'NOVA: Rise of the Hackers' newsflash: Your personal information isn't safe online

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Warning: Personal information stored online isn't safe.

That likely won't come as a huge surprise to most, given recent events in the news. But the ways in which hackers can access not only your information, but business and government computers and even hijack the operations of a nuclear facility, are many, and some are detailed in the fascinating PBS "NOVA" documentary "Rise of the Hackers," premiering Wednesday, Sept. 24 (check local listings).

Some of the attacks are through ultra-sophisticated computing; others, garden-variety subterfuge.

Take, for instance, the first story in the film, of tech journalist Mat Honan, whose smartphone, laptop and online accounts were hacked by a couple of crafty teens. And the perps created the way in when they called Amazon and added a fake credit card number to his account, then called later and asked for a password reset. From there, they could glean information that opened doors to everything from his Apple to his Twitter accounts.

Those loopholes, the film notes, have since been closed.

"That's the idea that the humans are the weakest link, in a way," enior producer Julia Cort tells Zap2it. "Computer scientists have figured out how to protect information, but because we humans are the ones using the computers, we're the ones who aren't perfect and we're the ones who make mistakes and trust things we shouldn't trust."

From there it gets scarier. The notorious stuxnet virus, which brought an Iranian nuclear plant that was enriching uranium to its knees in 2009, escaped onto the Internet and infected more than 100,000 computers worldwide, meaning power grids and transportation and water distribution systems are now at risk. One expert in the film calls it a "digital Pandora's Box."

Other topics covered include the role of prime numbers (numbers that can be divided only by themselves and one) in online banking and shopping -- and how that can be exploited -- and "ultraparanoid computing," the use of a computer user's unconscious mind in authenticating their identity.

Photo/Video credit: PBS