We hear lots of news these days about hackers, cyberterrorism, data breaches, and more. A hot topic right now involves questions about our last election. Was it tampered with by Russia? Someone else? These are pretty broad questions, but at a personal level, what does all this talk about hackers really mean?
I’ve just spent the past week trying to keep hackers from damaging websites we host through our business. The attacks have come from all over the world. It’s been a high stress week consumed by many hours of dealing with thousands of attacks. So, exactly who are these guys? It’s hard to tell, but basically they are most likely either grey hat or black hat hackers.
These are the good guys. They’re either computer security experts or have a high set of ethics. They don’t try to infiltrate a site without permission, and they share the results of their efforts with the owner. There are education programs, conferences, and certifications for white hat hackers.
Grey hat hackers
The first one who infiltrated one of our sites was a self-described grey hat hacker. The grey hats don’t ask for permission ahead of time. They simply do their thing. In fact, the one who hacked our sites said this was his hobby. He didn’t do damage. He didn’t steal information (to our knowledge). He simply broke into the site, posted a cute graphic, and sent a message announcing his success.
Black hat hackers
These are the ones we hear about all the time. They’re out for fame, money, or whatever suits their fancy. Some go after big targets, others are just starting out and pick on low hanging fruit.
How they hack into a website
Hacking a website is far easier than you might think. There are programs, some available for free, allowing even a novice to launch devastating attacks. Many of today’s hackers are what might be called “script kiddies.” They know little about what they’re doing other than how to push the buttons on their computer. Most likely, they account for a majority of the spam that hits your email inbox (one reason why so much of the spam is amateurish.)
What does all this mean to you?
The point of this post is to show how websites can be compromised without the owner’s knowledge. For instance, a black hat hacker could break into a website and replace a downloadable piece of software with something containing malicious code. At a more global level, it could also mean our last national election was indeed influenced by outside forces.
It may sound very conspiracy-theorist, but it wouldn’t take much to tilt an election by affecting a small number of votes. The bottom line is we all need to be extra vigilant in making sure we get our software from reputable sources, be cautious with links in emails, and always keep our own virus protection software current.