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Hacked? My computer? It’s more likely than you think


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Editorial

O n April 21, junior Kaya Brown started receiving spam emails from herself. A computer with a connection from Los Angeles had logged into Brown’s Gmail account, tricked Google into believing it was her and sent spam to her and 21 other email accounts. “I was like, ‘What have I been doing?’” Brown said. “I don’t give my email out to suspicious websites.”

In today’s digital world, it’s surprisingly easy to have your personal information stolen.

In today’s digital world, it’s surprisingly easy to have your personal information stolen. An average of 30,000 websites per day are identified as spreading malicious code, and reported data breaches increased by 40 percent in 2016. As the number of ways an internet presence can be compromised increases, so does the average person’s need to protect themselves from such threats. The internet is a part of daily life for Lowell students, but every time we use the internet without taking precautions, we put ourselves at risk.

The internet is a part of daily life for Lowell students, but every time we use the internet without taking precautions, we put ourselves at risk.

According to CSO online, when on public WiFi it’s incredibly easy for anyone else connected to the network to see what you’re doing and steal your information. Even on private, password-protected networks like San Francisco Unified School District WiFi, you’re not completely safe. Anyone also connected to that network can watch your internet activity and use it to their advantage.

Programs like wireshark and firesheep are available to anyone smart enough to use them. These programs and programs like them allow you to track internet activity on any network you’re connected to and steal information exchanged between that network and personal devices. Every time you log into an account on an unprotected network, someone can access your username and password and automatically log in as you. Similarly, whenever you exchange information (such as sending emails) on such a network, someone can see what exactly you are sending back and forth.

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One of the simplest ways to protect yourself is to only visit websites with “https” at the beginning of the web address. Https stands for Hyper Text Transfer Protocol Secure, which means that any communication between the browser and website is encrypted. This is a simple basic protection, but it does not alone guarantee safety while browsing.

Another easy way to protect yourself is by using secure passwords. A good password can make it exponentially harder for hackers to break into your account, but the internet has a lot of misinformation about what types of passwords actually keep your account secure.

Every character added to a password exponentially increases the amount of time an algorithm needs to crack it.

It takes 10 minutes for a computer program to crack a six-letter lowercase password. Adding numbers, capital letters, and symbols can increase the time needed dramatically, but the quality of a password isn’t dependent on how many random characters are in it, but rather on length. Every character added to a password exponentially increases the amount of time an algorithm needs to crack it. Using a phrase from your favorite song is more secure than a short string of random numbers and letters. The longer, the better.

However, algorithms are also able to use dictionaries to guess random strings of words. As a result, it can be helpful to include intentional misspellings in your passwords or use words that aren’t in the dictionary.

One of the most effective things you can do to ensure your internet safety is to use a Virtual Private Network (VPN).

One of the most effective things you can do to ensure your internet safety is to use a Virtual Private Network (VPN). A VPN creates a virtual tunnel between the device and the VPN server by encrypting all of the data your device sends and receives. Anyone spying on the network will no longer have access to your data and, as a result, will not be able to break into any of your accounts or steal information. VPNs also prevent anyone, including your internet service provider, from viewing your browsing history.

The highest-rated VPN in 2018 is NordVPN, which is available for computers and phones, but costs $11.95 per month after a seven-day free trial.

However, many VPNs are available for free. For computers, the top-rated free VPNs include CyberGhost and Avira Phantom. For phones and mobile devices, the top rated VPN apps are Hotspot Shield and Speedify VPN.

All Lowell students should take steps to ensure that their information is protected online. It’s easy to get hacked, but protecting yourself against online threats is simple and worthwhile.

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