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How do hackers hack? Common, sneaky attacks

October 01, 2014 by IT Donut contributor

A hacker hacking?{{}}If you pay attention to the headlines, it seems like hackers are hacking more than ever. Large companies like Apple and US giant Home Depot have fallen victim to security breaches of one kind or another.

Information relating to tens of millions of people has been compromised. But, how do hackers hack? What techniques do they use to infiltrate business networks and gather valuable data?

In this ongoing cyber conflict, it’s important to know your enemy. Read on to find out what strategies hackers use when they hack.

How hackers hack #1: intercepted passwords

Using strong passwords is certainly a smart idea, but in some cases it’s not enough. Although strong passwords are hard for hackers to guess, many will simply try to obtain the password through illegal means.

This usually involves breaching the security measures of a website or company, thereby gaining access to a list of user passwords. This recent password hack is a great example.

You can protect your business by using unique passwords for each individual account and changing them every few months. You should also protect your systems from hacking attempts by using up-to-date security software.

How hackers hack #2: fake wireless networks

If you ever go to a café, pub or airport, you might be tempted to connect to the free wireless network available there.

Free Wi-Fi is one of modern life’s conveniences. But be careful, because it can also be a prime target for hackers. They can set up fake wireless networks with legitimate-sounding names.

Once you’ve connected, hackers can steal your personal information and any unprotected data that you send over the network.

Be cautious when connecting to public Wi-Fi. Only use networks that require a password to connect and check the network name with the establishment you’re in.

Even then, don’t assume you’re safe. Consider connecting through a VPN to protect all the data you send across the wireless network.

How hackers hack #3: phishing

Ah, the old fake email scams. Hackers try all kinds of approaches to snare victims via fake emails.

You can often spot them through telltale inconsistencies or spelling and grammar errors. In any case, never give sensitive information out through emails, especially if you’re unsure of the source. Be wary of phishing attacks through social media too.

In 2012 alone, social media phishers were able to steal more than a billion dollars from small businesses. Spear phishing, where hackers target specific individuals, is also on the up.

Learn how to stay safe from fake emails >

How hackers hack #4: cookie hijacking

Cookies are small pieces of data that websites place on your computer. They’re used to provide certain functions online (like remembering when you’ve logged in to a website, or what’s in your shopping cart).

Some hackers hack using a technique called ‘cookie hijacking’. Basically, they steal the cookies on your computer, then use them to pretend to be you when they visit a website.

Because cookies are often used to remember when you’ve logged in to a website, cookie hijacking lets a hacker pretend to be you without knowing your username or password.

Using good security software is a good precaution against cooking hijacking. There’s also a lot websites can – and should – do to make their users less vulnerable.

If you’re particularly worried, you can regularly erase cookies from your computer. However, this may cause your preferences on websites to vanish, so it can be inconvenient.

These four techniques are by no means the only way that hackers hack. But they’re some of the most common and sneaky.

This is a post from Rick Delgado, a freelance writer and tech commentator.

Posted in IT security | Tagged IT security | 0 comments

Why new software isn’t always better software

September 29, 2014 by John McGarvey
iPhone screen{{}}

Image: Twin Design / Shutterstock.com

Apple released iOS 8 recently. Demand for this new version of its mobile operating system was so high that UK internet traffic surged as people rushed to download it.

Yet shortly after it became available, a number of tech pundits cautioned owners of older iPhones against upgrading.

Specifically, people who own the iPhone 4S were warned that the new operating system could cause everything to slow down.

Don’t be an early upgrader

This high-profile upgrade perfectly illustrates a question that’s faced businesses time and time again: should we upgrade our software now, or should we wait?

Software companies rely on big releases to give them a revenue boost. That’s why Microsoft throws the full force of its marketing machine behind each new version of its Windows and Office packages.

It’s nothing new — when Windows XP came out in 2002, they even got Madonna involved.  But if the history of software upgrades teaches us anything, it should be that it’s usually best to wait.

People don’t like change

There are lots of reasons to hold off installing a new version of software your business depends on:

  • People don’t like change. Software companies often move things round when they release a new version of an old package. Even if this change is obviously for the better, it can infuriate your staff if they’re used to the old way of doing things. Just look at the reaction when Microsoft introduced its Ribbon interface with Office 2007.
  • New software often has bugs. It’s impossible to create a complex piece of software with no bugs. And often, major new releases are when serious bugs emerge. Give it a few months and you’ll find the software’s much more stable. Take Windows Vista, which was so full of bugs on release that its reputation never really recovered.
  • Your current package has life left in it. Although a newer version might be available, most software companies will continue to provide support and updates for older versions of software. For example, although Windows XP was released in 2002, Microsoft only stopped supporting it this year.

So, even if you’re dazzled by the promised benefits of a new piece of software, it’s nearly always worth stopping to think before you plunge in and upgrade.

