Ethical hacking

The dark but lucrative world of hacking

Maybe you should encourage your kids to become hackers. When you open Twitter handles and Linkedin profiles, it’s not unlikely that you’ll find people listing hacking as a skill.

Parents used to tell their kids to become doctors, lawyers and accountants. Later, they advised them to learn about computers. These kids grew up to become hardware specialists and then software specialists. That was related to the third industrial revolution.

Yet in the past 10 to twelve years, we have seen ourselves thrown into the fourth industrial revolution, one in which technology affects our lives through social media and augmented reality.

We share more and more of our personal information with more people, companies and institutions every day and we do it willingly and are often blasé about it. This has prompted more people to steal this information through hacking

Hacking background

Since the advent of personal computers in the 1980s hackers have become prolific, initially in first world countries which had an advanced infrastructure. There were numerous cases in the US but as computer technology has permeated the world, hackers have followed suit. 

A hacking group called MOD, Masters of Deception, in the 1980s allegedly stole passwords and technical data from Nynex, and other telephone companies as well as several big credit agencies and two major universities.

The damage caused was extensive and one company, Southwestern Bell said it suffered losses of $370,000 alone. These days the damages, though not always publically announced, can run into a few millions.

READ MORE about the Online Threats hackers use here

This has paved the way for a special information technology (IT) vocation. A security hacker is someone who explores methods for breaching defences and exploiting weaknesses in a computer system and networks. They break into systems they aren’t authorised to, and tend to break seamlessly into email and banking systems.

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Hacking as a career

Ben Wilson works as an ethical hacker. He has more than ten years of experience and worked in London where he received on-the-job training. He now works remotely in South Africa servicing UK clients.

“I test websites for clients. I look for vulnerabilities in the systems. I have done a lot of work for banks lately but my work is across industries.” 

“Energy companies are using my services more and more,” he says.

Wilson says he worked in a permanent position for six years. Right now he contracts for five clients regularly.

Ethical hackers are the knights who test how permeable these systems are.

“The majority of my work is for British clients. The UK pound is strong and I like to earn pounds. I’d say the best computer security consultants in the world are in the UK. The US is strong too but the UK consultants are sophisticated and the best.”

Vulnerabilities

The most common way in which people hack information is through email contacts; especially personal Gmail accounts.

People think that their information is safe because it sits with one of the largest companies in the world. But this is exactly why it isn’t safe.

Gmail accounts are regularly hacked and if you want to protect especially valuable information you should either upgrade it to the business/enterprise level, use a different email service, or perhaps the one connected to your employer. 

Nowadays companies use services to protect themselves against hacks and unauthorised access. These monthly or annual service providers might employ ethical hackers to check the companies’ systems.

Hacking, however, isn’t just something that happens to big companies or in blockbuster movies. Here are some reality checks:

  • All websites are under threat;
  • So are applications (Apps) on your phone;
  • People can also programme artificial intelligence (AI) to hack into systems. This has become a big concern and theme for security experts.

Ways to proactively prevent a hack 

Fortunately, there are several ways of protecting yourself and your information from hacking; starting with your emails. Be wary of “phishing” emails asking you to update your information, especially for bogus databases which you have never heard of.

In addition:

Use a spam filter.

Avoid opening attachments from senders whom you don’t know.

Update your passwords regularly.

It helps to have authentication methods, such as a smartphone linked and email linked authentication (2FA) or security keys like Yubico.

Don’t click on any ad – period!

Back up your files regularly – it’s always good idea.

Don’t allow ransomware bullies to bully you.

  • If you get sent communication saying that people have your files and want money or they’ll release the files; ignore them.
  • They can’t threaten you forever and might eventually move onto another target especially if your information loses its value over time.

Anti-hacking software

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As a business, use tools like those from cybersecurity experts Acunetix. More than 4 000 companies protect their web applications form vulnerabilities using its powerful web scanner.

Its penetration testing software prevents potential attacks by identifying holes in your websites’ coding. This is where hackers usually plant their complex code which allows them to extract data such as contact details, credit card details and in worse cases, company-sensitive data like patents and blueprints.

Naturally, they also scan networks to find gateway loopholes that could lead to crashes and downtime-related losses. A bank’s website going down for a few hours can cost it several thousands or even millions in lost revenue.

Despite having firewalls, VPNs and other Internet security systems in place, your websites and Apps being developed are still vulnerable to cyber-attacks or a hack.

Some complex hacks include: SQL Injections, Cross-Site Scripting (XSS) and what is known as Cross-Site Request Forgery (CSRF).

The most commonly known and used however, is a DDoS attack. Basically it works like like a traffic jam clogging up a highway, preventing regular traffic from arriving at its desired destination. Incidently, only a few days ago, Amazon was hit by a DDoS Attack.

So, how would you know or find out if you are vulnerable?  By conducting regular scan on your websites and apps to see where vulnerabilities lie.

Avoiding a hack requires common sense

Be aware and don’t fall into scams. It’s unlikely you’ve won 120-million Euro in a lottery. And you should know by now that are not the descendant of a king!

