Computer hackers are constantly trying to gain access to individual’s computers via viruses, malware, email scams and other methods. What are these hackers hoping to find if they gain access to your PC? Does the average personal (or business) computer contain valuable information to make it a valid hacking target?
Many people take the “it happens to someone else” thought approach to hacking. They think about the activities they do on their computer such as web browsing, document creation/editing and media consumption and might think to themselves that they having nothing of value of their computer and as such why would hackers “waste their time” trying to gain access to their computer? Surely the hackers are trying to break into the bank’s computer system or something similar.
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This kind of thinking leaves computer users ready to get completely blindsided by hacking, or worse yet: not know it is happening at all. Malicious code can sit for months or years on a computer without being detected.
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What Are the Hackers Looking For On Your Computer?
It turns out that there are a great number of different “goods” on a computer that hacker can exploit to make money off of. A fairly standard hacked PC can have the following information:
- Webmail spam
- “Stranded abroad” email scam
- Harvesting email contacts and accounts
- Access to corporate email
- Online gaming profiles for high popularity games
- Online gaming goods/currency
- PC game/software license keys
- Operating system license key
- Access to social network accounts to post and message spam links to friends
- eBay/PayPal info
- Online gaming info
- Website FTP info
- Skype/VOIP info
- Client side encryption keys
- Bank account data
- Credit card data
- Stock trading account data
- Mutual Fund/401k account info
As seen by the extensive above list, the average computer can contain a lot of different information that a hacker could find valuable. It is highly likely that most computers have at least a few of the above elements stored on them.
What Can Hackers Set Up Your Computer to Do?
Perhaps one of the scariest things that can happen isn’t what the hackers can take from you, but rather what they can re-purpose your PC to do. Running either hidden programs (that can go undetected to an untrained eye) or full on “hostage” attacks on your computer, a hacker can cause some serious damage by repurposing your computer.
Assuming the exploited PC has a decent internet connection, it can be setup as a web server to distribute various illegal, spam and/or black market information. This can include:
- Phishing website
- Malware download site
- Piracy server
- Illegal explicit material server
- Spam site
Your computer can be configured to be a part of a botnet (a massive network of 100-1000’s of infected PC’s that can be used to fulfil the botnet owner’s purposes. Oftentimes bot activity is very hard to detect by the user and the user’s computer can be a bot for years without the user knowing it.
- Spam bot
- DDoS extortion bot
- Click fraud bot
- Anonymization proxy
- CAPTCHA solving bot
- Processing power to mine for bitcoin or other cryptocurrency
This most vivid and ‘in-your-face’ of hacks is a hostage attack. In a hostage attack the hacker takes complete control of the computer, locking the owner out the computer entirely, or certain parts of the computer, and asking for a ransom to unlock the locked parts.
- Fake antivirus prompts asking you to install various malicious code
- Email account ransom
- Webcam image feed
As seen by the above list, a hacker can repurpose your computer in ways that can be catastrophic to the productivity and integrity of your virtual information.
Protect Your Computers
If you are an at home computer user or an IT specialist in charge of a network of PCs, it is your responsibility to keep your PCs protected and safe. Do not assume that no one is targeting you.