SOCIAL network users in Larne are being urged to take precautions to protect themselves from skilled hackers.
According to local IT specialist Mark Anderson, the number of incidents of computer users falling victim to hackers on websites such as Facebook is becoming an increasing problem.
The warning comes amid growing concerns over the use of social networking sites, with a national newspaper recently reporting that the PSNI is having to deal with up to five crimes every day linked to users posting threats, sectarian abuse and other offensive comments.
And this problem is sometimes compounded by hackers gaining access to other people’s Facebook accounts, posing as that person and posting malicious messages – an act that has been dubbed ‘fraping’.
Mark, who runs Larne-based company Comspec Computer Services, said: “Hacking is becoming widespread, and it causes untold damage when it happens. Facebook hacking can be something that happens on a personal level (ie, someone with a grudge), or it can be a skilled hacker getting lucky and trying to access your personal details for one reason or another.
“Methods used to hack accounts can include insecure passwords. Many people use simple passwords (such as birthdays or names, which makes guessing them very simple and is a sure-fire way for you to get hacked at some stage or another. Some people also use a single password for all of their accounts on the internet, which makes your chances of being hacked much more, since if they hack any of your accounts it pretty much guarantees access to all the rest.
“Leaving yourself logged in is also dangerous. When you log into Facebook on a PC or laptop, there is a tick box labelled ‘Keep Me Logged In’. If this is left ticked, and the PC is accessible by others, leaving you vulnerable, since all they have to do is load Facebook and they’ll be straight into your account.
“We have all been fraped by friends in this fashion, but this fun can turn into something much worse by those out to do harm,” Mark warned.
Other methods that hackers employ include phishing emails. These will tell you something is wrong with your account and ask you to click a link to rectify the situation. This email will have all the logos, and even look official, but the link with allow a trojan into your PC, or take you to a fake login page so they can steal your password.
Keyloggers can also be installed on unsuspecting users’ computers via malware of some kind, such as a virus. “They are the nastiest and craftiest of the malware family, since they do not show any visible signs of their existence,” Mark added. “They simply sit and record the keystrokes you make on your computer, and send these via the internet so that the hackers can either steal credit card information, or simply steal your passwords as you type them in.”
Mark also urged people to be aware of email address hacking. Everyone who has a Facebook account has this linked to their primary email account. These can be hacked quite easily and the hacker can then simply use the ‘Forgot Password’ option on Facebook or other online accounts to change your password, gaining entry and normally blocking you from your account.
In an effort to help local people avoid the dangers posed by hackers, Mark has issued the following advice:
– Use Facebook security settings. There are a few safety precautions built into Facebook and you should use these. Most are not turned on by default, but are easily accessed by going into account settings and account security.
– Always use a secure password. Don’t use your child’s name, your football team, etc as your password. Make up a password which includes letters and numbers, memorise this, and this will ensure nobody can use guessing techniques to gain access.
– Regularly change your password, ensuring you always use a secure-type of password, then access by the hackers can be limited.
– Ensure you have sufficient anti-virus cover, which is kept up to date, and your computer is scanned on a regular basis. Business users need to purchase anti-virus software, but all domestic users can use the numerous free ones available.
– Don’t click on links that are received in emails. If you receive an email that looks like it is from Facebook or any other normal online accounts, don’t click on any links it offers. Facebook will never send you this type of email, they may send you a warning of some sort, but they will always recommend that you go online to rectify it, not click on a potentially unsafe link sent via email.
– Don’t leave your Facebook account logged in. If you use your office computer for Facebook, ensure you have your screen saver set to ask for a password to regain access. That way, if you walk away from your desk, the screen-saver will kick in, and any potential user will have to re-enter your Windows password to gain access to your desktop.
“If you follow this list, and use our simple instructions, you will become much better protected against the hackers – nobody is ever 100 per cent safe, but you can dramatically lower your potential for falling foul of the hackers,” Mark added.
Meanwhile, Coast Road Councillor James McKeown has warned people to be extremely careful about how much information they post on sites such as facebook.
He said that many people, both young and not so young, are unwittingly posting up personal information about their circumstances that can be very useful to “undesirables”.
“A growing number of people are using social media sites, like facebook, to have conversations with their friends or to post photographs of their holidays or just to say what they are doing at any time of the day,” the Sinn Fein representative added.
“This is all very harmless and is a great way for people to keep in contact. Unfortunately, like everything else, there are those who use this information for negative purposes.”
“Revealing that you are currently on holiday can be a signal to others that your house is therefore unoccupied. This can leave you in a very vulnerable position. If people want to post their holiday photos on social media sites, I would strongly advise that they delay doing this until they get home. This way you are not revealing your current whereabouts and leaving it that bit easier for the anti social elements in our midst,” he concluded