The undeniable dangers that lurk daily on the Internet have left us no choice: we must protect our devices. However, do we protect all our devices with the same stringency? Do you take your tablet and smartphone’s security as seriously as you do with your desktops and laptops?
The truth is they’re all computers and there is plenty of malware out there created to harm you. They get into your device through a simple click on a link or through the installation of a seemingly harmless application. You can lose sensitive information like your work or bank credentials, your personal data, including your location and route, or your device could even be used for mining cryptocurrency and more.
Can you hack-proof your devices and stay safe? Yes, you can and you must!
Is device hacking still a big threat nowadays?
Yes, device hacking remains a significant threat in today’s technologically advanced world. Some people naively think that the more modern technology is, the safer we are, but it doesn’t work that way. Several factors contribute to the threat of hacking:
- Complexity of technology. The interconnection of devices, networks, and systems creates a larger attack surface, providing more entry points for cybercriminals to exploit.
- Proliferation of mobile devices. The widespread use of smartphones and tablets has multiplied the potential targets for cybercriminals globally.
- Increased connectivity. Mobile devices are continuously connected to the Internet, often through various networks and Wi-Fi connections. This increases the exposure to potential security threats, such as malware, phishing attacks, etc.
- Human factor. Phishing, social engineering, and other tactics target human vulnerabilities rather than technical weaknesses, making users unwittingly compromise their own security.
- Insufficient security measures. Many users and organizations still neglect cybersecurity measures. Weak passwords, lack of regular updates, and inadequate security configurations can leave systems vulnerable to attacks.
- Over-reliance on technology. Machines and software can fail. They are not yet infallible. Technological advancements can be astonishing but, an over-reliance on them without proper and regular maintenance, human awareness of the risks, or common security practices creates vulnerabilities.
- Legacy systems and software. Many organizations still rely on legacy systems or outdated software that may have known vulnerabilities. Updating or replacing these systems can be costly and time-consuming, leaving them susceptible to exploitation.
- Hacking is a profitable business. Therefore, instead of the number of criminals reducing, it’s actually increasing.
Read about passkeys, the new security feature you must know.
How to know if your devices are hacked?
There are signs that your devices (desktop, laptop, tablet, or smartphone) might be hacked:
- Unusual behavior. Hacked devices experience noticeable changes in their behavior, such as freezes, unexpected crashes, sluggishness, or unresponsive apps.
- Unexplained network activity or data usage. Unusual network activity, sudden spikes in data usage, or high bandwidth consumption, when not actively using the devices, could be a sign of malware running in the background.
- Battery drainage. Unusual quick drain or rapid battery depletion, when the devices are not in heavy use, might be due to malware running in the background.
- Strange emails or messages sent from your account. If friends or contacts report receiving odd emails or messages from your accounts that you didn’t send, it might indicate a compromised device.
- Unknown software or applications. Discovering unrecognized programs, apps, or icons on your device that you didn’t install or recognize might indicate an unauthorized installation or malware presence.
- Abnormally hot devices. Malware can strain your devices’ resources. If you detect your laptop, desktop, tablet or phone is strangely warm or even hot, it can be a sign of malicious activity (malware, mining, or another process running in the background).
- Receiving unrequested 2FA codes. If your inbox or phone suddenly gets two-factor authentication codes, this can mean a hacker got your password and is trying to log into an account of yours.
- Strange pop-ups or advertisements. An influx of pop-ups, unsolicited ads, or browser redirects to unfamiliar websites, especially when not actively browsing, may suggest malware infection.
- Changes in settings or configurations. Alterations to settings, configurations, or security features on your device without your knowledge could signal malicious activity.
- Unexplained account activities. Suspicious activities on your accounts, such as unrecognized logins, changes in passwords, or unfamiliar purchases, may suggest someone gained unauthorized access to your device.
- Your microphone or camera indicator light randomly turns on. This can be a sign of stalking or monitoring apps on your device.
- Unknown photos and videos in your gallery. Criminals can hack your devices to spy on you or take photos and videos without your knowledge.
- Missing or altered files. Missing files, unexpected file changes, or the creation of new files and folders that you didn’t initiate could be another sign of unauthorized access or malware activity.
How can my devices get hacked?
Criminals have developed many tricks to hack all types of devices. Here are some common hacking techniques.
Malware refers to malicious scripts or programs that infiltrate your devices without your permission. It can be unwittingly downloaded from app stores, dubious websites, or emails. Once installed, malware has the ability to gather sensitive information about you, monitor your location, online behavior, and other activities (spyware), encrypt your device, demand a ransom for access (ransomware), or inundate you with advertisements (adware).
Read more about malware here.
Hackers employ various tactics to manipulate individuals. This includes assuming the identity of someone known to you on social media (impersonation), sending misleading text messages (smishing), offering enticing free mobile apps (baiting), or pretending to be reputable entities during phone calls (vishing). The techniques used in social engineering vary, making it unpredictable. The primary aim is to persuade you to reveal personal information, download harmful applications, or provide remote access to your devices.
Hackers send convincing emails or texts with the hope that recipients (victims) will click on embedded links. These links often lead to malware downloads or direct you to counterfeit websites where they intend to steal login credentials and personal or banking details.
Read more about the phishing attacks.
Software and operating system (OS) vulnerabilities
Hackers continuously exploit weaknesses within the software and these systems, compromising devices. That is why software and OSs regularly release updates that include security patches to address these vulnerabilities. Still, many users neglect the installation of such updates leaving their devices more prone to attacks.
