What do hackers want from us

The ten most common mistakes hackers make easy

If a cyber spy wants to launch a successful attack that reaches deep into a foreign system, he needs a lot of information. The deeper it penetrates a computer network, the more information it can collect, which then helps it to penetrate even further or to launch another attack. What also helps: Internal knowledge - for example about the working atmosphere in a company. A really good hacker can also be good with people.

The biggest obstacle that administrators and users can put in a hacker's way is data economy and serious confidentiality. However, this is not that easy to implement in most companies and authorities. Here are the most common mistakes users and administrators make.

1. Insecure or insecure passwords

The classic for insecure passwords is of course the name of the pet or partner, the place of residence or similar terms that an attacker can easily find out. Passwords that work with numbers and special characters as well as upper and lower case are safe. And passwords should be changed on a regular basis. Another common practice is to write passwords on a piece of paper and hang them on the magnetic board behind the computer workstation. If you are still on the Internet with the webcam, you could also post your password on Twitter.

2. The same passwords for different purposes

Some users make it easy for themselves: They just want to remember a password. If an employee of a security-sensitive federal authority also uses his work password for the website of his sports or hobby club, he makes it easy for hackers. Small voluntary associations in particular hardly manage to keep the software up to date at all times. Data security is usually not that important there, the computers are maintained by laypeople and patches are installed late. This makes it easier to steal a password.

3. One password for the whole group - stored centrally

Many colleagues often share a password - for example for a specific software application. Such passwords are often stored somewhere on a server - so that everyone who needs them has access to them. But if a hacker succeeds in breaking into the system with the identity of a simple user who does not have admin rights, he can get hold of the passwords very easily. So he can feel his way forward step by step.

4. Phishing and spear phishing - target victims

A classic first attack often takes place with a phishing email. Such emails entice users either to open an attachment or to click an Internet link, which then loads a malicious program onto the computer and activates it. Many phishing emails run up in email boxes as spam emails and are easy to recognize as such. But it doesn't have to be.

"Spearfishing" - in German: "Harpooning", is the higher form of phishing. The attacker deliberately selects the target person and sends a phishing email that sounds legitimate. The recipient will most likely open it too. The malware can hide, for example, in a letter of application to the HR department or in an invoice to central purchasing. It usually requires a good knowledge of people and languages. The sender email and the entire look and feel must be cleverly falsified in order to appear credible.

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5. Unvorsicbusy admins

Knowledge is power! Particularly ambitious attackers want to obtain administrator rights. Then they can master the whole system. If you have ever sneaked in with the identity of a simple user, you may be able to read the company's internal phone book. This is how you find out who is responsible for IT administration. Then research on Facebook or other social networks helps to find out something about hobbies and preferences. Perhaps the attacker learns the names of friends and acquaintances, work colleagues, appointments, etc. In this way, he can carry out a tailor-made attack and give the impression that he is an insider. And you can open an email attachment from a good friend.

6. Zero-day attack: The security hole that was plugged too late

Even if the system administrators act conscientiously and regularly apply all patches ("patches"), months can pass between the discovery of a hole and the patch update by the respective software manufacturer. One reason for this: the manufacturers often prefer to take a little more time to publish the gaps that have become known and prepare themselves thoroughly because they know that the "bad guys" systematically evaluate all the gaps that have been published and then if possible strike quickly before all end users could update their software with patches. It can also happen that vulnerabilities become known for which a patch is not yet available. Then there are so-called "0-day attacks" (attack on day zero). When the blackmail malware "WannaCry" paralyzed numerous computers last year, there was already a patch. However, many admins were late with the update.

7. Sloppily installed server software

IT service providers are also often under considerable time and cost pressure. If you get the order to set up a server, for example, it can happen that the technicians forget to change a standardized access password such as "1234", "qwerty" or "admin". This is made worse when a less experienced employee takes over the system administration and doesn't bother about it - as long as the system is stable. Also very bad: Often changing responsibilities and little continuity of personnel among the administrators.

8. Mail servers reveal too much information

Secure mail servers either do not respond at all or only very sparingly to incorrect external inquiries. The reason: Attackers can obtain valuable information about a computer system by sending emails with a wrong identifier to a certain domain. If the mail server then sends back a detailed error message that shows, for example, the path the email has traveled and the respective version of the server software, the attacker knows exactly how to proceed.

9. No sandbox in the system

Most operating systems and web browsers today are set up as sandboxes: if an attack succeeds, it initially remains trapped in the part of the software in which it first occurred - similar to an incendiary bomb that is thrown into a sandpit and thrown in. Strict user management also contributes to this. The malware can only destroy the areas to which the respective user has access. However, if many users have too many rights, the fire or malware can quickly spread.

10. Software that is not up to date

Last but not least: The software not only of the operating system but also of all applications must always be up to date. By the way: Antivirus software is still important, but its importance is now taking a back seat to the building blocks of software security, which automatically react to suspicious activities. If a virus or trojan comes through the barricade, good software will recognize it at the latest when it starts doing something it shouldn't.

  • Heroes of the net world: Ingenious hackers

    The Messiah

    He is probably the most famous fictional hacker - Neo, the hero from the Matrix trilogy (center / Keanu Reeves). He is the "chosen one" who is supposed to free humanity from the clutches of an overpowering artificial intelligence. In the virtual reality of the matrix, the hacker fights against protection programs that try in the form of agents to shut down human revolutionaries like him.

  • Heroes of the net world: Ingenious hackers

    The eccentric one

    The fictional character Lisbeth Salander comes from the pen of the Swedish star author Stieg Larsson. In his Millennium Trilogy, he describes her as an unusual loner with a tragic past. Salander makes a living hacking computer programs and eventually uses her extraordinary skills to solve murders.

  • Heroes of the net world: Ingenious hackers

    The madman

    Elliot Alderson is the focus of the US series "Mr. Robot". He suffers from personality disorders and anxiety, but is a brilliant hacker. Actually, he should use his knowledge to protect his employer's computer systems. But then a certain Mr. Robot appears who persuades him to switch to the other side.

  • Heroes of the net world: Ingenious hackers

    The avenger

    Hackers are not only the protagonists in films and novels. In the computer game "Watch Dogs" the hacker Aiden Pearce goes on a campaign of revenge. He wants retaliation for an attack on his family that killed his niece. In order to take out his enemies, he not only uses conventional weapons, but also his hacking skills.

  • Heroes of the net world: Ingenious hackers

    The NSA hacker

    Kevin Mitnick caused a stir in the 1980s and 90s when it was revealed that the young California man had hacked into computers at the Pentagon and the NSA. He was imprisoned for the first time at the age of 25 - further sentences followed. His story was filmed in 2000 under the title "Takedown".

  • Heroes of the net world: Ingenious hackers

    The hacktivist

    His incredible story also became the subject of Hollywood. In "Inside WikiLeaks - the fifth estate", actor Benedict Cumberbatch (left) plays Julian Assange, the Australian hacker activist and co-founder of the world's most famous exposure platform. Because Assange is threatened with criminal proceedings in several countries, he has lived in the Ecuadorian embassy in London since 2012.

    Author: Felix Schlagwein