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Inside the Mind of a Hacker

Posted on by Dawna M. Roberts in SecurityJanuary 18, 2021

If your company has been the victim of a cyber-attack, you know it can be costly and emotionally scarring. If you have customers or vendors who are affected, it can impact your reputation and, in some cases, put you out of business.

What motivates hackers to break into companies, do damage, or steal and leak data?

Inside the Mind of a Hacker

What Is The Primary Motivation of the Average Hacker?

Young, impressionable hackers often start off exploring the dark web. Once they connect with a group of like-minded individuals, they feel "accepted." If they were loners before, now they have a pack to call family. Peer pressure often factors in, and hackers like to impress one another with various feats of gaining entry into secure areas that before were untouchable. It's a challenge, and one hacker put it this way "Knowledge is power, and the power is online."

Some serious hackers actually study human psychology because they find human behavior and habits fascinating. The unnamed hacker explained, "People give hints about their lives all over the web; you just have to be patient, curious, and perseverant. Data that people see as meaningless happens to be gold when analyzed together."

She explained what motivates her, "I'm a freelancer. I work here and there, and I'm a hacker for amusement. It makes me feel a bit like a superhero too. When I don't like a brand or a person, I hack them; I take revenge."

From the message above, it appears that what motivates some hackers is revenge. Someone does them wrong, and they target that person or company first, taking a deep dive into their background to get all the information they need to attack.

Revenge is not the only motivation. In poor countries, hacker groups start as a way to make serious money. Foreign governments pay some hackers to work as agents spying on other countries' governments or corporate targets. Regardless, psychology is always at the heart of it all. 

Not all hackers perform black hat operations; some actually work to stop the cybercriminals and want to be a part of the solution. 

How Do Hackers Hack & Why?

A female hacker agreed to be interviewed by a company in Switzerland and told a play-by-play story of how and why she hacked her latest victim.

She had ordered a product from a large company. The product arrived "not as described," and the company refused to refund her money. Instantly she was angry and decided to take revenge. Her method was very systematic.

1. Research the Target

Research the Target

She took to the internet and found out all she could about the company from their corporate website, noting the CEO, CFO, CIO, and COO's email addresses and names. She then needed to find out what technology they use so she could exploit known vulnerabilities. How did she do that? She commented that it was easy, just read the company's job descriptions where they require new employees to be familiar with Microsoft Office, Outlook, and other online services and tools. Now she knew how to get in.

To fully execute a successful attack, she needed a way in. She found her victim by reviewing job descriptions and decided the COO, a man named Carl, had access to the systems she needed.

She went online and trolled his social media accounts to find out all about him. Although he was divorced and single, he had a few friends, and he was particularly interested in a famous sports figure (golfer). Since he posted about purchasing from a golfing brand online, she chose that account to hack as a first try. 

3. Execute the Hack

She put together a theory based on his interests and information she had gleaned from his social media profiles. She assumed that people are simple and not that complicated. To test her theory, she chose the name of the sports figure Carl liked along with the last year he won the golf championship, and within five tries, she was in his account.

This particular hacker decided to take her frustrations with the company and their refund policy out on one innocent man. However, this story is just one example of how and why hacking takes place.

How to Stop & Report Hackers?

We hear it repeatedly; the biggest reason hacking works is that people behave in predictable ways taking the simplest, not necessarily the safest option available.

how to report hackers

We put too much of ourselves out there online, and it's easy for a total stranger with hacking skills to easily put together an entire profile of us to hack into our most important accounts.

Some suggestions to close the door to hackers and keep them out of your life are:

  • Always use super long, strong passwords. Do not base them on anything related to your life.

  • Never reuse passwords on multiple accounts.

  • Use multi-factor or 2-factor authentication on everything. 

  • Never give out personal information, especially online.

  • Watch out for scams, phishing emails, and fraud.

  • Keep a close eye on your entire digital life and periodically review everything to plug any security holes.

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