years, it's not surprising that criminals have sought a way to take advantage of them.

McAfee says app creators "put convenience and allure ahead of security," meaning many don't have secure connections. That means hackers can get into your device and access your passwords, usernames, and sensitive information.

"Once the hacker gets all this information, he could do just about anything, including obtaining a credit line in your name and maxing it out, or altering your Facebook information," it says.

4) Easy-to-guess passwords

It's an obvious one, but given the sheer multitude of passwords now needed online these days, many people still opt for simple passwords that are easy to remember, but also easy to guess.

Manship says that examples of this include the "season with the year," (like "spring2015") as well as using sports teams, or the word "password" with a number (that's generally "1").

He suggests using a "password manager" that keeps your passwords in an encrypted vault, and generates random new passwords you don't have to remember. Lifehacker has a list of the 5 best password vault providers.

For those who don't want to use a password manager, Intel Security advises using different passwords for separate accounts, especially for banking – and to ensure that those passwords are at least 8 characters long, and contain a mixture of "numbers, letters and characters that don't spell anything."

5) Clicking sketchy links

Nefarious Internet users have many different tricks to lure people into clicking on their links, leaving them vulnerable to attacks that could expose their personal details.

Users shouldn't click links in unsolicited emails, Manship says, and he also cautions people against websites that ask people to "download the plugin" – which he says invariably leads to viruses.

On its consumer blog, McAfee listed three ways people are tricked into cyber attacks, referencing the common hacker trick of "phishing." That's when an email is crafted to look legitimate, but actually includes a malicious link or website – which gives away access to your personal details.

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