7 Myths about Hackers and What You Really Need to Look For

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Popular culture has driven home a stereotype about hackers as computer wizards able to peer into our secure data—but there are some common myths about hackers and hacking that don’t necessarily hold up to scrutiny, and if you know what hackers can and can’t do, you’re in a better position to make sure your data remains safe. Take a look at seven common misconceptions about hacking and what you should really be worried about instead, brought to you by Mental Floss and Discover.

1. Myth: Hackers only attack huge companies.

When security breaches make the news, it’s usually because a major software platform or consumer service entity has been attacked. But that doesn’t mean information stored in mid-size or small companies is safe. Plenty of comparatively small businesses have been the focus of cyberattacks, with valuable information (social security numbers, addresses) left exposed.

Hackers might even use third-party credentials as a way to gain access to major partners. As a consumer, you should always assume your data is potentially at risk, no matter the size of the database. Luckily, there are tools out there that will let you know if your information is at risk. With Discover’s Free Security Alerts, once you’re a cardmember, you can sign up for free alerts, and Discover will let you know if they find your Social Security number on any of thousands of Dark Web sites. Learn more at Discover.com.

2. Myth: Hackers aren’t organized.

Hackers are not only organized, they’re happy to trade information in an illicit network of tips and technique-sharing. It would be inadvisable to think cyber-criminals take a hobbyist’s approach to mining your data. Plan security measures as though stealing your information was a full-time job.

3. Myth: Hackers rush to get in and out of systems.

Hackers don’t treat system breaches like bank robberies. They’re not usually concerned with a ticking clock, and many take a slow and methodical approach to get the data they want. If you’re concerned with possible security lapses, don’t expect a criminal will dip in and quickly disappear.

4. Myth: Hackers can’t see you when you’re browsing incognito.

Many web browsers offer private or “incognito” modes that claim to hide your internet activity. But that’s not entirely true. While data may not be saved on your local device, it’s still visible to your internet service provider (ISP). Never assume that information sent over during a “private” session is really private. It should be subject to the same security measures as any other online transaction.

5. Myth: Hackers can’t compromise smart phones.

While databases and computers are more easily compromised, hackers can absolutely exploit your smart phone. Some hacks require the criminal to be in physical proximity to your device, but others utilize apps to grab confidential information. Make sure things downloaded to your phone come from a trusted source.

6. Myth: Hackers can only grab data if users download a malware file.

Getting victims to open an .exe, or executable, file as an email attachment is an effective way to install damaging software on a computer, but that’s not the only way hackers can compromise your information. Visiting web sites can allow them to surreptitiously share files that can divulge your secure data. It’s always best to avoid visiting web sites you’re not familiar with, especially if you’ve been prompted to open them via an email link.

7. Myth: Hackers can’t intercept emails.

Hackers are more than capable of not only accessing your email account but examining messages sent out to third parties. Instead of using a password that’s easy to remember, choose one that’s complex to provide better security. You should also consider an email encryption tool that would make any intercepted communication impossible for cyber-criminals to read.

Although sometimes blown out of proportion, the threat of hackers is very real for your personal information. Discover’s Free Security Alerts will help you to protect yourself by monitoring thousands of Dark Web sites and alerting you if they find your social security number or if new accounts appear on your Experian® credit report. The service is free for cardmembers who sign up and is a great step to putting you in the know. Terms apply. Learn more at Discover.com.