The ways of the hacker: Exactly how do they violate your online privacy?

Shanan Carney 11 May 2017

How do hackers work, and can you really prevent your internet privacy from invasion by shadowy cyber criminals? Avast shares insight and solutions.

We’ve been talking for a few weeks now – ever since the FCC’s internet privacy protections were overturned – about what a VPN is and how you can be sure you’re picking a reputable VPN connection. But what might not be as clear is the methods hackers use and how they’re evolving.

Most hacks begin with a link ...

There are several ways you can be compromised: financially, socially, or personally, for starters. Whether driven by political motivations or small-scale rationale, hackers do what they do for a variety of reasons, including the simple, anti-establishment wish simply to cause chaos or make money.

The most popular and widespread form of cyber violation is also the most sinister. True con artists, the criminals behind these play to your vulnerabilities, take advantage of your tendency to trust, and trick you – with an email from what you think is a reputable sender. You may get a message in your inbox from a hacker disguised as your bank, telling you there’s a problem with your account. And all you have to do is click a link to fix it. Who wouldn’t click that link?

Hackers’ methods for putting malicious links in front of you grow ever more sophisticated, including constructing fake cell phone towers to send such dummy links to mobile devices. Don’t be taken in. Just don’t click links unless you’re 100% sure they’re from a trusted source. If you think it might be your bank, open a new browser tab and sign in to your account as you would normally do. Chances are high that you will learn there is actually nothing wrong and no action is needed from you. If so, congrats – you just avoided a scam!

… but hackers have expanded well beyond fake emails

By now you probably know that ransomware is also on the rise. This is when hackers lock up or otherwise compromise your folders, files, or entire system, refusing to give you back access until you pay them. And they don’t need to send you an email to make this work. Just visit a shady website or follow a link on social media while you're on an unsecured network, and you could be trapped.

In fact, you no longer even have to do anything to get hacked. That is, other than use public Wi-Fi. Someone with a Wi-Fi monitoring program can keep tabs on your every move from as many as 100 feet away, as long as you’re on an unsecured network – which most hotspots are. As Robert Graham, CEO of Errata Security, said to ABC News, “If you're using Wi-Fi in a public place and you're not getting hacked, it's only because there's nobody around bothering to do it.” And if you’re wondering what, exactly, that hacker can see, well, it’s as if they’re literally watching over your shoulder.

A VPN can help preserve your privacy, safeguard your data

A virtual private network (VPN), such as Avast SecureLine VPN, is solid protection against any cyber criminal using the same online connection you are. It gives you your own private highway to and from the internet, masking your identity, personal info, and IP address. Avast SecureLine VPN also encrypts your web activity, so even if someone wanted to track your anonymous online persona’s cyber travels, they’d be thwarted.

In short, a VPN gives you online VIP treatment. Along with hiding your identity (think: dark sunglasses) and securing your connection even over public Wi-Fi, VPNs also allow you to visit any website you want, even if you’re in, say, a cafe or library whose servers block certain destinations. Visit, stream, download whatever you like. Think of a VPN as your private limo, safely and privately taking you anywhere you’d like to go online.

Image: Gandosh Ganbaatar