Cyber Security – Part II – The Cost of Hackers

In computer terms, “hacking” means using a computer to gain unauthorized access to data in a system. Once a hacker gets in, they can do whatever they want with that data: steal identities, hold it for ransom, leak sensitive information … the list, unfortunately, goes on. In this second article, we’ll talk about how hackers operate, what they target, and what they can cost you and/or your company.

How Hackers Operate

In the movies, hackers are portrayed as geniuses who use sophisticated means to break lengthy strings of code and worm their way into even the most secure systems. While computer knowledge is necessary for them to operate, and some notable breaches into heavily-protected systems have been made: Yahoo, LinkedIn, EBay, Equifax, Heartland, and JP Morgan Chase, to name just a few,  hacking is usually a simpler process than you might think. According to a well-known software company, many hackers pull off their attacks because they’re privy to little-known facts or secrets about a system. That’s why programmers, especially former employees or contractors, make successful hackers. They know default passwords, are familiar with system shortcuts, or have some other special knowledge (Proofpoint). It’s these bits of critical information that let the majority of breaches occur.

Who & What Do Hackers Target?

Anyperson or company that uses the internet can be hacked, as anybody on Facebook knows very well. When a hacker’s ambition is to steal or extort money rather than simply cause mischief, the following are some of their primary targets:

  • Financial Institutions – Hackers hope to get fraudulent access to private information like social security numbers, bank accounts, and credit cards.
  • Online Retailers – Retailers have a veritable treasure trove of stored credit card information hackers would like to get their hands on.
  • Political Organizations – In this case, hackers are usually looking to leak or block information rather than to cash in on it. This type of breach is called “hacktivism.”
  • Small and Medium-sized Businesses – Hackers don’t only go after the Big Boys.  About half of all small businesses have been hit by a cyberattack, and in 2015, the average loss per business was $180,000.

What Can Hacking Cost You?

The short answer to this question is a lot. Hackers can cost you a lot in terms of money, time, reputation, and peace of mind, and this is not an exhaustive list of damages that you can experience as a result of cyber crime. “They’re usually motivated by personal or financial gain, but [they] can also participate in espionage, protests, or merely enjoy the thrill. …Upon accessing their targets and depending on their motives, hackers can either steal, manipulate, or destroy system data” (Design World).

Whether a hacker has targeted you personally or targeted your company, they can wreak the following havoc (Webroot):

  • Appropriate your user names and passwords
  • Steal your money
  • Open accounts in your, or your company’s, name
  • Ruin your credit
  • Ruin your clients’ credit if they get their credit card and other financial information
  • Request new PINs and credit cards
  • Make purchases
  • Hold your company hostage through a ransomware attack
  • Use your Social Security number
  • Sell your data to other parties

In the next article, we’ll review some ways to protect against these cyber criminals.