All About Hacking: Definition, How It Works, Who Does It, How to Protect Yourself

DataProt explains what hacking is, how it happens, and how you can defend against the threats looming in the dark corridors of the internet.


Jan 20,2023

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Hacking has been around longer than the internet. The word “hack” has been used in the tech world since the 1950s, while the term “hacker” implies a malicious intent behind poking through someone’s data. 

The hacking industry doesn’t seem to be slowing down as there’s a steady increase in data breaches targeting individuals and businesses. But, what is hacking, exactly? Let’s dive in and learn more about the intent and perpetrators behind the attacks and see what you can do to protect yourself. 

The Definition of Hacking

Hacking refers to gaining unapproved access to data, which may be through electronic devices or networks. The data can then be deleted, sold, or used for extortion. Occasionally, the attackers decide to compromise a victim’s device only to show that they can.

Over the decades, the security measures available to us have grown more sophisticated, but so have the hacking methods. Hackers can steal data without leaving any traces, and often, the victims don’t even realize they’ve fallen prey to a hacking attack before it’s too late. 

While individual users are frequently targeted as victims of hacking, several major data breaches happen every year. Even the most prominent IT companies that built their reputation around protecting against cyber threats haven’t managed to guard themselves against the notorious attacks that resulted in damage exceeding millions of dollars. 

That said, not all computer hacking activity is illegal. White hat hackers test the system’s vulnerabilities by trying to penetrate it, thus establishing the weak points. This way, a network owner can apply the required fixes and prevent future attacks. 

How Does Hacking Work? 

Hacking aims to obtain data that can be used against the victim or bring financial gain or power to the malicious actor. But how do hackers hack? 

Hackers employ various methods to compromise the victim’s data. Depending on the type of information they’re after and what the easiest route to that information is, we’ll look at the following hacking methods:

  • Social engineering
  • Keylogger
  • Backdoor access
  • Ransomware
  • Malware
  • DDoS (distributed denial-of-service)

Arguably the easiest approach is leading the victim to give out their information willingly, so the hacker can simply gather all the data they want. As much as many believe that hacking always includes endless pages of code, a simple manipulation during small talk can end up in a breach. 

For example, someone can ask for your identifying information, such as your date of birth or other things you may have included in your security questions. Using that knowledge, the perpetrator can try and guess your password. This method of hacking systems is called social engineering and can be part of an elaborate scheme. 

Let’s say you get a fake email from a seemingly trustworthy source, like your bank or university. The email looks legitimate, and you don’t think twice before clicking on its contents. The email then prompts you to log in and change your passwords to prevent the account from being deleted. You might do just that with a sense of urgency, giving out your information to the attacker. 

Once the information is compromised, the damage is already done. You may have unwillingly given out your credit card information or downloaded malware to your device. This sub-type of social engineering is called phishing. Other forms of social engineering are spear phishing, baiting, scareware, and pretexting. 

If you’ve given physical access to your device to someone or simply clicked on a malicious link, there’s a chance you have a keylogger installed on your device. This software stores each keystroke and sends it to the attacker, allowing them full access to your passwords and everything you type from that moment on. 

This type of hacking is prevalent and one of the oldest in the books. Make sure to have anti-malware ready, and never leave your devices unattended. 

If a Trojan horse virus has infected your device, you will likely not notice it on time. This type of virus is malware that installs itself on a computer by impersonating a trustworthy application. Once downloaded, the virus allows the hacker backdoor access to your computer. 

One of the most notorious ways to compromise devices or networks is through ransomware. The hackers will access your devices and effectively block you from using them. The only way to regain control of your data is to pay the ransom. Typically, once your computer or network is infected, you’ll receive a message with detailed instructions to complete payment. 

It’s important to know that this cybercrime is a serious offense, and all relevant authorities advise against paying the sum. There are no guarantees you’ll get the decryption key, and your information can nonetheless get deleted or published. 

While individual users are not immune to this threat, the computer hackers engaging in ransomware attacks tend to target businesses as they’re expected to pay more for the captured information. 

Malware attacks are common and efficient, as users don’t suspect their devices are infected as there are polished malware programs that are difficult to discover by anti-virus programs. Malware attacks are often performed remotely and target victims’ personal and financial information.

