People talk about their online accounts being “hacked,” but how exactly does this hacking happen? The reality is that accounts are hacked in fairly simple ways — attackers don’t use black magic.
Knowledge is power. Understanding how accounts are actually compromised can help you secure your accounts and prevent your passwords from being “hacked” in the first place.
Reusing Passwords, Especially Leaked Ones
Many people — maybe even most people — reuse passwords for different accounts. Some people may even use the same password for every account they use. This is extremely insecure. Many websites — even big, well-known ones like LinkedIn and eHarmony — have had their password databases leaked over the past few years. Databases of leaked passwords along with usernames and email addresses are readily accessible online. Attackers can try these email address, username, and passwords combinations on other websites and gain access to many accounts.
Reusing a password for your email account puts you even more at risk, as your email account could be used to reset all your other passwords if an attacker gained access to it.
However good you are at securing your passwords, you can’t control how well the services you use secure your passwords. If you reuse passwords and one company slips up, all your accounts will be at risk. You should use different passwords everywhere — a password manager can help with this.
Keyloggers are malicious pieces of software that can run in the background, logging every key stroke you make. They’re often used to capture sensitive data like credit card numbers, online banking passwords, and other account credentials. They then send this data to an attacker over the Internet.
Such malware can arrive via exploits — for example, if you’re using an outdated version of Java, as most computers on the Internet are, you can be compromised through a Java applet on a web page. However, they can also arrive disguised in other software. For example, you may download a third-party tool for an online game. The tool may be malicious, capturing your game password and sending it to the attacker over the Internet.
Use a decent antivirus program, keep your software updated, and avoid downloading untrustworthy software