What is a Hacker?

If you’re concerned about your security online, then hackers are likely on your radar (and rightfully so). But what exactly is a hacker? And what role do they play when it comes to your cybersecurity?

Hackers: Who are they and where do they come from?

Brian Harvey, a Berkeley University professor, discusses the origin of the term in an essay (1985).  He suggests “hacker” was first used to describe students at MIT who shirked their school work in favour of other hobbies. With the advent of the personal computer, many students moved into computer programming. Here’s how Harvey describes it:

A hacker is “someone who lives and breathes computers, who knows all about computers, who can get a computer to do anything. Equally important, though, is the hacker’s attitude. Computer programming must be a hobby, something done for fun, not out of a sense of duty or for the money. (It’s okay to make money, but that can’t be the reason for hacking.)”

Clearly, the definition and ethics of hacking have greatly shifted.

What is a hacker?

Today the term hacker is almost exclusively used in reference to internet criminals. But there are actually two different types of hackers:

1. Black hat hackers – the common hacker most people think of when they hear the term. These guys mostly use their computer literacy for personal financial gain

2. White hat hackers – are like internet double agents who break into security systems to help companies fortify their firewalls and better protect your information. Computer experts rely on white hat hackers to strengthen security systems and internet privacy.

What do hackers do?

  • Search for “zero-day” security vulnerability – these are security flaws in online programs and a means of accessing a database of information. Hackers make money by selling this information to organized crime groups.
  • Gain access to computers and logging personal information – this is done primarily through phishing scams and social engineering. Ultimately the computer becomes infected with keyloggers and backdoors that track passwords and credit card information.
  • Hactivism – instead of personal financial gain, this type of hacking is fighting for political agendas. They hack into government computers and large organizations, and use these systems to promote their views. Some examples include Petya Ransomware, Code Red worm and even the Facebook hack

What you can do to protect yourself

It’s always best to have all your bases covered, and while having antivirus software is always your safest option, you can never be too safe. Here are 5 tips to make sure you’re keeping your computer safe and secure.

 1. Be Careful Around Unsecure Sites

Though they may seem secure, some websites are not as legitimate as you may think. You can always tell by looking at the beginning of the web address: sites beginning with “http” are not secure, while ones beginning with “https” are. The extra S actually indicates that the site is secure. If you have to download anything, provide an email, or enable file sharing – keep your wits about you!

2. Don’t Download Anything Unless You Know What Exactly You’re Downloading

Viruses will often make their way onto your computer through downloads. Whether it be a movie from the internet, or a new app you’ve heard of – make sure that the website is legitimate and that the link itself seems authentic. Many false download links will be generic and over-exaggerated,  i.e. “DOWNLOAD HERE” in big bright letters.

3. Keep Your Operating System Up To Date

Viruses will often try to exploit security holes with outdated versions of Windows and MacOS. It’s always in your best interest to keep your operating system up to date – sometimes change is for the best!

4. Antivirus Programs: Run Often, Update Often

Antivirus software isn’t perfect, but they’re your best bet in keeping your computer safe and functional. By running it often and keeping up with the updates, you’re keeping one step ahead of any potential threat to your computer.

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5. When In Doubt, FixMeStick It Out!

As stated before, a lot of antivirus programs only catch a fraction of the malware that comes through. That’s where the FixMeStick comes in! In the case that any virus makes its way through, FixMeStick is an external virus remove device so it is able to do a deep and thorough clean of your computer! And while a healthy knowledge of virus prevention is always appreciated, running a FixMeStick scan once a month is a sure fire way of keeping on top of your virus worries.

Make sure you are staying safe on the internet and running a regular FixMeStick scan to avoid being hacked or scammed.