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What Information Can Hackers See if They Gain Access to My Computer?

Chuck from OH asks:

I have always wondered what hackers could see on my computer if they ever broke in. Can they see my passwords? My Files? I’d sure appreciate some insight!

Excellent question; and one that I’m sure most people have wondered. The prospect of someone with ill intent having access to everything you store, or do, on your personal computer is a little scary. Just because you aren’t visiting questionable websites or writing anti-government propaganda doesn’t mean you want just anyone to have access to your personal life on such an intimate level. And let’s face it, most of us store a ton of personal information on our pc… whether we mean to or not.

The simple answer to your question is “yes”. Yes to all of it. However, consider the following: Hackers may be seedy individuals, but you may be able to take a little bit of comfort if you consider what most hackers are after. First, hackers generally don’t know you or care anything about your music files or the pictures from your latest parties. Hackers are in the business of attaining information that makes their time and effort worthwhile. Hackers are after your money. Not always, but almost always.

This isn’t to say that you should be comforted that they are only after your money… that’s pretty serious business, but it is good to know that you probably aren’t going to be the target of personal attacks aimed at ruining your reputation.

If you have ever received an unsolicited email or “spam”, you have been the intended target of a hacker. If you opened the email and clicked on an image or a link, you opened the door between your computer and the hacker’s. Any time your computer is infected with spyware or malware, you may be the victim of a hacker, and most likely the one who allowed him or her access. Hackers write code and create viruses that can be transmitted to your pc simply by you opening the wrong file, or clicking on a pop-up that catches your attention. Once you grant them access to your pc, the possibilities can be endless.

Viruses, malware, and adware are currently being distributed that allow hackers access to your files, passwords, photos, emails, and anything else you store on your pc. Programs exist which give hackers access to each keystroke you make. Some can even activate your computer’s webcam. These, of course, are extreme instances and are not the types of attacks that generally take place against private citizens. But still – these are the capabilities of hackers today. However, unless you are a politician, your private life will probably remain private even if you are the victim of a cyber attack.

Fortunately, you hold the power to keep your pc, your finances, and your taste in music safe. It sounds overly simple, but your best defense is strong and multiple password use. It seems like a pain to have a bunch of passwords to remember, but it makes you far less vulnerable should you ever be hacked. When you receive alerts about security subscriptions nearing expiration, don’t hit the “remind me later” button for six months – Update! Use the “spam” folder in your email accounts and make sure your protections are set to only allow email from approved senders. Resist the temptation to click on the flashy box to the right of your screen promising a flat belly without doing anything more than earning a million dollars a week while working from home. By keeping your antivirus updated and practicing safe Internet browsing, you will drastically reduce your chances of being the target of a malicious Internet user.

~Chad Stetson