That’s just as true if you’re paying a monthly subscription for software that includes access to upgrades. In the short term, it might still be better to stick with the old version.

(It’s worth noting we’re referring to major, paid-for upgrades here, rather than the free security updates and patches that software companies release much more frequently. You should install these promptly to protect your data.)

What to think about

Before you upgrade any software, stop and think carefully. Here are five key things to get your head round before you upgrade everyone in your company:

  1. What are the reviews like? Search online to find out what experts think of the new software. Check review websites and comments on sites like Amazon, too. These are a great way to find out how real people are finding the software in the real world.
  2. How urgent is the upgrade? Find out when support will end for the software you currently use. Although there’s usually a decent buffer, some software will require you to upgrade sooner. For instance, you might have to upgrade your payroll software to access the latest tax tables.
  3. What are the benefits of upgrading? Occasionally, upgrading software can transform your business. For instance, companies are increasingly building online features into traditional software, making it easier to share data. If the benefits are clear, it might be worth upgrading earlier.
  4. Can you test it first? Rather than inflicting the new version on all your staff at once, you can roll it out to a few people and see how they find it. This will also help you identify any issues that are specific to your company.
  5. What does your IT supplier say? Forget asking the software company. They’ll tell you to upgrade. But if you work with a good IT supplier, they can help you understand the likely benefits — and potential risks — of upgrading. With their help, things will go more smoothly.

Finally, don’t assume that blindly upgrading is the best option for your business. Recent years have seen the software landscape change dramatically.

Cloud computing services are capturing an increasing slice of the software market. In some sectors, these innovative services are a great alternative to traditional desktop software.

If you think you’re due an upgrade, it’s the right time to investigate the alternatives and see if there’s anything better out there.

Posted in Business software | Tagged software | 0 comments

IT for Donuts: how to check your Twitter user statistics

September 26, 2014 by John McGarvey

IT for Donuts is our regular weekly feature where we explain a tech term or answer a question about business IT.

This week, we reveal how to check your Twitter user statistics. Since Twitter opened up its stats pages to everyone, this is easier than ever.

Your Twitter user statistics

There are lots of reasons to check your Twitter user statistics. If you’ve been making a concerted attempt to market your business through Twitter, they can help you understand how well you’re doing.

And even if your business doesn’t have a serious social media strategy, Twitter user statistics can still show you how your tweets are doing.

Even if you do nothing else, you can check them today, then have a look again in a month’s time. That’ll give you some idea of whether you’re using Twitter efficiently.

How to check your Twitter user statistics

Accessing Twitter user statistics used to be a bit of pain. And once you managed to get into them, there were still some doubts over the accuracy of the figures.

Nowadays, it’s easy to see your Twitter statistics:

  1. Sign in to your account on the Twitter website
  2. There’s no obvious link from your Twitter homepage to your user statistics, so just go to http://analytics.twitter.com.
  3. If you see the Twitter analytics home page, select the Sign in with Twitter button.
  4. Now you should see a page showing your Twitter user statistics. It’ll look something like this:

Twitter user statistics dashboard{{}}

What your Twitter user statistics mean

Here’s a little information to help you interpret your Twitter user statistics screens.

  • The graph at the top of the page shows the number of impressions your tweets have received in the last 28 days. An impression is recorded each time one of your tweets appears in another user’s timeline.
  • Beneath the graph is a list of your tweets, with statistics for each. Engagements are the number of times users have interacted with the tweet — like by clicking it, retweeting or following you.
  • Select any of the tweets to see detailed statistics on it. You’ll see impressions over the first 24 hours, clicks, retweets and more. The graph paints an interesting picture of how quickly tweets lose can lose attention:

Twitter users statistics for individual tweet{{}}

  • Finally, on the right of the screen you’ll see some smaller graphs, showing trends for things like engagement, clicks on links in your tweets, retweets and so on. These provide a good overview of how your recent tweets compare to older ones.

Your Twitter user statistics can give you a good feel for how your tweets are performing. But don’t see them as the be all and end all.

Twitter isn’t simply about reaching as many people as possible. It’s about reaching the right people, and really connecting with them.

Previous IT tips:

Do your ex-employees keep logging in?

September 22, 2014 by John McGarvey

Employee leaving work{{}}When an employee leaves your businesses, are you letting them walk out with access to valuable company data?

According to the 2014 Intermedia SMB Rogue Access Study, 89% of employees who leave a company retain access to business or cloud applications like Salesforce, PayPal, email and SharePoint.

That’s a scary figure. We’ve written a lot about IT security lately, but statistics like this make us think that this level of coverage is warranted.

When a member of staff leaves your business, you must have a way to revoke their access to all your resources. Failure to do so just invites disaster.

Ex-employees are actually signing in

Of those people questioned for the research, 49% had actually signed in to an ex-employer’s account, despite having left the company.