If someone says they have a sex-tape with you in it and they want your salary, unless you know you made a sex tape, they’re probably lying.

Unless of course, a scorned lover of yours tricked you – but you can’t blame technology or a hacker for that.

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The Online Threats of 2019

How you can stop them from happening.

Like a biological virus mutates – as technology advances, so does the complexity of phishing and identity theft schemes. With major services adopting cloud technologies and storing private data online, anyone is vulnerable to hacking.

To make matters worse, hackers continue to come up with some pretty creative ways to profit from stolen information.

Without wasting time, these are the things you should already be doing to avoid being exposed to hackers in the first place:

In order to keep these cybercriminals out of your lives and computers, let’s take a look at some of the actual schemes to watch out for in 2019.

Hacking

We all know what hacking is by now – the term has almost become synonymous with internet security. So a question is: do you love watching movies on Netflix or jamming out to your summer playlist on Spotify? If the answer is yes, then you’re at a pretty high risk of getting hacked.

DynaRisk, a UK cybersecurity firm, recently found that cybercriminals most commonly target these brands, along with adult-oriented sites (you know what we mean) and then, online gaming services.

Identity Theft

A few weeks ago, authorities caught a New York-based gang who had used identity theft to steal over $19 million worth of iPhones. Quartz reported that this operation ran for seven years.

So-called “Top Dogs,” the ring leaders, would organize lower level members of their organization to steal identities and create clone credit and identity cards. Then, affiliates fanned across the nation, signing up for mobile phone plans to acquire iPhones, which were later sold for a profit by the Top Dogs.

Because phone payment plans take the shape of nominal fees over the course of several years, victims often wouldn’t notice the fraud until it was too late. Learn how another scheme dubbed sim port attack works in the diagram below:

Ransomware

Hacking can happen to anyone – including our favorite bands. In early June, a hacker managed to steal the minidisk archive of Thom Yorke, the lead singer of Radiohead. This included previously unreleased demos and audio material from around the time of “OK Computer,” the band’s 1997 worldwide hit album. The hacker then demanded $150,000 on the threat of releasing it.

Holding files for ransom is so common nowadays that it even has its own name: “Ransomware.” Either pay over the ransom or lose your files—or, even worse, have them released onto the unforgiving Internet.

In response, Radiohead released all 18 hours of material on Bandcamp themselves, winning against these ransom hackers.

Most security experts recommend the same route as Radiohead—never pay the ransom, because there’s no guarantee you’ll recover files or prevent their release.

Sextortion

If you think ransomware is bad, there’s an entire subgroup of it aimed to profit off sexual shame. Cheekily named “Sextortion,” some hackers creatively upgraded the classic email phishing scam to scare victims into handing over Bitcoin.

According to Fortune, hackers have already racked up over $900,000 with sextortion. In these phishing emails, the sender claims to have spied on you while you watched porn—and has webcam footage of the salacious deeds. The message then demands a Bitcoin ransom, or else face the social and professional consequences of this lewd video getting sent to all your contacts.

To make the threat even more believable, the sender references a previous password tied to the user’s email account. According to Krebson Security, a sextortion phishing message might look a little like what’s written in the sidebox.

In rare cases, the threats are real—and hackers get their hands on some sexually explicit photos. Recently, American actress Bella Thorne fell victim to sextortion. Last Saturday, she took a similar, albeit more risqué, route as Radiohead, opting to release her nude photographs on Twitter in order to take the power away from her hacker.

Last thoughts..

So, what’s the best way to avoid your personal, or, business from costing thousands in virtual currency? Since most of these emails are fake, you can just avoid them with a spam filter. And you should probably buy a webcam cover…just to be safe. When it comes to general browsing- we suggest using a VPN.

Read more about VPNs here

There are now more secure anti-hacking tools that use the Blockchain and offer great protection especially against identity theft. Have a look at our feature on Tokenisation.

Most online services now like mobile banks, offer App-based 2-factor authentication. This should now be regarded as the minimum security for ANY online account or App.

To avoid hacking or phishing scams in general, optimizing your cybersecurity and using online common sense will save you loads of time, trouble and money.

Cybersecurity by Acunetix

Cloud-hosted services square up

Running your business requires choosing the right tools for you and your employees. In order to streamline work-related productivity, many organizations are migrating to cloud-based office suites—specifically, Microsoft’s Office 365 and Google’s G Suite (formally known as Google Apps).

Both products boast a variety of helpful productivity tools and the latest remote collaboration technologies. While it’s impossible to say which one is “better,” this head-to-head comparison can help you decide which office suite is a better fit for your business.

What are G Suite & Office 365?

Office 365 and G Suite are suites, or packages, of powerful business tools that facilitate you and your employees day-to-day tasks using the cloud. They even provide business email addresses (i.e. name@yourbusiness.com), along with apps for creating documents, spreadsheets, presentations, video conference calls, shared calendars and notes.  

