types of hack

How much can a single click cost you? Sometimes a few seconds of your time if you accidentally follow a link, or a few nerve cells if the website bombards you with ads and pop-ups. Other times, a single click can cost you your credit card, a beloved phone, or an entire business.

Hackers are always on the lookout for new ways to exploit vulnerabilities on different networks, mobile devices, and computer systems. So how do you protect your online data from common hackers? Let’s look at the eight most common types of hacks and how you can prevent yourself from becoming a victim to them.

    8 types of hacking techniques to be aware of

    1. Malware


    Malware refers to any computer virus, worm, trojan horse, spyware, ransomware, adware, or other malicious software. It’s been plaguing us since the dawn of computers, and can sneak into your device without you even knowing. For example, you might get it when you visit an infected website or if you download files from unknown sources.

    Tips to avoid malware

    • Use antivirus and malware protection software to monitor your computer system.
    • Use an Adblock VPN to protect yourself against ads and harmful websites.
    • Update your PC and software regularly, so all vulnerabilities and identified weaknesses get patched.
    • Don’t open email attachments from unknown sources. Scan all files and photos you download with an antivirus before opening them.
    • Don’t download anything from pop-up windows.

    Can a VPN help prevent malware?

    Surfshark’s CleanWeb Adblock VPN protects you from malware by keeping you from visiting malicious sites and clicking dangerous links. It also blocks known harmful ads and prevents viruses so you can browse safely.

    2. Bait and switch

    Bait and switch hacking lures victims into downloading malicious software or clicking on malicious links by disguising them as legitimate. Bait and switch links are often disguised as anything from pictures to video files or social media links, and are a very common type of hack on social media platforms.

    Tips to avoid bait and switch hacks:

    • Use ad-blockers and browser extensions that block known malware sites.
    • If a reputable website promotes anything unusual, be sure it’s real by going directly to their official page and looking for the deal.
    • Check if the websites were hijacked by hackers with tools like URLvoid or VirusTotal.
    • Look for signs of malicious apps and software using anti-malware or anti-virus tools.
    • Avoid ads or websites that promote too-good-to-be-true deals or free stuff. Also, beware of poor grammar in emails or websites. You can check if the text has any mistakes by copying it into grammarly.

    Can a VPN help prevent bait and switch?

    CleanWeb’s database includes approximately one million infected websites and ads. If a harmful website is in the database, Surfshark will prevent the site or ad from loading.

    3. Cookie theft

    Cookie theft

    Cookies are files that record your online browsing data and preferences. Using a victim’s session ID, hackers can duplicate that cookie and hijack your session even if your user credentials are encrypted. 

    After cookie theft and session hijacking, hackers can access your active session (i.e., whatever you’re doing on your browser at that moment). That’s why many websites ask you to log in after five minutes of inactivity. Most cookie theft occurs through unsecured public Wi-Fi.  

    Tips to avoid cookie theft:

    • Use a VPN when connecting to a public Wi-Fi network, or avoid public hotspots altogether.
    • Clear your cookies after each browsing session (or set your browser to do so automatically). Also, check out our article on how to stop cookie pop-ups.
    • Use a VPN to encrypt your internet traffic. 
    • Only browse on HTTPS connections. HTTP connections are not secure, and your browser will warn you if you try to connect to an HTTP site. If you’re still unsure, look for the lock icon next to your URL in the address bar.

    Can a VPN help prevent cookie theft?

    Yes, a VPN encrypts and hides your internet traffic, and likewise – your cookie information that you exchange with the website.

    4. Fake WAP (Wireless Access Point)

    Fake WAP is a cyberattack when a hacker sets up a fake Wi-Fi spot with a convincingly real name in a public location (e.g. “Starbucks WiFi”). When you connect to this fake spot, hackers can monitor and even modify internet connections to steal sensitive data or compel the user to download malware onto their device. Such attacks also lead to Man-in-the-Middle hacks, which we will talk about next. 

    Tips to avoid fake WAP attacks:

    • Avoid public Wi-Fi connections if possible, or use a VPN when you do use it.
    • If you have to connect to public Wi-Fi, search the location for an official Wi-Fi network name and password. To be extra cautious – ask an employee what the legitimate network is called before connecting. 
    • Encrypt your internet traffic with a VPN.

    Can a VPN help prevent fake WAP attacks?

    Yes! Surfshark VPN encrypts your data, making it impossible for a hacker to access your browsing information. It is still best to avoid fake WAPs in the first place, though.

    5. Man-in-the-Middle attack

    Man-in-the-Middle attack

    Man-in-the-Middle attacks are a type of cyberattack where the hacker places himself between two parties communicating over a connection. This allows him to intercept, modify or prevent their communication.

    For example, assume you get an email from your bank asking you to confirm your contact data. The email contains a link to your bank’s website, which you click and then log in. But the website isn’t the bank’s, and you’re really giving the attacker your credentials.

    The worst part about this attack is if the hacker’s already in the middle, encryption won’t help.

    Tips to avoid Man-in-the-Middle attacks:

    • Carefully check websites and URLs for typos, domain spoofing, etc. (learn more about URL structure and how to spot fake websites in our article URL phishing: Links engineered to hook you)
    • Make sure you browse on secured websites with HTTPS in the browser.
    • Make sure you are browsing a legitimate website using URLvoid or VirusTotal.
    • If you are unsure about scenarios like the bank example, type the URL into the browser as you normally would instead of clicking the link.
    • Avoid connecting to public Wi-Fi networks. Use a VPN if you absolutely need to use public Wi-Fi.
    • Protect yourself against malware by using malware protection software.