Most of these people probably act out of curiosity, rather than malice. But they still have access to apps that may contain important company data.

A minority will almost certainly be intending to do harm to their former employers. It only takes one person to cause you all sorts of problems.

You could be looking at hefty reputational damage, a loss of competitive advantage — or even a big fine from the Information Commissioner.

Security begins at work

“Most small businesses think ‘IT security’ applies only to big businesses battling foreign hackers,” says Michael Gold, president of Intermedia.

“This report should shock smaller businesses into realising that they need to protect their leads databases, financial information and social reputation from human error as well as from malicious activity.”

You can start by putting some proper procedures in place to control and revoke access when employees leave your company. These are some good starter tips:

  • Record who has access to what. You can’t be sure you’ve revoked everything unless you know what each employee can access. If you rely on apps with separate usernames and passwords, it’s particularly important to keep an up-to-date list of who has access to what.
  • Don’t share usernames and passwords. Some cloud services charge extra for each user, so it’s tempting to have one generic username and give everyone access. Bad idea: every employee who leaves will know the username and password.
  • Have an ‘offboarding’ process. You probably have a standard procedure for when people join your company. But do you have a similar set of steps to follow when someone leaves? If not, it might be an idea to put a checklist together.

It can be trickier than you might expect to get a handle on who has access to what in your business. However, once you do so, you can be more confident of retaining control over your most important data.

Posted in IT security | Tagged IT security | 0 comments

IT for Donuts: shortcuts to move windows easily

September 19, 2014 by John McGarvey

Dual monitors{{}}IT for Donuts is our regular weekly feature where we explain a tech term or answer a question about business IT.

This week, learn some Microsoft Windows keyboard shortcuts that help you move application windows around the screen. These are particularly helpful if you use more than one screen with your computer.

These shortcuts work in Windows 7 and 8.

Move a window to the left or right

If you’re working in a window but want to show another window alongside it, a simple shortcut will ‘tile’ that window to the left or right of your screen.

This means the Window will snap to the left or right of the screen, and resize itself to take up half of the width of your monitor. You can then move another window into the space next to it.

To make your window ‘tile’ in this way, Hold down the Windows key (it’s the key in between Ctrl and Alt on the left side of your keyboard) and tap the left or right arrow keys.

Move windows between monitors

If you have two monitors connected to your computer (like in the image, above), there’s another easy shortcut to move windows between the two monitors.

Hold the Windows and shift keys together, then tap the left or right arrow keys. This will move the window to your left screen or right screen.

Weird wearable tech that's much stranger than the Apple Watch

September 16, 2014 by John McGarvey

Just over a week ago, Apple presented its new smartwatch to the world. This computer-on-your-wrist is Apple's first new type of product since the iPad. It'll be interesting to see if it has the same impact.

Wearable technology has been lauded as 'the next big thing' for a while. For instance, Google Glass went on sale in the UK earlier this year. And in March, a wearable technology show took place in London.

The Apple Watch might be the most mainstream piece of wearable tech yet. But that simply highlights the fact that plenty of strange gadgets have gone before it. Here are five of the most unusual:

1. Drumpants. (Yes, drumpants.)

Easily the most ridiculous pair of jeans we've ever seen, these trousers double up as a drumkit.

Well, to be precise, they're a set of electronic pads that you can wear under your clothes. When you tap them, they make noises. Prices start from $99 for a basic kit.

2. eBay's USB bracelets

eBay USB bracelet{{}}

Have you ever felt the urge to wear a USB cable on your wrist? Last year, eBay teamed up with the Council of Fashion Designers of America to create bracelets that also work as USB phone chargers.

Practical? Almost certainly. Fashionable? Well, would you wear one?

3. Panasonic's barely-noticeable wearable camera

Just check out how cool Brazilian football star Neymar looks wearing the Panasonic HX-A500 camera. You barely notice it's there:

Actually, this camera can go underwater and shoots at the latest 4K resolution (that's much better quality than your high-definition TV). So while it might not be subtle, it could be useful to extreme-sports fans.

4. Virtual reality

Virtuality user{{}}

Virtuality image by Dr. Waldern/Virtuality Group (Dr. Jonathan D. Waldern), via Wikimedia Commons

Back in the 90s, one of the coolest ways to spend your time was to take a trip to the Trocadero in London. There you could put on a Virtuality headset and dive into the world of Virtual Reality.

These days, the crowdfunded Oculus Rift is picking up the VR mantle. Watch this space, then...

5. A sweater that senses your mood

Hate expressing your feelings honestly? You'll be wanting the Ger Mood Sweater. It uses sensors on your hands to read your 'excitement level', then lights up the collar with colours that are supposed to reflect how you're feeling.

Yeah, whatever. This thing makes wearing even Google Glass seem pretty normal.

Tagged wearable | 0 comments

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