The Number-One Way Hackers Get into a Business Computer

Business data is always at risk. It is much easier for a hacker to target 100 small business computers than it is for them to try and infiltrate a larger enterprise’s network. Small businesses generally don’t invest enough on security and do not take the steps needed to fend off well-known attacks. The number-one way hackers are still getting into where they should not be is by merely emailing the business.

With email, a cybercriminal can send a million messages to a million businesses within minutes. Hackers craft each message to make it past spam filters and land safely in the inbox of the unsuspecting employee. Employees know not to click suspicious links, having been told many times that opening attachments could be harmful. On the other hand, they must do their jobs, and during a typical workday, they encounter many email messages that require them to open an attachment or click a link.

Employees can’t always differentiate a safe attachment from malicious code. Also, they and the business owners might not believe a hacker would waste their time on such a small operation. Small businesses are not safe because they are small; on the contrary, they are more at risk because they are small.

Some criminals hack businesses in nontechnical ways, like sending an email or calling the company to try and trick them into giving out their username and password over the phone. This type of hacking is called social engineering and it works. Employees are there to assist people who contact them. The customer is always right. In most cases, and with the best intentions, they gladly hand over the username and password.

What is Social Engineering? Read more here.

If a hacker, disguised as a customer, sends an email with an attachment to a business, the worker getting the initial email will most often open it. The attacker might send a picture and ask the business to give a quote on a service for the attached picture. This practice is typical, and it’s an easy way for hackers to get people to open attachments.

Unsuspecting victims are still inclined to open email messages with scary subjects. Hackers pretending to be from the help desk or the IT department will send dire threats and warnings. The email warns the recipient that if they do not click a link to reset their email password, their account will be deleted. That is a scary thought, and since people trust the help desk or IT department, they quickly click the link. Once a link gets clicked, or an attachment opened, many different things could happen — none of them good.

Some attackers will do this to gain access to encrypt a business’s computer hard drive or even the whole network, and then demand a ransom for the data. The only way to decrypt it is to pay the hacker, who usually expects to get settled in cryptocurrency like bitcoin. The business owner has a strict deadline for payment, after which the ransom increases; so they scramble to buy enough bitcoins before the first due date, or get stuck paying a higher ransom.

Ransomware is widespread, and the criminals often operate in other countries such as Russia or China where local law enforcement can’t get to them. Some business owners waste valuable time trying to get help from someone who can’t give it, and end up missing the deadline.

In many instances, the attacker takes the money releases the data. Some attackers will restore some of it and demand even more money for more data or just run away with the money. Some attackers will release the data but leave the code on the machine so that a few months later, they can repeat the process.

Another way of clicking a link can cause damage to small businesses is the installation of malware that hijacks the browsers. This kind of attack will force a user to only visit the sites the bad guy wants them to visit. No matter what is typed into the address bar, the web pages will be redirected to only their site. Often they will fix this issue if the business pays money. An IT expert can usually fix this issue, but the business wastes time and money trying to get it resolved.

A malicious hacker will illegally penetrate a system through an email scheme and delete all the data from the system. Hacktivists and competitors do this because it causes so much damage and is hard to recover from if there is no backup. The purpose of this attack is not to steal or gain money from a small business; it is designed to inflict damage.

In the most destructive attack, a user opens an attachment, and nothing appears to have happened at all. Many hackers use links in email messages to install stealth software on a business computer. Users have no idea the program is running silently in the background, possibly stealing every piece of information from the machine and sending it right to the criminal’s computer.

It is normal for these programs to work as keyloggers, which record every keystroke a user makes. The observant hacker can get the username and passwords of anything the user has logged in to, including company secrets and personal banking information. Furthermore, the hacker has full control of the PC and can make it a zombie, wherein the hacker can make the work PC perform activities that are illegal and damaging to the business. The hacker can make the computer send out millions of spam emails at night when no one is in the office to see. 

This activity, when detected, can result in the small business getting blacklisted as a criminal enterprise. The hacker can gather many zombies and use them all to attack a specific target at the exact same time. Or the criminal can just sit back and let their application continue to steal business information for years and years, unbeknownst to anyone in the company.  

Email is the number-one way that hackers infiltrate business and personal computer networks because it works, and criminals are only getting better and better at it. Even though users have been warned many times over how dangerous it might be to click a link, someone still does so every day. It does not take a hacker with elite technical skills to break into a computer, just a malcontent who knows how to send a specially crafted email message.

If you need help with your IT, contact the team at Nexus on 01753 884700.

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