Tips & How tos

4 Ways Your Personal Information Can be Exploited

Nowadays, the Internet is filled with user data. People share personal details on social networks, and getting one’s birth date, profile picture, or even home address often takes little effort.

Many Internet users have a common misconception that they have nothing to hide. In reality, user data is a valuable commodity for cybercriminals. This article explains four ways hackers can use your data against you.

Personalized Phishing Campaigns

Phishing is one of the oldest and most common hacking techniques. It was popular even before computers, carried out via telephones, called Vishing. For example, parents sometimes received calls from “law enforcement” informing them of a car accident their child has caused. They need an urgent sum of money to provide mandatory healthcare or to avoid legal troubles.

It might sound naive right now, but many were unaware of such scams back then. Moreover, it’s easier to fall for if the caller provides a genuine name, surname, and a legit license plate. 

The most common contemporary Phishing scams happen over email, like the popular Nigerian prince scam. The first Phishing emails frequently started with “Dear sir or Madam…” – not very convincing. Visualize them now when people share their first and last names, nicknames, hobbies, travel pictures, and much more. 

A more recent efficient Phishing example involves the Covid-19 crisis. Hackers combined gathered personal information with a particularly sensitive topic – healthcare. Let’s say you traveled to Italy just a few months before Covid hit the US. Moreover, you shared the pictures on your public Facebook account. 

One day you receive a letter there’s critical information regarding your health because you may have contracted Covid in Milan. It has your real name, surname, travel destination, and home address. It urges you to click on a link to learn more, and the chances are high that many will do. However, it’s how a professional Phishing scam works, and it will infect your device with malware.

Password Hacking

The number of online services that use password protection increased several times. However, people’s password management methods remained almost the same. Many still use the most common passwords, like “qwerty” or “password123” and alike.

These passwords are easy-to-guess and provide the bare minimum protection. However, there’s another problem.

Many Internet users choose passwords that include personal information—their mother’s maiden name, pet’s name, favorite book or band, etc. The chances are high that they shared some of this information online. Hackers use sophisticated software to generate hundreds of password variations that include this data until they get the correct one.

It’s easy to solve this issue by using a password manager. Instead of using risky passwords, you can create hundreds of unique and strong ones, up to 60 symbols long, with symbols and numbers. Such passwords are nearly impossible to guess, and brute forcing them would take long years with current technology.

Data Leak Protection

In 2014, many celebrities experienced what it means to become a victim of a data leak. Apple’s iCloud was hacked, exposing their most intimate information. Firstly, storing such information on a third-party cloud service is not the best idea. On the other hand, people have the right to expect safety from the services they use.

This could’ve been prevented if sufficient data encryption had been used. Instead of uploading data in a plain format, you can use storage encryption software to secure it. Even if hackers manage to get their hands on your most sensitive information, they will not be able to decrypt it.

Moreover, there are encryption applications that provide their own secure storage space. Their dedicated cybersecurity personnel ensures that the cloud is as safe as possible, minimizing the risks of exposure.

Cambridge Analytica

Cambridge Analytica was one of the last decade’s biggest data safety and political scandals. Eighty-seven million Facebook profiles were gathered without the user’s consent and used for political purposes.

Cambridge Analytica fueled this data into Ted Cruz and Donald Trump’s political campaigns. Some political analysts speculate that Donald Trump would not have won the election without it. It’s highly probable.

Internet users who say they have nothing to hide forget about Cambridge Analytica’s lessons. Via sophisticated psychological manipulation techniques, they were targeted with exploitative political ads, which shifted their vote to the further right. In other words, hackers can use your data against you to undermine democratic values.

Final words

There are many more ways hackers can exploit your data. This article overviews only the ones that are the most common, effective, and that have severe results. Remember, from where you’re standing, sharing your traveling pictures or hobbies is nothing wrong. From the hacker’s perspective, it’s an entry point to your private life. It’s best to think twice before sharing and use cybersecurity software whenever possible.