Hacking refers to unauthorised access of a system or network, often to exploit a system’s data or manipulate its normal behaviour.

Now a common part of our vocabulary, we read about hacking daily as data spills and breaches make headlines, and major organisations warn their customers to check their bank statements carefully.

While it’s often a catch-all term applied to anything that compromises or negatively affects our computers, ‘hacking’ represents a particular kind of threat to your network and accounts.

How it works #

Like breaking into someone’s home, thieves have to look for a way in. Using software code, either developed themselves or available in a ready-to-use kit online, hackers look at ways to gain access to a network. Often finding out a password is the first step in cracking a network’s security.

Once in, a hacker can modify how a network works, steal data, obtain passwords, get credit card information, watch what you are doing or install malicious software (malware) to further the attack.

While hacking is often highly targeted, some hacking tools such as ransomware or phishing malware can spread on their own via links and attachments. Malware can compromise your system or accounts without someone specifically targeting you.

How to protect yourself from hacking #

  • Install anti-virus software on all devices and set it to automatically apply updates and conduct regular scans.
  • Always install updates for applications and operating systems when they are available. The longer you delay, the longer you are vulnerable to hackers or malware.
  • Use unique, strong passwords that are passphrases for each account (don’t duplicate across accounts) and always use two-factor authentication where possible.
  • Always backup your data so if your system is compromised, you won’t necessarily lose everything. Make sure the backup hard drive is not left connected to your system after you’ve finished.
  • Always practice safe online browsing behaviour and be on the lookout for suspicious links or email attachments.

What to do if you believe you are a victim of hacking #

  • Run a virus scan to identify and remove any malware.
  • Change all your passwords and accounts and notify your financial institution/s.
  • Notify your social network to be on alert for any strange links or email attachments. 

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