By Tracy Haney/Accent editor

They creep into your hard drive, run amok in your files and steal personal information. These electronic villains are known as hackers, and everyone is a potential victim. Even computer science associate professor Eugene Styer is not safe. He’s been hit twice.

While reinstalling Windows, Styer said his personal computer was accessed within 15 minutes before he had a chance to download protection.

“If (hackers) get into your system, then any file you have is potentially accessible,” Styer said.

He suggests anyone with a personal computer visit http://windowsupdate. microsoft.com to download patches, which protect computers from potential violators.

“If those (protective measures) aren’t done, then that leaves an opening where (hackers) can get into your computer,” Styer said.

Other ways to protect your computer, according to Styer, include simply disconnecting from the Internet when not in use.

“If you really don’t need to be doing anything, then disconnect it,” Styer said. “It’s sort of like closing a door behind you.”

He also suggests putting a password on your computer and making it one others won’t guess.

“Your girlfriend’s name is not a good password,” Styer said. “The more obscure the password the harder it’s going to be to guess.”

Styer said most people aren’t aware of their vulnerability to be victimized by a hacker until it’s too late, and computers are making identity theft a lot easier.

RESNET tech engineer Dave Ledford agrees. He said computers are becoming a more powerful tool for those looking to obtain personal information about other people. However, Ledford said a lot of the time the victims are simply giving the information out in chat rooms or on electronic forms.

“If you don’t practice safe computing then it’s very easy to get your information,” Ledford said. “You wouldn’t go into a bar and say ‘here’s my address.'”

College students, according to Ledford, have an additional risk to becoming the victim of a hacker.

He said people have the potential to gain access to others’ Blackboard or school accounts if students are not careful. If the right information is found, hackers can even drop all of someone’s classes and un-enroll him or her from the university.

General tips Ledford offers are to watch what you are sharing on the network and only give personal information to reputable companies or companies you or your friends have done business with before.

He also suggests students not give out their Eastern e-mail account for non-school use. Instead, create a separate account through another provider like Hotmail.

Ledford said the people concerned about hackers “runs the whole gamut.”

“You have students who are aware and overly protective and you have students who don’t care,” Ledford said, noting it’s better to be overzealous about protecting your computer than not concerned enough.

Senior Charley Hamilton updates his computer protection every day, but he still knows somebody out there could break into his system if given enough time.

“I have a wireless network at home. It’s all encrypted, firewalled – everything you can think of,” Hamilton said. “If you don’t manually update your computer, you’re not protected. If most people knew how easy it was (to hack), they probably wouldn’t even turn a computer on.”

Reach Tracy at tracy_haney5@eku.edu