Cybercrime has exploded in recent years, and the scale of the problem continues to increase. Software companies and computer manufacturers are working hard to improve online security, but there is no end to the problem in sight. There are many misconceptions about hackers and their motivations. Understanding how they work can help you to avoid becoming a victim of a cyber attack.
Hacking can be traced back to the nineteen-eighties. Early computer programmers and software engineers developed the foundations of hacking to test their own systems. Others regarded hacking as a challenge of the age of technology and treated the goal of breaching a security system like climbing an unexplored mountain.
The popular image of a hacker is a teenager working alone from his bedroom. This is a long way from the truth. Hackers today are typically part of highly organized criminal gangs. They share intelligence and information and develop sophisticated tools to enable them to carry out thousands of cyber attacks at a time.
The following are the main types of hackers working today.
1) White hat hackers.
Driven by non-malevolent goals, white hat hackers are typically very knowledgeable. They have a deep understanding of operating systems and IT security. White hat hackers have often studied for degrees in computer-related subjects and have worked in major corporations. They do not represent a threat to businesses or individuals and offer their expertise as IT professionals to test the vulnerabilities of systems. White hat hackers often share their knowledge and intelligence with government agencies and security software developers.
2) Black hat hackers.
These have a similar level of expertise to white hat hackers, but their objectives are very different. Driven by profits and financial rewards, black hat hackers are behind credit card fraud, data theft and the cyber attacks businesses need to prepare for. Many criminals have switched from traditional forms of crime like drug dealing into hacking, and they operate on an international basis. Money from black hat hacking is often used to fund terrorism, and it's forced governments around the world to work together to find solutions to the threat.
3) Script kiddies.
These are looked down on the hacking community, but they are still a threat to cyber security. Script kiddies are novices as their name suggests. They use programs and hacking tools built by others, and they aren't experienced enough to develop their own malware. Script kiddies are often behind ransomware attacks on small businesses. Having up to date antivirus software and taking basic cyber security measures can prevent most of the attempts by script kiddies to breach systems.
Hacktivists are generally driven by political goals, but they sometimes also carry out cyber attacks for profit. They sit between white hat and black hat hackers, and it could be argued that their motives aren't always morally wrong. One of the most famous hacktivist groups is Anonymous. After the terrorist attacks in Paris in 2015, Anonymous declared a cyber war on ISIS. Businesses can't ignore the threat of hacktivist groups as they represent a wide range of political views and causes. Groups like Anonymous attract highly skilled and experienced hackers, so they can be dangerous if they have a reason to target you.
Most people associate hackers with computers and IT systems, but they also commit crimes involving telecom systems. So-called 'phreakers' exploit weaknesses in telephone systems to make calls for free, take control of lines and listen to other people's calls. Phreakers use devices known as 'black boxes' to hack telecom technology, and basic versions of these can be assembled for less than fifty dollars.
Understanding different types of cybercrime and the hackers behind them can help businesses reduce the risk of attacks. Most of the hackers working today are driven by financial goals, but they also target companies for political reasons and to test their abilities.