8 On Your Side: Keeping Your Home Computer Safe from Hackers
02-08-2007, 8 On Your Side - Mark Bradshaw
Tulsa - Is your home computer safe from hackers? One recent report about cyberspace security shows that 86-percent of all attacks against computers are now directed at home users. That's because they are less likely to have adequate security measures in place. 8 On Your Side's Mark Bradshaw shows you how to fight back.

People know how to lock their doors and close the blinds. But, most haven't developed the same habits with their computers. Many have a lot of personal information on their home PCs -- information that hackers want. After hearing that, you may want to unplug your home computer. But, 8 On Your Side found some simple ways to keep that information from getting into the wrong hands.
"It's not that hard if you know what you're looking for."

And, for many years, this former hacker, who didn't want his face shown, knew what to look for and make a lot of money doing it.

"If you start getting careless and put personal information on there, then you have a chance of someone messing with your life and that's a dangerous game."

I know what you're thinking. All of us have personal information on our computers because we bank online and buy things online. So how do we best protect it from getting into the hands of someone who wants to mess with our lives? We went to computer whiz and security expert Gavin Manes for help.

"If they come across your computer on the Internet and there's no security controls, its easy," Manes says. "There's no challenge to them, they just take it and move on."

To make your computer more of a challenge, especially if you're on a wireless network at home, Manes recommends the usual precautions -- up-to-date anti-virus and anti-spyware and spam filtering, along with a sturdy firewall. But, he says one of the best defenses to protecting your information is as simple as a good password. With a bad one, Manes says it's just like shouting sensitive information to your attorney from across the street. Others can also hear it.

We chose "channel 8" as a password to protect an important document. But, look what happens when Manes uses a simple tool used by hackers to crack it.

"And it's unlocked the password like that because it was a poor password."

Channel 8 is a poor password because it's a word and number -- that's no challenge for he hacking device.

"And it went through every illiteration in the dictionary that fast."

Manes says the best password is at least 8 characters long, has a combination of numbers, upper and lower case letters, and special characters. Even the word "password", which by the way normally is the worst password you can use, can be one of the best, if it has all those combinations. We used it to protect our important document, and 15 minutes and nearly 250 million tries later, the hacking device still hadn't cracked it.

"Right now what am I going to do? I'm going to give up and move on."

Which is what this former hacker says he would have done after trying to crack the password on our computer. In time, he could've gotten in. But for cyber crooks, there's always another computer with the front door left wide open.

Both of our experts say the only way to completely protect yourself from hackers is to never put any personal information on your computer. While that's virtually impossible nowadays, at least you can put up enough roadblocks so hackers will move on to a computer that's more of a challenge.

To learn more about computer security and to test your computer's vulnerability to online threats, visit http://www.staysafeonline.info/