What is Hacking?
Top 5 Types & Examples
If popular culture has made you believe that hacking is something that only affects major businesses and governments, you are wrong. Hacking can take on many forms and affect anyone with an internet-enabled device. If you’ve ever visited a malicious website, downloaded an attachment from a suspicious email, or used public WiFi to access the internet, you too may have been a victim of hacking.
Key takeaway: Hacking is an umbrella term for a range of activities that aim to compromise computers and networks by exploiting their security vulnerabilities. Although hacking can be used for good, most attacks are carried out for the benefit of the hackers responsible for them. Read on to learn about the main types of hacking and the most commonly used hacking techniques.
What is Hacking?
Hacking is a general term for a variety of activities that seek to compromise computers and networks. It refers to any unauthorized intrusion into a device, network, or server which infringes on the privacy of their owners and users and/or aims to damage or otherwise compromise computer-based properties like files, programs, and websites. While the term can also refer to non-malicious activities, it is most often associated with malevolent attempts to exploit system vulnerabilities for the benefit of the perpetrator.
The people who engage in hacking are commonly referred to as hackers. First used in a 1980 magazine article, this term was popularized a few years later by the movies “Tron” and “WarGames”. Over the years, hackers have become a staple of popular culture. However, the usual portrayal of hackers as self-taught, thrill-seeking programming geniuses is not only stereotypical but also greatly exaggerated.
Although usually technical in nature, hacking doesn’t necessarily require excellent computational skills. Hackers can also break into computers and systems using social engineering, a set of psychological tactics designed to trick an unsuspecting target into giving hackers access to their data. What’s more, while hacking does require at least some grasp of computer technology, anyone can go to the dark web to purchase the tools they need to carry out an attack or hire a professional hacker to do it for them.
In addition to fun and thrill, hackers can be motivated by numerous other factors. These include financial gain, theft of personal data, access to confidential information, the desire to take down websites, as well as idealism and political activism. While some forms of hacking are completely legal, most of them are not and are considered criminal offenses. Depending on the severity of their attack, hackers in the United States can serve anywhere from a few weeks to 15 years in prison for computer tampering.
What Types of Hacking Exist?
Based on the intentions of hackers as well as the legality of their attacks, there are three main types of hacking. They include the following:
- White Hat Hacking
Commonly referred to as ethical hacking, white hat hacking is always used for good. Instead of being the stereotypical renegade whiz kids you see in movies, white hat hackers are often employed or contracted by major companies to help them improve their security by identifying vulnerabilities in their system. Ethical hackers use pretty much the same methods as all other hackers, but they always do it with permission from the owner of the system. There are many courses and conferences on ethical hacking.
- Black Hat Hacking
Black hat hacking is the opposite of white hat hacking, which is why it is often referred to as unethical. The hackers behind black hat attacks are usually driven by personal or financial gain, although they can be motivated by many other factors, as well. Because they don’t have an explicit permission from the owner to hack their system, they use phishing emails and compromised websites to download and install malicious software on potential victims’ computers and use it to steal the victims’ personal information.
- Gray Hat Hacking
Gray hat hacking falls somewhere between ethical and unethical. As a rule, gray hat hackers are never outright malicious, though some of their moves could be interpreted as such. For example, they may hack into a network without the owner’s permission to search for vulnerabilities. After that, they will usually contact the owner and ask for a small fee to fix the issue. However, if the owner declines, hackers might share their findings online, thus inviting their unethical peers to exploit these vulnerabilities.
The 5 Most Common Hacking Techniques
There are dozens of different techniques hackers utilize to carry out their attacks. They range from malware distribution and phishing email campaigns to surveillance and organized botnet activities. The five most common hacking techniques nowadays include the following:
- Fake WAP
Taking advantage of the fact that more and more people are using public WiFi to connect to the internet, hackers have developed software that allows them to fake a wireless access point (WAP). When they want to use free Wi-Fi, unsuspecting victims will see a list of legitimate-sounding WAP names (e.g. “McDonald’s WiFi 2” or “JFK Airport WiFi”). However, once connected to the fake WiFi, they will give hackers instant access to their device, allowing them to steal their personal data and files.
A growing number of hackers are opting to use keyloggers, hardware-based or software-based tools that allow them to record their victims’ keystrokes with the goal of stealing their personal information. Most software-based keyloggers are designed like actual pieces of software and operate so close to the core of the system that they can bypass most antivirus and antimalware programs. To protect their clients’ sensitive data, many online banking services have incorporated mouse-controlled virtual keyboards.
- DDoS Attacks
Hackers can also use malicious software to build botnets, large networks of remote-controlled internet-connected devices. These botnets are most often used to launch distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks against websites and computer networks that the hackers behind them want to target. Together, the devices that make up a botnet generate abnormal amounts of incoming traffic to a website or a network in order to overwhelm their targets’ computational resources and restrict access to them.
Perhaps the most common form of cybercrime, phishing involves the mass-sending of emails from seemingly real addresses with the goal of tricking potential victims into opening the links or attachments included in them. The targets will receive an email from someone claiming to be their bank, urging them to click on the included link and confirm their password. When they click on the link, they will be taken to a fake online banking login page, and all the information they enter will be sent directly to the hacker.
- Cookie Theft
How to Protect Yourself from Hacking
No one is immune to hacking, which is why it’s important to protect yourself from any attempts by hackers to gain access to your personal information. A combination of good cybersecurity practices and the best antivirus software is the only way to stay safe online and avoid becoming a victim of hackers.
If you’re browsing the internet from a public Wi-Fi network, make sure to use a VPN to prevent hackers from accessing your data. Don’t click on any links or open any attachments received in suspicious-looking emails or private messages sent to you from people you don’t know. Before you enter your password or bank account info into an online form, double-check the address to make sure that you’re on the right page. In addition, only enter your data on encrypted websites and use virtual keyboards when available.
Some hackers may also use fake antivirus programs to distribute malware to unsuspecting users, which is why you should only use reputable antivirus software to keep your computer and your files safe. These programs provide real-time protection against a wide range of potential threats and not just viruses. They also allow you to set up scheduled scans, as well as the option to automate virus definition updates, thus eliminating the need to perform them manually.
- Business 2 Community
- Business Insider
- Cyber Crime Journal
- PC World
- Wikipedia (1)
- Wikipedia (2)
Are you protected?
If you’re not careful, hackers can access your computer or your network and steal your personal information. Don’t leave your internet safety to chance.