When considering why hackers are attacking websites, you might think that there’s a specific reason they target you as a website owner—your business, your reputation, or your information. The truth is, while it feels personal to the victim, hackers rarely single out specific targets. Most of the time, hackers perform mass searches for specific vulnerabilities, and target these sites collectively.
Before we look at the psychology behind website hacks, we should first break our hackers out into groups based on their motivations.
Categories of Hackers
Hackers can be placed into four different groups:
White Hat Hackers
A group of tech savvies, white hats seek to find vulnerabilities without having any malicious intent. These “hackers” could be anyone. What distinguishes them from Black Hat Hackers is that they usually have permission from the target to hack, and their goal is to improve website security on the internet rather than exploit it. White hat hackers use a vast array of automation tools,processes and knowledge to uncover vulnerabilities and if required, carry on with the actual compromise. White hats can be hired by companies to test their cyber security strategy by attempting a hack.
Black Hat Hackers
Opposite of white hat, this group has full intention of exploiting website vulnerabilities for malicious purposes. Personal gain is the name of the game for these cybercriminals. Black hat hackers use the same technology, but they break into systems without permission. They are fiscally, not ethically motivated and look to write malware scripts that can help them benefit from as many targets as possible.
Grey Hat Hackers
Like white hat hackers, the intentions of grey hat hackers are good, but they also want a little bit of glory. These people will ask forgiveness instead of permission when it comes to accessing systems for vulnerability and generally expect money in return for their findings. First they discover the risks, and second notify the responsible parties of what they found. They may withhold some of their findings to motivate the business to pay up.Technically, this is illegal. You must first receive permission from the website owner before accessing their system.
Those who hack targets because they believe they have something to prove or a topic to expose to the world are called hacktivists. Their goal is to gain unauthorized access to websites in order to bring awareness to political, religious, or social issues. These acts vary in extremes—from denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks and Domain Name Service (DNS) hijacking to defacements with messages for social change and mass emails. These attacks tend to happen in waves with the purpose of drawing attention to a topic. Targets can range from entire governments and industries to specific corporations and people.
A script kiddie is a term used in the cyber security world to mock hackers who don’t write their own programs. These hackers are usually amateurs, often assumed to be kids or teens who don’t know what they are doing. In reality, they could be any age. What they have in common is their usage of existing programs, kits, or scripts, and a general lack of understanding of their impact.
Not comprehending the consequences of randomly launching scripts at an IP block, makes them dangerous, but it also makes them easier to catch. Script kiddies are motivated by attention, reputation, curiosity, and at times, boredom.
What Do Hackers Want?
Hackers are ready to take advantage of a possible exploitation without taking into consideration your type of business, who you service, or how well your website is doing. The reasons why will vary depending on the hacker. Here are some examples of what motivates them:
You might think that your business is not big enough for someone to be interested in tapping into your traffic or your authority. However, cybercriminals will leverage the server resources of several websites in order to reach the level of impact that they’re after. As a result, your small site might just end up being a part of a big hack.
Some of these exploitations are known as SEO spam /pharma hacks, or phishing. We need to take into consideration that the target could be another website under your hosting roof.
While some people might think that hackers are paid to exploit your site, it’s a bit more complicated than that. While getting rich is the objective, hacks do not often result in immediate monetary gain. Hacks allow cyber criminals to extract information that can then be leveraged or exploited to get rich. Let’s take a quick look into what information is valuable in today’s market. Depending on your website, cyber attackers might be searching for:
- Credit card information, including CVV and billing address to make use of it for online transactions.
- Contact information later sold to unethical marketing lists.
- A website with decent rankings and enough traffic to prop up a scammy campaign, or to sell to a third party.
- Username and password logins, to access and take over server resources, and to attempt password stuffing attacks.
- Sensitive or proprietary information, like trade secrets, to leak, sell or extort.
- High security information, that can compromise the premises of a facility
Attackers can misuse the hacked site to spread trojan viruses. This impacts the visitors to the site and can potentially cause anything from fraud, to a banking hack, to identity theft. If you want to expand your knowledge on this topic, we have written an article about the consequences of a data breach.
Hackers can build up their reputation with defacements – leaving their “signature” all over a hacked target like web graffiti. Some hackers break into targets just to prove they can. They also show off their craft by forcing access and stealing valuable information. They can leverage the personally identifiable information (PII) in a blackmail scheme or hold critical information hostage in an extortion scheme.
Hackers may pursue a religious or political agenda and use their skills to deface targets. Defacement attacks carried out by hacktivists make web pages work as free billboards to spread their message. Hackers may also spam a site with bots. For example, the Texas Heart Beat Law resulted in an anonymous tip website that would monetarily reward people reporting the law’s violators. A hacker under the alias Sean Black took to TikTok to share an IoS shortcut with his followers for a script he wrote that would enter a false tip every 5 seconds. Hacking a site for ‘justice’ can have mixed results but at minimum will generate awareness and public discourse around the topic.
What Are the Implications of a Hack?
Recovering from a website hack has an impact on your time, money, clients, visitors, and stored information. It can also have serious legal ramifications depending on the kinds of data the website handles, and the requirements surrounding it. The site may be found in breach of compliance or lose certification required to operate if it directly handles and stores certain kinds of data like PII or credit card info.
It can take a long time to bounce back. It also increases your chances of reinfection, if precautions are not taken to protect your website. If you do not have a response plan in place for a data breach, we recommend the Federal Trade Commission’s Data Breach Response: A Guide for Businesses.
What Are the Most Common Hacks?
Here is a list of common malware categories extracted from our latest Hack Website Trend Report.
Our blog features the most common hacks and is updated regularly. We also publish new content every week in a continuous effort to create awareness in our industry. It’s our goal to share as many best practices as possible with website owners.
Another helpful resource for website owners is our webinar on the most common types of hacks.
Hackers are not going away anytime soon. Their motivations, while primarily monetary, can also include making a statement, bolstering reputation, or improving their karma with some white hat altruism.
It is the consumer’s responsibility to be aware of these threats. Take advantage of the resources available to keep your website safe. You can subscribe to our blog feed so you don’t miss any blog posts on website security. If you want to protect your website against attacks and hacks, we offer a website security platform with malware detection, protection, and response in case of security issues.