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Security update recommendations for 2015, Part III

The growing threat of hackers for hire

Hackerslist.com, the first website to list professional hackers for hire, was launched in November 2014. Their raison d’être is the belief that everyone, eventually, will want to hack something–and they want to make the process as easy for their clients as possible. According to a recent NYT article, the founders of the New Zealand-based site are concerned enough about legal ramifications not to go public. Whether this new enterprise will be successful is open to question, despite some initial favorable reviews from the ‘hacking community.’

Hiring individual hackers is nothing new. Hackers’ List is simply capitalizing on the groundswell of interest in routine, low-level hacking. Projects may include spying on a spouse to see if they’re cheating (by gaining access to a partner’s social media accounts), breaking into a competitor’s website to steal a list of their clients, ‘arranging’ to change a student’s university grade–to something as innocent as removing embarrassing pictures from a website. Services can cost from a few to thousands of dollars.

Basic countermeasures

Surprisingly, some defend the legality of this kind of work; others claim, with good reason, that laws against it are hard to enforce. First strategies should include–

Hiring a professional hacker to test your website and social media pages for vulnerabilities, including those coming from potential insider threats. That is, if you have the money…

Using password managers and generators (e.g. LastPass) combined with two-factor authentication (requiring a uniquely generated code). In fact, this is freely available…

Why private browser settings aren’t so private

Unfortunately, private browser settings aren’t so private. The websites you visit in private browsing modes are invisible only to others using your computer (and there are ways to get around that), but not to your ISP or the websites you’re visiting. Even Firefox, known for having relatively secure browsing protection, records your history of SSL certificates, etc. Ultimately, your Internet Protocol (IP) address is visible when you surf the ‘above ground Internet’.

In fact, the NSA collection program works primarily by tracking IP addresses linked with others whose owners may believe may share terrorist goals. Remember that anything you download, including bookmarks during a private browsing session, remains on your computer and can be retrieved.

But there are ways to hide your ip address…

For those of you who are really serious about ramping up your privacy online, the Electronic Frontier Foundation is a good place to begin.

Tor, the ‘guts’ of the Hidden Internet, previously known as The Onion Router, is a network that allows you to surf the web anonymously by routing your traffic through a series of invisible computers/routers before connecting you with your intended destination. –Essentially, the only computer that knows the start and end points of a search or communication is yours. This means that nothing can be tied directly to your IP address. It’s so effective that even the NSA has trouble getting into the system.

In my next blog, I’ll share a list of options for those who, I’m hoping for legitimate reasons, want to communicate with a hidden IP address.

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