Hackers can take over someone’s life in a matter of hours. Just ask Patsy Walsh.

11DThough she is not a tech savvy person, the grandmother of six did have a Facebook account, and that was all the hackers needed to take over her life. By using methods such as click baiting, the act of convincing someone to click on a fake link, and then gathering information, the hackers were able to use this info to get into other accounts, and eventually hacked things such as her power of attorney form, Social Security information and learned how to open her garage door and her home.

How did they do this? Mrs. Walsh used the same password for all accounts and did not use recommended security measures.

Fortunately, Mrs. Walsh’s life wasn’t ruined. Instead, this hacking was set up by the New York Times and a private company made up of “ethical hackers”, yes there is such a thing, to show just how easy it is to gain access to someone’s digital life.

Computers Are Gold Mines of Important Information

When the team of ethical hackers gained access to Mrs. Walsh’s computer, they found a number of malicious programs running in the background. Examples include InstallBrain, a program that will download programs on demand, and programs such as SlimCleaner, SearchProtect and FunWebProducts, which can spy on Internet searches, change home pages and gather information through click baiting. More than likely she downloaded some lame tool bar that added all this bloatware. Keep in mind, Mrs. Walsh was only visiting sites such as Google and Facebook, sites that most of us visit several times a day.

Stopping the Hackers in Their Tracks

We can all learn lessons from Mrs. Walsh’s experience. Here are some things that she could have done to avoid this from occurring, and things you should do to remain safe:

  • Use a password manager to keep track of long or complicated passwords, and use a different password for every account.
  • Use a two-step authentication service, one that asks for a second password when an unrecognizable machine attempts to access an account.
  • Use automatic updates for services such as browser updates or operating system updates.
  • Wipe the computer clean if necessary, then start employing these new practices.
  • Stop downloading stupid useless tool bars that are often delivery methods for crappy software.
  • Pay attention to what you are downloading and why. Even when you are updating software, look for any checked boxes that install bloatware.

Robert Siciliano is an identity theft expert to TheBestCompanys.com discussing  identity theft prevention.

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