Hackers: Who are they?

Forget what you see in the media. The vast majority of hackers don’t sit in bunkers wearing masks and sinister hoods, and they don’t sit behind a wall of monitors with binary code flashing across the screen like in the Matrix.

Do a Google image search for hackers, and you will be presented with countless images of men wearing balaclavas and masks (why would a hacker need to wear a mask? Short answer, they don’t.) sat at a computer.

The way hackers are represented in the media often reminds us of evil geniuses who are out to get all of us. Some, of course, do work for nation states and have access to the most sophisticated of equipment, but the  majority who commit the crimes and incidents we see reported on a near daily basis are often just people sat in their bedrooms.

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Showing off

Take the TalkTalk breach of 2015; it wasn’t some master hacker that was behind it, but rather a bored 15-year old boy who discovered a vulnerability and posted the details online for other hackers to exploit.

The boy told magistrates that he was ‘just showing off’ to his mates.

The fallout from the incident reportedly cost the company more than £42 million.

Most of the time these young men and women are experimenting or simply showing off what they can do to their peers. Others are self-taught criminals who see cybercrime as an easy way to make money or cause disruption than more traditional (and riskier) types of crime.

Often hackers are opportunists. If they encounter a network that is vulnerable, they will exploit it and in some cases, expose the vulnerabilities just to prove a point. Just like any common criminal they seek out easy targets or ones that will require little effort to breach.

It is this attitude that typically attracts hackers to SMEs as their cybersecurity is often far less robust than larger organisations.

Why do they do it?

It’s only a hobby

One of the biggest reasons people do anything is because it’s fun. Many hackers hack for that reason alone, and it can be a very addictive hobby for some as they see if they can outsmart security systems and outdo other hackers. However, some of the hackers may enjoy a challenge and try more difficult targets such as big corporations or even government sites.

Stealing

With the rise of internet banking, it was inevitable that hackers would try and exploit it. With people now able to do their online banking via a wide variety of devices such as smartphones, the number of opportunities for hackers to steal has increased dramatically. Favoured strategies used to steal banking and financial details include phishing and malware attacks.

Hacktivists

You’ve probably seen the likes of Anonymous being reported on in the media. These hackers use their skills to expose perceived injustices. Hacktivist groups tend to target governments, religious groups and businesses as they attempt to bring attention to the issues of the day.

Organised Crime

Organised criminal gangs have embraced the cyber age with open arms as stealing online is far less risky than doing it in the ‘real’ world. The returns on hacking are both higher and a whole lot safer than robbing banks and other tradional forms of crime. With law enforcement agencies often playing catch up with the strategies used by hackers, criminals are often one step ahead.

White Hats

Not all hackers are bad. Many provide positive contributions to the world of online security by hacking into systems to expose security flaws before any malicious actor does. Various software and hardware companies give bounties to hackers who discover weaknesses in their systems. 

Grey Hats

A Grey hat is a hacker or security expert who may sometimes break laws or ethical standards, but does not have the malicious intent in the way a black hat hacker does.

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