Unsecured Wi-Fi networks
Public Wi-Fi networks, frequently lacking password protection and network encryption, pose significant risks. Hackers can easily intercept and steal sensitive data, such as payment information, transmitted over these networks.
Numerous counterfeit apps (that look incredibly authentic) infiltrate legitimate app stores every year. These fraudulent applications are specifically designed to infect your devices and steal user data and network resources, to say the least.
Bluetooth Security Threats
Bluetooth vulnerabilities can be exploited by hackers to track your location, inject malware into your devices, or gain unauthorized access to them.
Weak Passwords or Default Settings
Using easily guessable passwords or keeping default settings without enhancing security measures makes it easier for hackers to gain access and harm you.
If someone gains physical access to your device, they might be able to install malware or access sensitive information directly.
Rooting or jailbreaking
Altering the operating system’s default settings to gain more control over the device can weaken its security.
How can you hack-proof your devices and stay safe?
Limit access through strong passwords
The device’s security starts with setting up robust passwords for access. A robust password must be long (more than 15 characters), including symbols, numbers, lowercase, and uppercase characters. Never use the same password for all your devices. If your devices allow it, use biometric data such as your fingerprint or facial recognition. Biometric authentication is a secure option because biometric data is unique and can’t be guessed. You can also add an extra layer of protection with two-factor authentication.
Encrypt your data
Ok, you’ve limited access to your computers with passwords, but what happens if somebody steals them? They will be able to disassemble them and connect your hard drives or SSD to their device and see all the data. Encrypt your data! You can do it no matter your OS – Windows, MacOS, Linux, iOS or even Android. Encryption might affect the performance of the device, due to the extra processing power required to encrypt and decrypt data as it is read from and written to the disk. However, encryption will increase the security of your files and hack-proof your devices.
Keep everything updated
From the OS to every single application, you must update them regularly. This includes all the add-ons that you use inside the programs and web browsers. Older versions can have a security problem that hackers might exploit to gain access to your device. Currently, most software warns you when it is time to update, don’t ignore it and stay safe.
Evade public Wi-Fi networks
We know, for many of you, Starbucks is your typical office, but their networks are not safe. Public Wi-Fi networks are insecure and easily hackable, so all your data and work can end up in somebody’s hands. Insecure networks are great opportunities for hackers to intercept data transmissions and launch attacks on vulnerable devices connected to them. If you really must us their freebie Wi-Fi, there is still one tool that can protect you, see the next point.
Use VPN – virtual private network
The VPN is a must-have tool. When you are connecting from your home, public Wi-Fi network, or wherever, the VPN will encrypt the traffic. That way, even if a hacker intercepts your data, they won’t be able to read it. There are some free VPNs and others that cost as little as 5 USD per month. You can hack-proof your devices and stay safe using a VPN. The excellent news is VPNs work for all your devices, like desktops, laptops, tablets, and mobile phones.
Be careful with phishing
A phishing attack attempt can be received through your email or mobile messaging apps.
- Check the email’s domain. Fake emails often have a similar domain name but with extra letters or symbols.
- Don’t provide personal information, even if the domain seems legit. It can be spoofed and your data can go directly to a cybercriminal.
- Never open any files, videos, images, or links sent by strangers or even family without verifying them first. Your friends or family can forward you a phishing message they received by mistake, or you can get such a message because of a phishing attack they already fell for so it is spreading to their contacts. You can know the person but that does not mean the links, images, or GIFs they send you are free of risk.
- Always check the identity of the person who is communicating with you, unknown people, friends, or family. A hacker can try to trick you using the stolen profile pic your mother currently uses.
- Handle any request for personal or sensitive information carefully. Contact the person through a different channel before sharing anything.
- Don’t fall into malicious calls to action, especially from strangers. Sometimes a simple “Are you in this pic or video?” is enough for people to click on a malicious image or video that immediately downloads malware to your device and spams it to all your contacts.
- Avoid opening GIFs and stop them from autoplaying. The exchange of GIFs is popular and fun, but attackers can hide within that fun GIF a malicious remote code execution.
Don’t visit shady sites
Have some common sense. If the website looks shady, skip it. Almost every site out there uses certificates for authentication, usually an TLS certificate. If the site you want to visit doesn’t have one, you’d better not enter.
Be cautious of app Installation
Avoid downloading apps from untrustworthy sources. Prioritize apps with good reviews and always do some research before installing them.
Be alert to app permissions requests
Some permissions requested by apps on your devices are excessive: access to your location, camera, microphone, files, or special rights like installing unknown apps. Exercise caution when granting such permissions and stay safe. Shady apps can capture photos and videos without consent, constantly track your location, or eavesdrop on conversations.
We could have added a “stay offline” recommendation, but realistically speaking, it’s quite rare for someone to truly stay offline. Use all these recommendations together for the best results, regardless of the connected device. Hack-proof your devices and stay safe!
Your devices are goldmines for criminals. Tons of personal data are stored there and such data is the key to accessing very sensitive aspects of your life, finances included.
Therefore, everybody (individuals, companies, regular and even expert users) must hack-proof devices and stay safe because everybody uses at least one device and connects it to the Internet.
The first step to protect yourself is to understand the dangers around you and take immediate action. Having the newest desktop, laptop, tablet, or mobile doesn’t guarantee security. There are many risks related to wrong human practices. User awareness is essential.
Hack-proof your devices! Fight the hackers back! Prevention is always better than fixing the aftermath.