What motivates cyber hackers and how can you protect your organisation?



What drives some people to hack into computer systems? There can be no doubt that money is a huge motivation for many cybercriminals, with around 86% of data breaches being financially motivated, according to an investigation carried out in 2020. But is it the sole reason for computer hacking?  

As Europe sits on the brink of war, reports this week show that 74% of ransomware revenue goes to Russian-linked hackers. With Russia, China, the USA, and Iran ranking in the top 10 countries with the most hackers globally. 

What is a hacker?

A cyber hacker is any unauthorised user who breaks into an individual’s or organisation’s computer systems. They often install dangerous malware such as Trojan Viruses or Ransomware without the owner’s knowledge or consent to steal, change or destroy information. Generally, hackers have high technical ability and expertise to breach security software and access personal or confidential information.

Are all hackers bad? 

Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, there are good and bad hackers out there, and different types of hackers have different motivations for their activity. Here we explore a few:

Black Hat Hackers: These are the bad guys. They intend to use scams and hacks to steal funds or sensitive information from individuals, businesses and banks, either to make money by stealing it directly from hacked accounts, selling the information they access to other organisations on the dark web for a profit, or by holding the victim to ransom, demanding cash to remove the malware they install.

Nation-State Hackers: Some countries have officially employed hackers to carry out government-backed cyber-attacks with the aim of either releasing information to the public to cause political unrest in an enemy state or attacking an enemy country’s websites and servers to cause disruption. They may also use the opportunity to gather military intelligence information. While this is still criminal activity, it could be argued that these hackers are classed as good or bad depending on who’s side you’re on.

Corporate Espionage: Employed by companies, these types of criminal hackers are mainly tasked with stealing intellectual property such as trade secrets, business plans or financial data from competitors to gain a competitive advantage or damage another company’s reputation.

Hacktivists: Not driven by money and perhaps in some cases with good intent, these hackers often work in groups to make a political, ethical or social statement. They tend to either publicise hacked information that will embarrass an organisation or create mayhem by disrupting a company’s computer network and making changes to their website to post their message. Both are intended to advertise their cause and expose what they consider wrongdoing.

Revenge Hackers: Some hackers want to take revenge on an individual or organisation they feel has wronged them somehow. Motivated purely by anger, this type of hacker is just looking to inflict virtual pain on the victim through methods such as locking their devices, deleting data or even hijacking their social media accounts to post inappropriate content.

Just for Fun!: There are hackers out there who like to cause chaos. They want to challenge themselves and prove to fellow hackers what they are capable of to gain notoriety. They don’t have any real motivation other than infamy and their thrill from creating disruption.

White Hat Hackers: This is the only type of hacking that is considered legal. White hat hackers are usually computer security experts companies employ to protect from cybercriminals. They use the same methods as illegal hackers but with the organisation’s permission, looking for gaps in a network’s security to prevent or fix any threats to the system. 

Red Hat Hackers: Like White Hat Hackers, these are vigilantes who take it upon themselves to hack into networks to fight off the Black Hat Hackers of their own volition. The difference is that they are not invited to do so and often cause as much harm as they do good by employing quite ruthless techniques such as installing additional malware to counter the original threat. Therefore, this is still classed as an illegal activity. 

How to protect your business

Hackers will always find new ways to break into computer networks but keeping your cyber security updated is key to combating the problem. Installing the latest security software and regularly backing up data can both assist with this, as well as the option to employ White Hat Hackers to look for holes in your security systems if your budget allows. 

Educating staff in best practices with their devices is another good way to avoid possible hacking issues, including being mindful of opening links or attachments from unknown email addresses, using passwords and encryption to protect sensitive information, only downloading apps from reputable sources and avoiding logging into accounts while using public WiFi.

No system is entirely safe from hackers, but understanding their motivations and what measures to input to combat the problem can help keep your computer systems safe.

If you are looking for a new role in cyber security, risk, compliance, IT or any other business function, get in touch with McGregor Boyall today to discover how our expert team can help.