Are You a Sitting Duck for Hackers?

The tech world is in the midst of an accelerated arms race. This cold war isn’t being fought with nuclear deterrents and proxy conflicts in far off corners of the globe. Instead, the battle lines are drawn over, well, lines of code. It might be nonviolent, but it’s tremendously destructive — and the stakes are enormous.

So what are the terms of this war exactly? Well, “black hat” cyber criminals — like their real-world counterparts — want to make either a quick buck or a powerful political statement by compromising cyber defenses and unlocking sensitive data, such as bank account numbers, personal information, government secrets, or actual money. The “good guys” in this fight are “white hat” hackers who, working in concert with law enforcement officials and private security professionals, tirelessly throw up roadblocks and close loopholes that might otherwise prove safe passages for the black hats to do damage.

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Unfortunately, the white hats aren’t omnipotent — they can’t do everything or be everywhere at one time. This means that consumers and business owners need to understand where they’re most vulnerable and take meaningful steps to reduce their exposure. One of the biggest risks that’s almost never talked about is wireless routers.

“Most people don’t realize that their wireless router is a vulnerability,” says George Otte, President at Geeks on Site, a national computer repair company.

Why Are Wireless Routers Vulnerable?

According to a Slate report, even cybersecurity experts were cavalier about the risks posed by wireless routers until relatively late in the game. It took a crack team of researchers at the Fujitsu Security Operations Center to discover that criminals were using hundreds of wireless routers to infect unsuspecting terminals with Dyre, a potent piece of financial malware.

According to the Fujitsu researchers, wireless routers’ fundamental vulnerability is shockingly simple. Every router comes with a default password, a code that allows administrative access to the machine for settings changes and the like. Most router owners (or renters) don’t change the default passwords, leaving their machines vulnerable to attack should hackers ever discover said passwords.

This vulnerability is shockingly widespread. With access to default administrative passwords, hackers can practically do anything they want with a victim’s browsers — including changing privacy and browsing settings to redirect traffic to malicious websites that imitate “safe” websites. Insecure routers can also be used as launching pads for external attacks, such as DDoS (deliberate denial of service) attacks targeting government or corporate websites.

Bottom line: change your wireless router’s administrative password regularly, and invest in regular firmware upgrades to patch potential vulnerabilities. Doing so won’t singlehandedly stop infiltration from hackers, but it will at least take your router out of the equation.

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Know Your Vulnerabilities

You’ve almost certainly been victimized by a cyber attack, at least indirectly. Headline-making corporate data breaches typically involve the personal data of millions of individuals.

However, you can relax. Most of this information is never used in a malicious fashion. There’s simply too much information, even for the best-organized hackers, to process. Also, most hackers don’t find personal data all that interesting anyway.

Nevertheless, it’s important to remember that cyber attacks are part of the modern business landscape, a tradeoff for the amazing opportunities the Internet affords us. As long as you understand where you’re vulnerable and take reasonable steps to protect yourself, you’ll be on the right track and well ahead of your peers.

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