By: Larry Farris

Nothing about hackers is either mysterious or supernatural, although they’d like you to think that. For the most part their methods are childishly simple but still effective. Knowing what those methods are and how best to defend yourself and your business can easily prevent data theft.

Consider this parallel: in 1982, police captured a notorious car thief who spent a decade stealing cars and selling them to chop shops. When finally caught, police asked him how he was so successful. He shrugged and said, “I look for cars with keys in the ignition.”

Ridiculous but true, and this strategy pays off for hackers too. Unscrupulous data thieves simply search for victims that, through ignorance or arrogance, refuse to take even the simplest precautions. The same goes for businesses.

Locale System Hacking Methods

Sometimes the simplest tools work best, and in the case of hackers, that is especially true. One of the easiest methods of hacking is simply installing a tiny program on an individual’s computer. One of the most common local system hacking programs used is keystroke loggers. First developed as a method of checking on employee productivity, keystroke loggers are fantastic as discovering private information and passwords, since they record and transmit every keystroke of a user.

The most well-known of system attacks come in hidden viruses, called Trojan horses. Unschooled users download these carelessly, but, if undetected, can destroy an entire computer or even a network. These are attached to innocent items like photos, emails or even music.

Remote Strategies for Hacking

Far more common today are remote methods of hacking, which (in the case of the recent Target data theft) means the criminal can be on the other side of the planet. Since data encryption methods have improved dramatically, simply intercepting data isn’t enough. To combat this, hackers have created complex functions (called algorithms) to discover passwords and login names. Often, if the hacker has private information about the individual, they rely on a brute force attack, a misnomer which refers to repeatedly guessing a user’s password. This method, while simplistic, is strangely the most effective. Consider Data Genetics 2013 study, which took over three million passwords and discovered the most common PIN is “1234.”

How to Protect Your Business from Hacking

The easiest protection is running and updating a reliable antivirus program. Use only the major, well-known versions, since spyware manufacturers have constructed antivirus programs that do more damage than good. If your budget is already tight,100% free, there’s no excuse to leave your computer unprotected. But simply downloading antivirus software isn’t enough. You have to use it. That means scanning and updating once a week.

Three Seconds of Work, Three Months of Protection

Another free method of maintaining data security is by frequently changing passwords and making them difficult to guess. Short passwords coupled with a birth year are the worst, such as smith1980. But consider this alteration: SmitHnineteen79!!. Although there’s little logical difference from the shorter password, a hacking algorithm would have a difficult time producing it. Capital letters, punctuation and length make a password safer. Also change your password every few months. If your employees are still using passwords from 2002, then they are a hacker’s ideal target.

Carelessness Attracts Hackers

Hackers look for sloppiness and carelessness, in the same way pickpockets look for loose wallets. Taking a little extra time to tighten up the security on your computer tells a hacker that you’re not worth the time, and they move on. For most individuals and businesses, it’s one of the best investments you can make.