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The idea of computer hacking typically brings up stereotypical ideas of the nerdy guy sitting behind a computer banging away on the keyboard beside a mountain of empty soda cans and pizza boxes. Movies and TV shows tend to portray hackers as extremely intelligent people with some sort of social anxiety and not much luck with the ladies. While these comic interpretations of the classic ‘nerd’ make for good entertainment, the truth is that computer hackers are criminals who cost people and companies time and money.
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On the individual level, victims of computer hackers can lose their life savings and have their financial status turned upside down via identity theft and other nefarious online crimes. I used to work in the Fraud department of a large bank and it was on a fairly regular basis that we had elderly customers calling either to complain that they thought someone was trying to rip them off or admitting that they may have made a mistake in giving money to someone online or over the phone. A victim of identity theft could see their credit history ruined in a way that takes months, if not years, to rebuild. Sometimes those victims don’t get their money back at all.
In the early days of computing, it used to be that viruses were the biggest security risk you would encounter. Virus infections ranged from annoying to destructive, depending on what it was. In recent years, viruses have been replaced by malware programs like fake virus scanners and keyloggers that are designed to trick users into giving up their financial information or just steal it from the user. These malware programs take over the computer and let some hacker on the other end use that infected machine to send spam and more. It’s an online epidemic and the antivirus and antimalware software makers can’t really keep up. Instead of writing viruses for fun, hackers are now creating malware to make money, and easy financial gain only motivates them more.
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Companies and Organizations
What are the effects of computer hacking to an organization like a big company or even a small business? The potential for destruction is devastating. On a smaller scale, hackers could put some people out of work for a short period of time while their computers are cleaned of the malicious software imposed upon them. This downtime means work is not getting done and I’ve seen it happen at my own job. On a larger scale, there is the very real threat of corporate secrets being stolen and sold to competitors, financial information being compromised, internal messages being used to defame high ranking employees, and much more. The larger the company or organization, the more potential there is for damage.
Furthermore, because of hackers and computer criminals, companies must spend a small fortune on security software and hardware, as well as employ knowledgeable experts to regularly monitor the network for intrusion attempts. It used to be that a bank needed a strong vault and heavy doors, but now they need a full team of security experts to keep online criminals from sneaking through the electronic ‘back door’ and cleaning out more funds than any robber with a gun could carry out by hand.
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Society in General
If you look at the broad definition of the term and ask yourself what are the effects of computer hacking on the way we live, you’ll see how technology and the need for added security regularly dominates our lives. We are now required to memorize password and passcodes in order to access email, online banking information, or sometimes just to get inside a building. Our email boxes are flooded with spam messages that advertise questionable health products and sometimes promise millions of dollars in exchange for some personal information. With smartphones and other web-enabled mobile devices gaining popularity like mad, it’s only a matter of time before malware and viruses start affecting them, too. Until more regulations are put in place to stop this international digital criminal activity, I truly believe that the problems caused by computer hackers all across the globe are only going to get worse.