DDoS attacks work by overflowing the website’s traffic until it can no longer work properly and is taken down. Often vengeful, DDoS attacks are a popular tool against individuals, businesses, and even governments. Most anti-malware programs are not that helpful against them. 

Who Are The Hackers? 

While the media portrays hackers as anti-social, stay-at-home introverts, the actual hacker demographic is far from the Hollywood depiction. They all have one thing in common: being highly skilled and motivated by money, with the exception of “hacktivists.”

When it comes to the types of hackers, we can categorize them into white hat hackers, black hat hackers, and gray hat hackers. White hat hackers use their skills to penetrate the systems and find the vulnerabilities that are later reported and fixed. The network owner authorizes this test to secure their devices and networks.

The complete opposite are black hat hackers, who will stop at nothing until they compromise the victim’s device and will use any means necessary. Their main motive is usually money. 

Somewhere in between stand the gray hat hackers who will not steal, threaten, and expose sensitive data but will demonstrate their skills only to point out the weak points of a particular network. They will sometimes demand a fee for this service. This action is considered a criminal offense because it’s done without the consent of the network owner. 

Motivation Behind Hacking

While money is the main reason behind hacking activity, it is not the only one. Some hackers want revenge or have a political cause. Others are employed by the state and involved in high-class espionage. 

These are other common motivators behind hacking attacks:

  • Corporate espionage - Certain companies resort to illegal activities to gain an advantage over their competitors, so they hire hackers to steal data from other companies.
  • Hacktivism - This is maybe the only type of hacking that isn’t about money. Some hackers attack government organizations and religious or political groups whose ideology they disapprove of. 
  • Political espionage - Governments often spy on one another; some even wage large-scale cyberwars to obtain crucial data. 

The Latest Hacks in 2022

The trend of cyber attacks we witnessed in the previous years continues through 2022. Here are some of the most significant hacking attacks that have happened recently:

July 2022: 

  • More than 5.4 million Twitter users’ data posted for sale 
  • 69 million Neopets accounts breached and offered on sale
  • 20 GB of data stolen from Marriott International 

June 2022:

  • Up to two million user’s personal and medical information stolen from Shields Health Care Group 

April 2022:

  • Cash App breached by a former employee, exposing customers’ identities, brokerage account numbers, and other information including portfolio value and stock trading activities

March 2022: 

  • Microsoft hacked by Lapsu$ Group, compromising​​ Bing, Cortana, and other projects

January 2022: 

  • 483 users’ wallets were hacked on, stealing $18 million in Bitcoin and more than $15 million in Ethereum 

How To Protect Yourself

While online safety is not to be taken lightly, it doesn’t mean you have to keep yourself up at night thinking about potential cracks in your security. There are a couple of things you can do to ensure you’re safe from the majority of hacker attacks: 

  • Use strong login credentials for every account. This way, even if one account is breached, the others will remain safe.
  • Enable two-factor authentication (2FA) whenever possible.
  • Keep your operating system and all the programs up-to-date. The developers often release security patches for newly discovered vulnerabilities.
  • Install a reputable anti-malware program and make sure to run regular scans.
  • Be cautious of links you click on and emails you open. 
  • Beware of public Wi-Fi networks. When using them, make sure your data is encrypted.

Bottom Line

Hacking presents a serious problem in our increasingly connected world. By understanding how hacking works and what it is, you can take steps to protect yourself from falling victim to hacking schemes.

It’s best to remain vigilant and up-to-date with the latest developments in the cybersecurity world, especially if you’re a business owner. 

What are the three types of hacking?

Hacking is divided into three types: white hat, black hat, and gray hat hacking. The color coding implies that white hats work for the greater good by hacking the systems so they can be secured, while black hat hackers focus on illegal hacking and gray hat hackers stand somewhere in between. 

Why do people hack?

What is hacking motivated by? There’s a list of reasons behind hacking, but people do it for financial gain, power, sabotage, corporate espionage, bragging rights, extortion, or political reasons. 

What hacks do hackers use?

There are various techniques for hacking, but the most common ones are phishing, baiting, key logging, distributed denial-of-service attacks (DDoS), and malware attacks. 

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