Is Your Broadband Connection Safe?Jennifer Martinez
If you ever thought you didn't need to worry about the security of your home computer because there's nothing that would be of possible value to anybody else -- you might be in for a surprise. Hackers find home computers, especially those with DSL or cable connections to the Internet, very appealing. If you are a broadband user, your computer is more susceptible to hacker attacks because you have an “always-on” connection to the Internet.
Your computer stores more information than you may realize -- all of which is potentially useful to someone who is out to steal your money or your identity. Home computers are also much easier to break into than a heavily-fortified, secure corporate network.
While some hackers and identity thieves are out for the sole purpose of stealing your personal data, many are simply looking to hide behind your computer and use it to attack other computers without your knowledge. By hiding behind your Internet connection and IP address, hackers won’t leave a trail, making it more difficult -- if not impossible -- to be tracked down.
Threat No. 1: Getting hijacked
Hackers like to hide behind home computers with broadband connections. Home users with high-speed Internet connections are attractive to hackers because they can use port scans to see that you’re online, so they can take over your computer without your knowledge. If you have a broadband (i.e. high-speed DSL or cable) connection, you're more susceptible to hacking than people with dial-up modems. Why? Because personal computers with broadband are connected to the Internet any time the computer is on. And because the connection is ultra-fast, hackers find it more fun and efficient to use them for disruptive purposes than a (usually much slower) dial-up modem.
Threat No. 2: Being wide open
Hackers routinely scan IP addresses for open ports. Essentially, ports are doors that an application goes through to communicate through the Internet, so when hackers run a port scan, they're looking for ports that are open. They can see that there's a live computer at a certain IP address. And while dial-ups often connect using different IP addresses, your broadband IP address is more likely to be static, which makes it easier for a hacker to find you.
A hacker could install an application onto your system without your knowing it, so that anytime you're online, the application goes through your Internet connection and calls out to say, "I'm open, I'm available, come and use me." Use me for what? Hackers may not want your data so much as they want to hide behind your computer and use it to attack other computers. So, without being aware of it, you could be helping a hacker do a lot of malicious mischief.
Threat No. 3: Compromising valuable data
You may have more on your computer than you think you do. You might think: "I just use my computer for email, research and connecting to the Internet," many users say, or, "I don't have enough money in my checking account to make it worth anybody's time or energy to steal it." But for hackers, that's not necessarily the point. They're not targeting your computer specifically; they're looking for any machine with an open port. And broadband connections mean that whenever your computer is turned on, even if you haven't opened your browser to access the Internet, you're vulnerable to attack.
If you do online banking, trade stocks, or buy anything over the Internet, you're a potential target, even if you're just surfing. Do you use financial software such as Quicken or Microsoft Money? Then your private financial information is on your hard drive. Even if you don't shop or bank via the Internet, you probably keep a copy of your resume on your computer.
Your resume would, in a one-page document (probably and conveniently named "resume" on your desktop), give a hacker almost all of your personal data: where you work, your home address and phone numbers, previous employers and where you went to school. And this information is potentially very valuable to any hacker interested in identity theft -- because with this information, that hacker could find your credit card and social security numbers and, pretending to be you, buy just about anything over the Internet.
Threat No. 4: Sneaking past loose security
Home computers are easier to hack. If you think about it, the Internet is just a giant network of connected computers. So when you log on, you've essentially made your system open to anybody else who's online -- and some of those people do not have your best interest at heart.
"Yes, but," you might say, "hackers should be going after big corporations because they have tons of money and millions of customers in their database." That is true. And most of these major corporations also have full-time IT staff who put all kinds of security measures in place -- firewalls and anti-virus programs and such. Imagine yourself as a burglar. Would you rather rob a well-guarded bank, with bars, locks and safes, or would you hit a house that has its windows and doors open with no alarm system? Why break into something that's heavily-fortified and secure when you could easily target a wide-open home where the owner may not be aware of his or her vulnerability, and therefore may never discover the break-in, enabling you to go back in anytime you want to?
Don't make it easy for an intruder to find your home computer. You safeguard your home by locking your doors, so why not make your home computer more secure as well? For starters, consider installing a personal firewall to protect you from hackers that are trying to scan your personal files, steal data or damage your system. Also, install anti-virus and security software to further protect your computer from hackers, viruses and other privacy threats.
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