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Learn how to think like a hacker

Computer hacking is truly an epidemic. One of the best ways to protect yourself is to think like a hacker. Our technology expert, Darwyn Metzger, recently talked with a highly-skilled computer hacker who spends his days and nights trying to steal people's most sensitive information. You'll want to hear what he learned.

Computer hackers aren't just a threat to national security. They're a threat to your privacy and even your livelihood. Your personal information? Nothing more than a commodity in their billion-dollar black-market enterprise. Hackers can get anywhere from $300 for your credit card number to $5,000 for your bank info. In order to protect yourself from hackers, you're first going to have to learn how to think like one.

"George" is a major player in the growing world of computer hacking. He's agreed to talk with America Now on the condition that we do not reveal his true identity.

DARWYN: How did you get into hacking in the first place?

GEORGE: I've been hacking since I could take apart a computer. I took apart my first computer when I was six and from there it's just been breaking stuff and making it work ever since.

DARWYN: Are Americans more targeted than people from other countries?

GEORGE: I personally think so, because they're a little bit naive when it comes to their regular, everyday computer usage.

DARWYN METZGER: In terms of what hackers can steal, credit cards?

GEORGE: Oh, yeah. Yes.

DARWYN: DMV information?

GEORGE: Definitely.

DARWYN: Social security?

GEORGE: Without a doubt.

DARWYN: Bank information?

GEORGE: It's generally pretty easy.

DARWYN: So, anything that's on the Internet is potentially vulnerable?

GEORGE: Pretty much.

DARWYN: Do you ever feel bad about hacking into people's accounts?

GEORGE: No. I mean, it's what I get paid to do. I get paid to do a job and I'm good at it.

DARWYN: How can people learn to think like a hacker in order to protect themselves?

GEORGE: Think kinda like a common thief. Hackers think along the lines of, Is this gonna be easy for me? Is this an easy target or not? To not make yourself a target; all you have to do is make sure your machine is completely up to date. Update your software. Update your virus scanner. Because it's the machines that aren't up to date, the ones that don't run virus scanners that hackers look at and say, 'Oh, look. Easy target. Okay.'

Don't use common words for passwords. Not using the same password for every site is a big deal because once one password and user name is gotten, then if you use that same user name and password for everything, everything you do on line is compromised.

DARWYN: What are some common passwords that hackers are always hacking?

GEORGE: Your name. If we know the target's name, using your name or parts of your name is a no-no for your password. Using the street that you live on. Using a pet's name. Using words like monkey. Monkey is a very popular password for some reason. You know, there's numeric stuff like, you know, the repeating numbers like 1, 2, 3 … 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 … 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 … 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3 … all repeating digits.

DARWYN: So, if someone sitting at home just heard their password, should they go change it?

GEORGE: Yes, they most definitely should, but it's probably already too late.

The bottom line: If your personal and financial information is online, it can potentially be stolen. But hackers, like predators in the wild, tend to go after the weakest link. Your job? Don't be weak, which means changing your passwords frequently and always being concerned about strange e-mails, even if they appear to come from a friend. Unless you want to meet a new friend, like George.

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