You may have heard the recent news story: Hackers obtained credit card information, including the card number, expiration date, and security code number, for about 40 million customers at Target stores. If you shopped there, in person (not online), from Nov. 27 to Dec. 15, 2013, you may be one of the victims. According to one report, the thieves may also have obtained pin numbers for those customers using debit cards.
Many years ago, computer hacking used to be considered an annoyance. The typical hacker was a young person using various computing and programing tricks to mess with computer systems. But in recent years, hacking has become big business. It is believed that organized crime is now heavily involved in hacking. Why do they hack? because that’s where the money is. The Target hack made more money from those 40 million cards than if the hackers robbed a different bank every day from Nov. 27 to Dec. 15. Hacking is now a lucrative criminal enterprise. So it’s not going away anytime soon. Criminals go where the money is.
At the same time, more and more devices and services are becoming “computerized” and connected to the internet. Do you really need a pair of glasses (“Google Glass”) with a built-in computer that can connect to the internet? Smart phones are useful, but what about a smart watch — a mini-computer connected to the internet on your wrist. There is also talk of efforts to turn clothing into connected computing devices. But anything that is essentially a computing device connected to the internet can be hacked.
I was talking with a friend of mine a while back. He was complaining that his car was due for routine maintenance, so it automatically e-mailed the nearest dealer and they called him to make an appointment. His car sent an e-mail without any action on his part! WTF? Does everything need to be connected to the internet?
There is a push now for utility meters to be replaced with “smart meters”, and apparently the word “smart” now means “computerized and connected to the internet”. But that leaves your utility meter vulnerable to hacking.
Can’t we just protect all these “smart” devices from hacking with good computer security? Well, nothing is 100% secure. Computers and the internet have a high degree of complexity, and the hardware/software is constantly changing. The result is that vulnerabilities exist, and new vulnerabilities are continually being introduced. As the recent revelations about the NSA have proven, even systems thought to be very secure might not be.
Some tips on protecting yourself from hacking:
Choose a secure password and write it down inside the PasswordSafe program (or similar software). Don’t use the same password on every website, especially banking and credit card sites.
Keep at least one credit card in reserve, so that you rarely use it. That way, if your usual card is compromised, you have a secondary card to use.
Backup all your data, and keep at least two copies of that data offline, in a USB drive or external hard drive. More tips here.
Shy away from the trend to computerize everything. You might want to have an old school radio (with weather channel) stored with your preps. And in addition to digital books that you might own, keep a library of printed books on prepping subjects: gardening, nutrition, medicine, first aid, home repair, etc.
Antivirus software is, in my considered opinion, becoming less and less useful. I haven’t used an anti-virus program (like Norton or MacAfee) in years. Instead, I use an anti-malware program: Malwarebytes Anti-Malware Pro. There is a free version that works well. I sprung for the Pro version, since its much cheaper than anti-virus software and you don’t have to “renew” the license each year. I’ve found that this type of anti-malware program works better against the more common and more harmful computer threats out there.
I also use CryptoPrevent. Again, it comes in a perfectly adequate free version and an inexpensive useful paid version. This little program protects you against one of the most harmful types of malware out there: Ransomware. So-called “ransomware” encrypts your data, and then demands money in order to obtain the decryption key. It’s blackmail via hacking. CryptoPrevent protects you from this type of threat.
In my view, the danger from hacking is not going away anytime soon. This threat is simply part of living in a technologically-based society. It’s like the danger of tornadoes if you live in “Tornado Alley”, or the danger of blizzards if you live in New England. We can prepare for almost any disaster, to minimize its impact. But we can’t remove the threat.