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Hacker Turn-ons and Turn-offs

Learn how attract a hacker or drive one away

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Photo: Gary Buss / Getty

Some systems are more appealing to hackers than others. What makes your system more attractive to a hacker than one down the street? Hackers love vulnerabilities of all shapes and sizes. Whether you're trying to attract a hacker or give one the cold shoulder, here are the biggest hacker turn-ons and turn-offs.

Hacker turn-on: Unsecured wireless access points

Hackers love unsecured wireless access points almost more than a can of Red Bull. If you have a wireless network and you're not using any encryption or you're using the highly crackable Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) standard then you'll practically have to fight the hackers off with a stick because they will be climbing over each other to try and get a piece of the sweet juicy free Internet access your handing out.

Another major reason hackers love open wireless hotspots is because whatever they do while their attached to your wireless network won't be traced back to them, it will be traced back to your connection.

To make your wireless network less appealing, enable WPA2 encryption on your wireless access point and change the default SSID (wireless network name). Set a strong password for your wireless network to discourage password crackers.

Hacker turn-off: Strong passwords

One major hacker turn off is a strong password. A hacker may have a lot of patience when it comes to breaking passwords, but they may not want to waste a lot of time if your password isn't simple enough to be easily cracked with dictionary attacks or brute force password cracking tools.

A complex password of a length of 15 or more characters will likely cause a hacker to move on to an easier target. A determined hacker may use specialized password cracking tools based on Rainbow Tables to try and crack your password, but these tables often don't support passwords longer than 15 characters without requiring a ton of storage.

Hacker turn-on: Default passwords

On the complete opposite end of the password spectrum are default passwords. A lot of network devices and software applications have built-in factory-default passwords that many people don't bother changing. These passwords are readily found on the internet and give hackers an easy way into your network.

Hacker turn-on: Unpatched operating system / application vulnerabilities

Another thing hackers love more than a closet full of Sheldon's tees are unpatched vulnerabilities. Security researchers (and hackers) are constantly discovering new vulnerabilities in operating systems and applications. Once a vulnerability is discovered, a fix is usually developed and issued by the application or OS developer. This happens so often with some software that patches are released on almost a weekly basis (i.e. Microsoft's "Patch Tuesday").

If you don't keep up with the patching cycle and install all security-related patches then you can leave yourself open to attack.

Set the automatic update protection offered by your operating system and also check for new versions of apps that you have installed. You can usually update directly from an app by choosing the "check for update" option often found in the help menu.

Hacker turn-off: Personal VPNs

Probably the biggest hacker turn-off of them all are personal VPNs. Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) used to be an exclusive luxury of large corporations with deep pockets for security. Now anyone who wants one can pay as little as $10 a month and have their own personal VPN that will stop most hackers out there.

Personal VPNs are offered by many service providers and have several benefits. Obviously the first and biggest benefit is that they encrypt all network traffic coming in and going out of your computer. Hackers can't see the traffic because it is encrypted.

Another benefit personal VPNs provide is that they route your traffic through proxy servers that obscure your location and identity. Many providers will also allow you to rotate your IP address on a regular basis.

In addition to providing protection for your home computer, many VPN providers will let you connect to their VPN service via your smartphone so you can enjoy many of the same privacy and security benefits on your mobile.

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