Don’t get hacked off

Online villains are the scourge of leading international firms and home internet users alike. We suggest ways to make sure you

Drug lords and gun-toting terrorists used to top governments’ “most wanted” lists. Now, the face of international crime has changed – and it’s wearing a Guy Fawkes mask. This week hackers have been in the news again. The Federal Reserve. Bloomberg. Twitter. No-one, it appears, is safe. Two days ago hacktivist group Anonymous published the personal information of 4,000 bank executives while the Fed admitted that information was stolen from its servers during the Superbowl. Rogue hacktivists are not the only threat. Yesterday morning, Rupert Murdoch tweeted “Chinese still hacking us, or were over the weekend” in reference to the recent news that the Wall Street Journal’s China coverage was being monitored by hackers. While governments and corporations are the targets of activism and espionage, small businesses and home computers are at risk from petty criminals trying to use our information to steal cash. Graeme Batsman from Data Defender and Data Security Expert ( gave us his top six data protection tips:

1. Unplug
The Internet is the single biggest threat to computers, so the most reliable way of protecting sensitive data is to keep it offline. If you’ve got no connection then you can be ninety-nine per cent sure you’re not going to get hit. When it comes to the most sensitive data, MI5, the army and even many charities have offline networks. These ensure that anyone who wanted to get hold of sensitive information would need to get in the building to do so.

2. Invest in an internet security suite
Many people will buy a computer, which can cost anything from £400 to £1,000, but don't want to spend £30 to £40 on an internet security suite. The standard Windows firewall is ok but it doesn’t protect you from viruses and other threats. A security suite will protect you from most threats but be careful, there are some rogue ones out there. Do some research before downloading and installing, as some can do more harm than good.

3. Update your software
New versions of software are released in order to nullify vulnerabilities discovered in previous versions. Make sure your OS is up to date by downloading and installing all available patches, hot fixes and service packs. With Microsoft Windows XP and upwards, it is usually done for you and you can choose how often and what level of updates to download and install.

4. Back up your data
This doesn’t stop hackers or viruses from getting to your data, but it does prevent you from losing it. You should have some on-site back up on an external hard-drive, USB drive or CD ROM. Be sure to encrypt this in case it gets into the wrong hands. You could also back up your data off-site using cloud software and self-manage your encryption to ensure privacy.

5. Choose a strong, varied password
If you have the same password for all your internet accounts, someone could get your into your bank account just by hacking your twitter. The ideal password is long, complex, easy to remember and hard to break. Try thinking of an easily variable “passphrase” if you struggle to remember long passwords.

6. Be careful what you open
Since the inception of emails, viruses have been passed around as attachments. Viruses still travel around by email but, thanks to improved virus scanning, criminal gangs are now placing links within emails that lead to malicious software. So the next time you receive an email from a stranger, do not click on any links or open any attachments. Virus scanners are not 100 per cent accurate so just because it says it’s clean, doesn't mean it is.

Hack Attacks

Sony (April 2011)
Breach sees 77m users’ data stolen, including usernames and passwords.

Nintendo (June 2011)
LulzSec breaches Nintendo’s security but the firm says no data was stolen.

The IMF (June 2011)
Internal data is accessed in a professional and sustained attack on the organisation.

The CIA (Feb 2012)
Hacking group Anonymous breaches the security of the US federal agency.

SOCA (May 2012)
The Serious Organised Crime Agency website is temporarily taken down.

NYT (October 2012)
Hackers in China suspected of infiltrating the newspaper’s server.

Twitter (February 2013)
Accounts compromised at the micro-blogging site, including celebrities.

The Fed (February 2013)
Bankers’ details accessed by Anonymous after yet another security breach.