Passwords – we all hate them! Annoying, hard to remember, capitols, numbers, symbols…. argh! Unfortunately, though, there are so many hackers out there, looking for data to steal and sell, or identities to exploit, or companies to sabotage, or simply trying to cause havoc, that secure passwords have become that most necessary of evils, both at home and at work.

It’s obvious, when you think about it.  Why would a hacker try and penetrate a well protected, firewalled, managed and monitored server, when they can simply hack a user account?

We’ve all heard about the recent hacking of Apple’s iCloud data.  It’s reported that the hackers used a tool to allow them to make unlimited login attempts, and then simply tried various combinations of passwords until they managed to get into private accounts, causing distress and embarrassment to company and person alike.

No Wallflowers at the Hackers’ Ball.

Why would a hacker be interested in you? Maybe because you work for a company that possesses highly important archives (as most do), storing valuable data (names, email addresses, intellectual property), which can be sold on for extremely large sums of money, and you are the route the hacker will take to get at that information. Most of the time, though, the hackers are trying to gain access to your personal bank accounts, your identities, your social networking sites, your email accounts and so on, so that they can steal from you, or get at other people and companies through you.

Those Endangered By....

Businesses often fall victim to the onslaught of hackers and it seems like every other month another large company has fallen foul of a data breach.  Back in November 2014, the computer network for Sony Pictures Entertainment was infiltrated, resulting in the theft of many confidential documents.  But it’s not just the commercial world that is at risk; Individual attacks are also a massive problem and most often hackers will be looking for ways to steal your cash, however some may be doing it for just for thrills. This appears to have been the case when Taylor Swift’s Twitter account was hacked back in January. Tweets were posted asking her fans to follow @lizzard and @veriuser whilst her account was under siege.  So, financial gain or simple irritation, hackers can cause upset anywhere at any time.

Fire in the Front Line!

So how is this happening?  It’s all about the passwords – the front line of defence.  A poorly thought out, or casually secured password, can be cracked in seconds, giving the hackers carte blanche access to your systems and data.

It’s definitely the case that hackers are becoming better at cracking passwords and brute-force-attacks are the main way in which they operate.  These types of assaults involve running a computer programme that attempts to log in to your accounts by trying thousands or millions of password combinations, which the latest hacking machines can apply in a matter of seconds.  If a hacker already has an insight into the foundations used to create a password, such as your favourite football team coupled with a sequential number, then the procedure for infiltrating its defences becomes even easier.

So who’s doing this?

Behind Enemy Minds!

There’s no such thing as a typical hacker.  Some are paid by others to do their dirty work for them, whilst some operate solely for their own reasons, such as stealing money from you or even taking your identity.  Sometimes people hold personal grudges against companies, which compel them to sabotage networks and crash systems in puerile revenge based attacks (similarly, let’s not forget the damage that can be caused by a jealous ex that knows your password).  Others may have corporate reasons for hacking, such as stealing intellectual property, or spying on the competition.

Professional or hobbyist, for commercial gain or pleasure, hackers are everywhere, and they like nothing more than a weak password, as that's the easiest way for them to get what they want.

In my next blog, I will be sharing some best practices for keeping your passwords secure, and helping to keep the hackers out.