With the ever-evolving threat landscape, cyberattacks have become more sophisticated. Malicious actors are diligently researching, planning, and improving their skills to target and take down users and organizations. In environments fraught with cyber risks, where threat actors develop a new modus operandi with each attack, it is imperative for cybersecurity professionals to take pause and understand what drives these tech enthusiasts to harbor malicious intentions and become a hacker instead.
Here are some traits of attackers, and a bit on the psychology behind attacks:
Hackers constantly come up with new ways to target and bring down organizations' security infrastructures. They actively look for any new vulnerabilities that can be exploited to carry out their malicious activities. Their determined attitude is one of the key reasons that in spite of enterprises having state-of-the-art security technology, they still fall prey to cyberattacks.
Malicious actors diligently research and target specific users and organizations to take down. They look for new ways to evade security systems, and plan the entire attack journey in an attempt not to get caught. For pulling off such coups, they need to get creative and come up with a new defense evasion technique every time, like disabling security tools or locking out interrupting legitimate users' ability to access data in the case of ransomware attacks.
Hackers tend to be curious. They always try to do things that are different from what is considered the norm. They keep asking themselves questions like, “How can I get them locked out of their system?”, “How can I stay undetected in the network for a long time?”, or “How can I completely shut down the network?” This curiosity makes hackers interested in infiltrating networks and systems.
Hacking is an entire journey, not just a one-step act carried out by cyberattackers. Hackers take their time to religiously observe, research, and understand their target, and once they have thorough information about all the vulnerabilities and technical specifications, along with other details, they attempt to compromise or breach the target systems. Each of these activities takes time and effort. For instance, hackers try to stay undetected in a network for as long as possible and patiently wait to gather data, like in man-in-the-middle attacks.
The cybersecurity industry is releasing more sophisticated defense mechanisms, increasing the chance that a hacker will be caught. Malicious actors take on an immense amount of risk when they breach corporate security infrastructures. They are aware that the consequence of being caught is spending a number of years in prison.
The hacking industry has been flourishing in terms of financial gains. It comprises a huge chain of hackers, sellers, and buyers who financially benefit from successful attacks. Hackers can either directly benefit in instances like ransomware attacks, where they demand a ransom in return for decrypted user data, or they can indirectly gain money by writing malware scripts for other attackers or selling stolen data on the dark web for millions.
Not all cyberattackers are motivated by financial gain. Some find their motivation from the different challenges at each stage of the attack and crave the adrenaline rush they experience once they are able to breach the different defense layers of an organization’s infrastructure.
Hackers also carry out cyberattacks with political motivations, wherein they oppose or promote certain political beliefs. There have been multiple instances where state-sponsored hacking groups have claimed responsibility for attacks. One such ransomware attack was carried out on Colonial Pipeline, a United States oil pipeline system, on May 7,2021. The oil and energy company had to put all its operations on halt to prevent further spread of the ransomware, and it later paid $5 million in ransom to a Russian hacking group.
For most hackers, curiosity is one of the key motivators for getting themselves into this game of cat and mouse where they are always on the run. Their inquisitive nature compels them to find new ways to use technology and find their way into the systems and databases they are not authorized to access.
It is critical for both large and small organizations to understand the psyche of cybercriminals and apply this knowledge while building their defense strategies and educating their employees and users. This will enable organizations to make more effective decisions and tackle hackers meticulously.
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