Tag Archives: Psychology

What are hackers motivations?

Hacker Motivation and Threat Mitigation

Cybersecurity attacks are becoming more frequent and costly.  The rise of the internet of things gives more opportunities for potential hackers to capitalize.  (WAGSTAFF, 2016) says, “Often, a skilled hacker can break into a new IoT device within a matter of days, if not hours.”  But what motivates someone to carry out criminal activity such as this?  To analyze the motivations, we need to first break the classes of hackers down to six unique groups Elite Hackers, Script Kiddies, Cyber Terrorist, Disgruntled Employees, Virus Writers, and Hacktivist (Fitch, 2003).


Elite hackers seem to largely not motivated to conduct criminal activity.  (Fitch, 2003) says, “It is generally agreed upon that elite hackers do not engage in criminal activity or harbor malicious intent but rather expose security flaws and other coding problems.”  Just having the knowledge, skill and ethics usually puts Elite hackers on the right side of the attacks.  Motivating them to not only stay away from criminal activity but help more administrators and businesses keep their companies safe.

Script Kiddies are a different story.  This class of hacker tends to be one of the least skilled in the hacker community.  Many of the motivations for Script Kiddies are ease of attack.  Many of the attacks are reusing tools that come from elite hackers against easy targets.  Take for instance the BlackPOS malware found in the Target and Neiman Marcus breaches.  Sergey Taraspov a Russian 17-year-old boy was allegedly accused of creation of the malware, but it was soon found that he was more of a technical support during the breach.  He was using one of 40 different builds of the known malware that was found on the black market (“17-year-old suspected to be creator of BlackPOS malware used in Target data breach – E Hacker News,” 2014).

Cyberterrorist seem to be the most serious of hackers.  This class also houses nation state hackers as well as groups such as ISIS.  These hackers are largely motivated by anonymity that the internet brings.  Allowing these hackers to conduct information gathering as well as governmental spying in plain site (Fitch 2003).

Disgruntled employees are the most dangerous allowing them to gain access into critical areas of the company.  Their ability to have insider information by understanding a company’s inner policies and regulations. (Song, n.d.) says, “Reuters once reported that Edward Snowden notoriously persuaded NSA employees to give him their password by telling them he needed their personal information to properly do his job as a system administrator.”  There are many different ways for these insiders to exploit company information.  It’s easy to see how these hackers are considered the most dangerous.

Virus writers are considered to be almost an auxiliary class of hackers.  Virus writers are known for writing code that take advantage of exploits that different class of hackers develop.  Combining these exploits into something that can later be sold on the black-market.  Their motivation is largely financial.

Hacktivists are usually motivated by a cause.  These groups are predominantly hackers not interested in learning software and or hardware, but straight destruction to make a point or to be heard.  Groups that fit into this category would be the infamous Anonymous hacker group.

The best way to defend against this different classes of hackers would be education.  With schools not preparing students to enter the workforce with proper cybersecurity awareness, the key is upgrading these programs on the job, in the community and in the public sector.  (Doggett, 2015) states, “As a frequently targeted group, employees should have a strong understanding of corporate security risks and how they each play a key role in helping to keep a company’s network safe from a cyberattack.”


17 year old suspected to be creator of BlackPOS malware used in Target data breach – E Hacker News. (2014, January 18). Retrieved from http://www.ehackingnews.com/2014/01/blackpos-malware-creator-russian.html

Doggett, C. (2015, November 13). Closing the gap on cyber education. Retrieved from thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/technology/260003-closing-the-gap-on-cyber-education

Fitch, C. (2003, December 26). The psychology of hacking in the new millennium. Retrieved from https://www.giac.org/paper/gsec/3560/crime-punishment-psychology-hacking-millennium/105795

Kabay, M. E., Robertson, B., Akella, M., & Lang, D. T. (2014). Using social psychology to implement security policies. In Computer security handbook (6th ed., pp. 50.1-50.25). New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons.

Song, J. (n.d.). Insider data breach: the hidden hack attack. Retrieved from http://www.business2community.com/cybersecurity/insider-data-breach-hidden-hack-attack-01410396#fP05VKArZLJHiUkQ.97

WAGSTAFF, K. (2016, January 2). Hack to the future: experts make 2016 cybersecurity predictions – nbc news. Retrieved from http://www.nbcnews.com/tech/internet/hack-future-experts-make-2016-cybersecurity-predictions-n486766