How to protect your personal information from online hackers

A local computer expert said internet hackers are getting better at stealing personal information.

Jim Hoatson, of Integrated Computer Systems in North Platte, said it doesn’t take a four-year college degree, or expert computer skills to steal someone’s personal information. There are hacking programs available online to download.

“It kind of goes,” Hoatson began to explain. “If there is a will, there is a way. If people are really trying to (hack in), they can.”

Once a hacker gets into someone’s computer, in a matter of minutes they can steal the victim’s personal information. He said, they can also set up programs that can track the victim’s computer activity without them even knowing. Any computer connected to the internet is vulnerable to this.

“Every computer that’s connected to the internet is … vulnerable,” Hoatson said. “That’s (because) the connection is always there, so there’s always (a chance someone could hack in).”

He defines a hacker as someone, with “malicious” intentions, who remotely gains access to another person’s computer. Hackers can gain access in variety of ways. Most commonly, they gain access through phishing emails or a Trojan horse.

A Trojan horse is a program that tries to fool the unsuspecting user into downloading and installing malicious content.

According to Hoatson, “the term is derived from the Ancient Greek story of the wooden horse that was used to help Greek troops invade the city of Troy by stealth.”

Avoiding strange websites, allows the user to keep their device free of Trojan horses.

“It can be pretty obvious that (it) might be a place (you) don’t want to go to,” Hoatson commented. “The best thing to do … would be to shut (down) your computer and when you bring it back up, make sure that everything is acting normal.”

Malicious emails are usually vague and contain improper grammar. He also said people should ignore the pop-ups telling them their device is infected. Furthermore, he warns against calling the phone number listed for the “help expert” in that pop-up and giving out credit card information.

“Unless you make a call to a support help desk yourself,” Hoatson explained, “don’t (trust the pop-up).”

Once a person’s computer is compromised, he recommends they bring it to a specialist. There they can scan it and wipe it clean of any malicious software.


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