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Emerging Threats

How hackers access your computer

A Black couple reviews their mobile purchase to make sure they aren’t falling for any online scams.

September 12, 2022

When massive data breaches hit the headlines, you often hear about a bounty of exposed credit card details, email addresses, dates of birth, and Social Security numbers.

The enormity of the hacks and the size of the targets might lead you to think that you — as an individual — are relatively safe and hackers have their eyes on large entities. No so.

Most hacks are based on sweeping and indiscriminate probes of all computers connected to the internet. Every computer is a target. These probes will detect if a computer is not protected and the information will be picked up by the hacker. 

Unprotected computers can be valuable for hackers because of their computing power and internet connections. A hacker can simply add it a botnet or use it as a zombie computer to send out spam and emails containing viruses and other malware, spread illicit materials, or take part in hacking campaigns against other computer networks.

How can hackers use your computer?

Hackers can use your computer in a number of ways, including these:

  • Install a keylogger and capture every username and password typed on the keyboard. A hacker can then use your computer to log into your bank accounts, carry out transactions, and basically steal your money.
  • Send malicious emails to all the contacts in your email folders in order to spread viruses, malware, and spyware.
  • Use your computer as part of a larger network of hijacked computers to direct attacks against targets such as banks and governments.
  • Carry out click fraud. This is a type of fraud in which a person, automated script, or computer program imitates a legitimate web user by clicking on an ad, to generate a charge per click.
  • Sniff out and copy traffic on your network, which could include traffic from credit card or other data processing servers.
  • Use your computer to send or exchange illicit, illegal, or stolen materials. In fact, your computer can be used as a proxy to hide the true origin of content and communications or as a message board for shady activities

As you can see, if a hacker gets a foothold in your computer they can expand to every computer on your network using different techniques. ​

8 common ways hackers access a personal computer

To expand on the points above, your computer could be used for any of these things.

  • Emails containing viruses and malware. This is one of the most popular methods of spreading malware hidden in an attachment in the email. Once the attachment is opened, the malicious software executes and/or downloads onto the computer that receives it.
  • Emails with links to malicious websites. Often referred to as phishing, these emails attempt to emulate legitimate emails from well-known organizations that the receiver would tend to trust, such as a bank. The html links lead to fake websites which try and trick the user entering sensitive information such as passwords and banking details. Sometimes these websites also attempt to install malware, viruses, or spyware on the recipient’s computer.
  • Probing for weaknesses. Sometimes hackers send out mass emails in an attempt to compromise firewalls, intrusion detection systems, and intrusion prevention systems to gain access to computer systems behind these defenses. It’s a numbers game with millions of emails going out to identify malfunctioning, misconfigured, or un-patched equipment.
  • Social networking pages. People sometimes let down their guard and are less wary on social networking sites. With this method, a fake profile entices real users into following links to malicious websites or giving up sensitive personal information.
  • Inserting malicious packets. This relies on access to a swathe of zombie computers to send out large quantities of data packets to a large number of recipients targeting a specific port. The aim is to identify a router or firewall with the specific port open and gain access to the computers behind the firewalls
  • Hijacking ads. Cybercriminals often place ads containing malicious code on legitimate websites. They do this either by purchasing ads directly, hijacking the ad server, or hacking someone else’s ad account.
  • Malware sold as legitimate software. Fake antivirus programs have infected millions of computers. Software is offered as free, available through the internet that includes malware designed to infect computers.
  • Advanced Persistent Threats (APTs).  APT means a sustained multi-pronged attempt to break into a specific organization’s or institution’s data networks. With APTs, hackers use many methods from sending fake promotional material to network attacks. The aim is to breach the network and steal information. APTs are different from other forms of attack because generally take place over the long term and can last months and years.

As you can see, your humble computer could be a very valuable prize for a hacker. It’s a means to break into computer networks and steal intellectual property, customer information, personally identifiable information, credit card details, medical and health insurance records, personnel records, tax records, strategic business plans and any other potentially valuable or exploitable data that can be used in identity theft or sold on the dark web for others to exploit.

Cyber threats have evolved, and so have we.

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Editorial note: Our articles provide educational information for you. NortonLifeLock offerings may not cover or protect against every type of crime, fraud, or threat we write about. Our goal is to increase awareness about cyber safety. Please review complete Terms during enrollment or setup. Remember that no one can prevent all identity theft or cybercrime, and that LifeLock does not monitor all transactions at all businesses.

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