    Can a VPN help prevent Man-in-the-Middle attacks?

    Surfshark VPN can help prevent Man-in-the-Middle attacks because it hides browsing data. However, once a Man-in-the-Middle attack has happened without an encrypted connection, a VPN can’t help.

    6. Denial of Service/Distributed Denial of Service (DoS/DDoS)

    A denial-of-service (DoS) attack is a cyberattack in which the perpetrator seeks to make a service unavailable by flooding it with requests (e.g., you make a request to a website every time you try to access it). 

    In contrast, a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack involves multiple machines that generate data requests from different IP addresses, making it difficult to filter out malicious traffic. 

    DoS and DDoS attacks are hard to defend against. This can either crash or slow down servers and make business websites unusable. Cutting off a business from the internet can cost them a lot of money.

    Tips for individuals to avoid DoS/DDoS attacks:

    • Reset your IP address on a regular basis.
    • Always check the links you’re about to follow from emails or random parts on the internet with VirusTotal.
    • Improve your home connection by regularly renewing your hardware, and making sure it’s up to date

    Tips for organizations to avoid DoS/DDoS attacks:

    • Move to a cloud. Clouds have more bandwidth and stronger network security than most private networks, and are safer against DoS attacks.
    • Look out for unusual activity outside of the network’s normal traffic pattern.
    • Promote good cybersecurity and network security hygiene practices among your employees.
    • Boost your bandwidth to handle more traffic volume.
    • Have a response plan in place to quickly recover in the case of an attack.

    Can a VPN help prevent DoS/DDoS attacks?

    A VPN can help prevent DoS/DDoS attacks to a degree that it hides your real IP address. However, if someone already has your IP address and tries to flood it with requests, a VPN can’t do anything in this case.

    7. Phishing


    Phishing is a cyberattack that aims to lure its victims’ credentials out without making any changes to a device. It can come as email, text, or phone call, and appear to be from a trustworthy source but is actually from someone trying to gain access to personal information. These emails often ask for specific data like credit card details, account numbers, passwords, PINs, and more.

    Phishing emails usually include intimidating messages that urge the receiver to respond immediately. To make a phishing attack seem more official, they typically incorporate the organization’s trademarks and design components. These attacks are one of the most popular methods hackers use to steal your data. 

    Want to learn more about this hacking technique? We’ve got you covered on information about phishing.

    Tips to avoid phishing attacks:

    • Think twice before you hand over sensitive information. Verify that the message actually came from the claimed sender.
    • Look for grammatical errors, logos that look just a bit off, strange formatting, and other signs that are not typical of the company or person that the sender claims to be.
    • Don’t open attachments that come in your email. Always scan them for viruses and malware on cybersecurity sites we‘ve mentioned before.
    • Never blindly follow links in your emails. Hover over them to see where they actually lead and check the URL on cybersecurity websites if it’s phishy.
    • Watch out for a sense of urgency in a phishing email. This is a method to get users to hand over information or click links quickly without thinking about it.
    • Read cybersecurity news to stay informed of the latest phishing techniques; they are constantly evolving.

    Can a VPN help prevent phishing attacks?

    In most cases, Surfshark’s CleanWeb can help with phishing links and malicious ads. But be cautious about handing over information such as financial data or passwords since no VPN can help in that scenario. 

    8. SQL Injection

    SQL injection is a code injection technique that exploits security vulnerabilities on websites. An attacker can insert malicious code, modify or delete database data or even issue commands to the underlying database management system by injecting SQL statements. These are then executed as part of the original database system.

    In most cases, such attacks allow hackers to gain access to information that they would not otherwise be able to access. This information could be sensitive data like login credentials, payment information, and more.

    Tips to avoid the damage from SQL Injection:

    Since this hacking technique happens at the code level, there is not much that consumers can do to protect themselves other than stay alert about websites that have been hacked. 

    In theory, services should notify you if leaks happen. However, many companies hide such facts until the last minute to postpone reputation and revenue losses. Even then, information about leaks usually appears in hacker forums before the companies announce it. To avoid possible damage, get a service that notifies you if any breaches happen to your email, ID, or password, like Surfshark Alert.

    Can a VPN help prevent SQL injections?

    No. SQL injection is not something VPNs can assist with since it impacts databases on a fundamental level involving code.

    Tips to protect yourself against hackers

    All the types of common hacking techniques may seem daunting, but you can generally protect yourself online with the following tips: 

    1. Always keep your software up-to-date. Companies often release patches to security vulnerabilities.
    2. Enable firewalls. They won’t block all hackers, but they will slow them down.
    3. Use antivirus software to catch malware and viruses quickly.
    4. Change your router’s password and firmware regularly. Disable UPnP, Remote Access, and WPS to increase security.
    5. Avoid using public Wi-Fi without a VPN. Since it’s unsecured, most hackers can easily gain access to your information and steal your data.
    6. Use a VPN. VPNs encrypt your browsing data and IP address, so it protects against several types of hackers.
    7. Stay up to date on the latest threats in cybersecurity. 

    Protect yourself from different types of hacks

    Cybersecurity is already paramount in our lives and it will only get more important as our lives become more digital. There are two things that can help you protect yourself from cybercriminals and different types of hacks – tools and awareness.

    For tools, I recommend you start using a VPN and antivirus software every day (Surfshark has both). For awareness, cybersecurity blogs and news sites can help you out. And if you prefer more digestible content, check out our YouTube channel for the latest Cybernews.

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