In 2013, Yahoo experienced a data breach. However, it wasn’t reported until 2016 when the company announced data had been stolen from 1 billion accounts, including names, emails, and passwords. But it wasn’t until October 2017 that Verizon Communications (the new owner of Yahoo) admitted the hack was far more serious than originally disclosed. It’s now known that all 3 billion Yahoo accounts (including Tumblr, Fantasy, and Flickr) were compromised in the 2013 breach.
And who do investigators believe was behind the Yahoo hack? Russians – and even possibly the Russian government.
With the addition of Equifax, Disney, Chipotle, and Tesco (to name a few) being hacked as well, you may wonder if your information is ever really safe. To find out, we surveyed 785 Americans on how much they knew about some of the biggest hacks in history and the ways their data could be exposed. We also asked about the perceived possibility of each scenario and if some were frankly just impossible. If you still think it couldn’t possibly happen to you, keeping reading to see what we uncovered.
A Brain Breach
With roughly 143 million people affected by the breach, it
could take years to assess the full extent of the damage.
So what comes to mind for most people when thinking about hacking? For a majority of Americans, the answer was Equifax. While more people have been impacted by other attacks in the past, the hacking at Equifax wasn’t focused on MySpace pages or email accounts – it targeted the most sensitive financial data available. With roughly 143 million people affected by the breach, it could take years to assess the full extent of the damage. Unsurprisingly, we found “credit,” “money,” and “data” were also popular responses.
But not all hacks are directly related to personal information. Since President Trump’s election in 2016, people have been asking questions about how a cornerstone of American democracy – free and fair elections – could also have been compromised. According to our survey, “Russians,” “government,” and “election” were also common responses when respondents were asked about hacking.
As more details regarding the presidential election reveal themselves, the Department of Homeland Security confirmed evidence of Russian activity in 21 states. In some parts of the country (including swing states like North Carolina), Russian election hacking actually kept some people out of the voting booths in November 2016.
Seeing Is Believing
Technology can do almost anything. Want to warm up your car with a smartphone app before getting in? That can happen. Want to program your room lights to turn on the moment you step through the door? Easily done. But what about using technology for more malicious purposes, like hacking a baby monitor to watch a child sleep, or cracking through the coding on a smart doorbell? It turns out some of these things are possible as well.
We’ve listed 25 hacks that may seem impossible but have actually happened. Use our interactive graphic to hover over each icon to learn more about the technology in question and just how it could be hacked.
Changing Your Perception
In November 2017, Apple released its widely anticipated iPhone X (as in the 10th anniversary of the iPhone). Besides it’s new OLED display, the iPhone X will be Apple’s first adventure into facial recognition software – although some users may be more skeptical than excited by it based on our survey.
Like U.S. voting fraud, smartwatch break-ins, and wireless network extender hacks, Americans ranked their perception of the possibility of facial recognition software being hacked a 4.2 on our scale, with five being very possible. Where the iPhone is concerned, Apple claims to have the most secure facial recognition software on the market, and tech experts are inclined to believe them.
Hacking scenarios most Americans didn’t think could ever be possible (but were)? Breaching a computer by listening to the rhythm of the computer fan (2.2) or the clicks on a hard drive (2.6) and bringing down a commercial jet remotely with just a smartphone app (2.9).
If you can’t imagine an outside force having a legitimate impact on a presidential election, consider this: It only took computer hackers at a security conference in Las Vegas two hours to infiltrate the machines used in U.S. elections. According to our survey, only 15 percent of Libertarians thought hacking U.S. voting was impossible, compared to less than 9 percent of Republicans and around 6 percent of Democrats.
But what about using a smartphone app to commandeer a commercial jet with the intent of destroying it? Another hacking conference proved it could be done. And prisoners building their own computer out of spare parts to break into a prison’s network and subsequently steal sensitive data? That happened in an Ohio correctional facility in 2015. Our poll found more than 42 percent of Democratic and Independent voters thought hacking a commercial jet with a cellphone was impossible, and more than 1 in 3 Democrats, Independents, and Republicans didn’t believe prisoners could ever break into a prison network with a homemade device.
Real World Hacking Examples
When it comes to hacking, sometimes it’s the major breaches that get all the attention. Like Target or Home Depot, when millions of people are impacted, hacks make headlines. The truth is that hackers could be targeting far more intimate access points when it comes to stealing and exploiting personal data.
By definition, smart technology (like door locks that don’t need keys or a smartwatch connected to the information on your phone) sound like modern-day conveniences. In many cases, they are. But did you know hackers have used these devices in the past to target unsuspecting Americans?
Most respondents were at least cautious toward automated smart home technology. When asked about a number of possible and confirmed hacking attempts, Americans between the ages of 25 and 34 were the least likely to believe technology around their homes could be used against them. Of all the scenarios, between 28 and 45 percent of Americans told us magnets could never hack a smart gun’s authorization systems – even though it’s already been done.
Too Close for Comfort
When you pick up your smartphone to check your email or make a call, do you unlock it with your fingerprint? It turns out that those biometric scanners may not be nearly as secure as you think, and even facial recognition technology may not constitute a truly secure password. Because finger scanners on your smartphone are so small and only capture a fraction of your full fingerprint, falsifying them can be easier than expected.
Of course, if a hacker doesn’t want to take a chance on busting through your fingerprint passcode on blind luck alone, another option could provide a more sure-fire solution. Police in Michigan developed a new tool for getting into victim’s phones when all else fails – reproducing their fingerprints with a 3-D printer. Now imagine if someone else could reproduce your fingerprint with a 3-D printer to use how they wanted. Nearly 1 in 10 male respondents and over 6 percent of women didn’t believe this type of tech hack was even possible.
Other startling breaches people might be surprised to learn could, or have happened? Hacking into a person’s pacemaker to kill them with an otherwise hands-free shock to the heart and being digitally left for dead, allowing someone else to claim your life insurance policy.
Shocking the Experts
You might expect that no industry is more aware of (or prepared for) potential hacking attempts than the technology or IT sectors – but that isn’t always the case.
When asked about some more obscure corporate- and government-level hacking scenarios, a vast majority of people employed in information services and data processing didn’t believe these isolated break-in attempts could be a reality. For instance, imagine hackers accessing a computer with data so secure it can’t be connected to the internet (or other devices with internet access) by monitoring the noises made by the computer’s own fan. It could happen. And the sounds made by the computer’s hard drive? That could happen too.
For the people who make a living off catching these things before they happen, the work of cybersecurity is getting more sophisticated every day. Unfortunately, so are the hackers and the number of people affected by their efforts. In 2016, government agencies and companies across the U.S. were targeted by 1,093 hacking attempts – a 40 percent increase over 2015.
Staying in the Know
Big or small, the way hackers infiltrate the technology around us – from our computers to our smart home devices – is evolving. Hackers aren’t just getting more creative with their efforts; they’ve gotten more successful too. As the hack at Equifax demonstrates, even the most sensitive information can be at risk.
When it comes to protecting your data, experts suggest the iOS software running your iPhone and iPad could be among the most secure options on the market. At The App Factor, our goal is to make sure you know how to use these devices and everything they offer. For the most up-to-date resources on all things iPhone, iPad, Watch, and Mac, The App Factor is your No. 1 source for news and troubleshooting help. Visit us at TheAppFactor.com to learn more.
We surveyed 785 Americans about various hacking scenarios without stating that each scenario had been successfully accomplished. We asked participants to rate each scenario by how possible it would be to perform them.
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