Is there a hacker in your house?

photo of white text on black screen, command logs

Wednesday, 2 October, 2019

In 2017, a newspaper in Liverpool published a list of behaviours to help parents work out whether their child was a computer hacker.

While the article was clearly well-intentioned, many of the attributes listed also characterise people who are simply very skilled at (or interested in) computing.

In other words, the list could help parents to know whether their child was likely to be a hacker or the CEO of a multi-million-pound tech firm.

It just couldn’t tell one from the other.

Spotting the signs early

New research from Michigan State University might prove a little more useful when it comes to spotting a potential hacker in your home.

It reveals that an interest in hacking typically starts in early adolescence, though male and female hackers develop differently.

While adolescent girls are less likely to be hackers than boys, evidence suggests this is at least partly because their parents monitor their online activity more carefully.

Parents would do well to supervise their children’s use of the broadband regardless of gender – particularly if those children show an above-average interest in hacking and cybercrime.

In general, hanging around with friends who commit crimes of any sort (especially online) makes it more likely a child will become interested in conducting illegal activities online.

This association was particularly strong for girls, who were much more likely to hack if they spent a lot of time with peers who committed offline crime like shoplifting.

A history of other dubious online behaviour like piracy also increases the odds that a young person will try hacking.

Low self-control is another risk factor for hacking – as it is for crime in general.

The enemy without

A hacker inside your home may use your own broadband, or hack into another person’s.

In a similar way, your WiFi may be hijacked by hackers or cybercriminals outside your own four walls.

Both these situations are undesirable. Not least because if somebody is committing crime via your broadband connection, you could be held responsible.

It’s not always obvious that somebody has piggybacked onto your broadband, although slower loading times and frequently dropped connections are common indicators.

If your router lights are blinking away when every device should be offline, that might also indicate a compromised WiFi connection.

If culprits get into your settings menu and change your password, you could be locked out of your own network – frustrating and embarrassing in equal measure.

To prevent this, take sensible precautions such as changing your network password from the default, and giving the connection a name that isn’t associated with you or your property.

It’s advisable to enable WPA2-PSK encryption, while keeping your router away from entry points like windows or external walls.

If your connection has already been hacked, change your password immediately (bearing in mind this may mean you have to change passwords for all devices) and monitor router use.

If the hacker gets in again, do a factory reset on your router and set everything up again. Change the password, enabling WPA2-PSK encryption and the router’s own firewall.

Above all, whether your cybercrime risk comes from within your home or outside it, always observe the basic rules of online security.

Keep networks secured with bespoke passwords, never open unsolicited email attachments, don’t hand out WiFi login credentials to strangers – and remain vigilant at all times.

Neil Cumins author picture

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Neil is our resident tech expert. He's written guides on loads of broadband head-scratchers and is determined to solve all your technology problems!

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