In addition, storing information on Google or Microsoft servers, rather than your own via these suites, can also save your business a lot of money when it comes to IT costs and maintenance.  

Plans and Pricing

First, let’s look at plans and prices. It’s important to note that Microsoft requires an annual commitment, while Google offers you the option to make monthly payments if you prefer.

Contact our sales to get a formal quote for your business
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Cloud packages head-to-head

Email

While both Office 365 and G Suite offer web and mobile apps (Outlook and Gmail, respectively) for email, there are some subtle differences.

One plus-side to Office 365 is the desktop version of Outlook, which is incredibly feature-rich and lets you sort and group emails with ease. Gmail, on the other hand, is widely used throughout the world. For this reason, a variety of third-party app options (like WordPress) can be linked to it to enhance its capabilities.

Cloud Data Storage

For the entry level plans, Office 365 Business Essentials wins out with 1 TB (terabyte) of storage per user, while the G Suite Basic plan only offers 30 GB. To make matters worse, G Suite includes emails in this storage limit, whereas Office 365 provides extra storage for email files and has an added archiving feature.

However, G Suite’s upgraded plans beat out most of Microsoft’s storage offerings. So long as your business has more than five employees, G Suite Business and Enterprise provides unlimited cloud storage (although, businesses with less than 5 employees on the “Business” plan are capped at 1 TB). Only Microsoft E3 plans and higher offer the same unlimited cloud storage.

Applications

Applications are the cornerstones of a suite’s functionality. G Suite and Office 365 offer you a variety of comparable apps for word processing, creating spreadsheets and presentations, all on the cloud!

While both services offer mobile and online apps, one major benefit of Office 365 is its desktop applications.

This means every user gets a free desktop version of the Office suite (i.e. Microsoft Word, Excel) to download.

These feature-rich apps expand far beyond the capabilities of the mobile and online versions, and are available on every plan except the ‘Business Essentials’.

Collaboration

These online applications make both suites ideal for remote collaboration. Microsoft Teams lets facilitates this with tools like real-time co-authoring, mentioning users by name and chat capabilities while working on OneDrive. Microsoft now lets you collaborate using its desktop apps, too, although the updates to shared files are a bit sluggish compared to its online apps.

Similarly, G Suite offers Hangouts for chats, and Google Drive for real-time collaboration. Google’s online and mobile apps were created with cloud collaboration in mind, so some might find them a bit more user-friendly.

For remote meetings, G Suite and Office 365 both offer group video conference calls. If you plan on large-scale video conferences, then Office 365 offers far more for your money: most plans have a 250-participant limit, while the E3 plan increases to an astounding 10,000-person limit.

Meanwhile, G Suite’s Google Meet allows up to 25 participants on the “Basic” plan, 50 on the “Business” plan and 100 on the “Enterprise” plan.  

Security

Cloud services are running into a variety of security issues, and these suites are no exception.

A 2019 Barracuda Networks’ report found that a large percent of ATO (account takeover) attacks were targeted at Microsoft Office 365 accounts after businesses migrated emails to the service. These attacks prompted the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) to issue a set of best practices to help organizations migrate their email services while avoiding risks and vulnerabilities.

Meanwhile, Google recently announced that a cloud storage feature for encrypted passwords on its “Enterprise” plans was faulty. As a result, some user passwords were stored in plaintext on Google’s servers!

While cloud computing has its risks, the two suites do have impressive security features. G Suite is comparable to Google’s own level of security, and offers AI detection of suspicious activity, Two-Factor authentication and data leak protection—in which admins can block outgoing communication determined by set keywords.

On the other hand, Office 365 has the option of Multiple Factor Authentication, along with detection of malware, viruses and suspicious activities. Microsoft also provides data loss protection, and admins can restrict access to company-issued devices only.

Ease of Use

So, which is easier to use? Well, it depends on who you are, and your ability to grasp software quickly.

If you’re accustomed to working with MS Word or Excel documents, and edit them for work on a regular basis, then Office 365 and its desktop-to-online formatting compatibility will probably be your best bet. This is especially true if your company solely computes with Windows PCs.

However, new users might find G Suite apps easier to learn, as the tools are a bit simpler and straightforward.

Which is best for you? A Summary:

Some key benefits of each suite: Firstly, Office 365 offers feature-rich apps, and most of its plans come with desktop version of MS Office applications—a definite advantage over its competitors.

Its entry level plan is far more generous in terms of data storage than G Suite’s “Basic” plan. In addition, businesses that already exclusively use Windows technology are likely to find Office 365 better-suited for their needs.

With that said, G Suite was originally designed as a cloud collaborative productivity tool. Therefore, its features might be easier for collaboration and can be used among a wider variety of Windows and Mac devices. In addition, G Suite “Business” plans and above outdoes Microsofts’ when it comes to unlimited cloud file storage.

Unfortunately, I can’t tell you which of the two is “best.” But, with this knowledge in mind, you can make an informed decision to choose the best cloud suite for you.