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What Do Hackers Really Want to Do With Your Data?

Authors Photo Christopher Tozzi | November 16, 2022

You know hackers want to steal your data. But what do hackers want to do with it? This article explains.

Understanding hackers’ motives is important for developing strong data protection strategies. If you don’t know exactly why attackers want to steal your data, it’s difficult to plan effective measures for stopping them.

Inside the minds of hackers: A list of motivations

Following is a list of the most common motives for data theft today, along with tips on how to prevent various types of attacks.

Data ransom

Sometimes, hackers want to steal your data so that they can hold it for ransom. This type of attack is a ransomware attack.

Ransomware attacks are one of the fastest-growing types of cyber attacks. Both the number of ransomware attacks and the percentage of attacks that result in payment have increased every year since 2017.

Hackers usually execute ransomware attacks by gaining unauthorized access to data, then encrypting it or moving it and charging a ransom in order to restore your access to it.

The best way to prevent ransomware attacks is to make sure that access to data is restricted by strong access controls. In addition, making frequent backups of data can help. If you have your data backed up on servers that hackers can’t access, you won’t have to pay a ransom to get it back in the event that someone takes control of it.

Identify theft

Data breaches like the theft of 3 billion accounts’ worth of data at Yahoo! are designed to steal personal information.

Attackers can then exploit that information to break into other accounts, attempt to steal identities and so on.

As an end-user, the best way to protect yourself against this threat is to avoid using the same password for multiple accounts, so that if an attacker steals your password for one service, he won’t be able to use it to break into another one.

For similar reasons, you should be careful about how you configure password recovery questions, which can do more harm than good.

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Meanwhile, if you are an organization that is responsible for overseeing data that could be used for identity theft, you can mitigate the risk of identity theft by resisting the temptation to collect unnecessary personal information.

You can also spread data across multiple storage locations so that a breach of one data set does not provide attackers with complete account information.

And you should design strategic data retention policies. You want to store data for as long as you need (and make sure you meet compliance requirements in that respect), but avoid keeping it around longer than necessary, because unnecessary data storage is a security risk.

Stealing infrastructure

Servers and storage arrays are expensive. Some hackers want to break into your systems so that they can store data and host applications on your infrastructure, instead of paying for their own.

One way to mitigate the risk of this type of attack is to avoid exposing infrastructure to the public internet unless necessary. If hackers can’t see how much infrastructure you have, they’ll be less likely to want to take control of it.

Of course, firewalling off your internal infrastructure is no guarantee that hackers won’t still hack it. They might find ways to get past your perimeter defenses. But as a best practice, your public-facing services should be limited to those that strictly need to be public-facing.

Just because they can

Unfortunately, some attackers want to steal your data just to prove that they can. They are not motivated by monetary gain, access to free resources or the ability to steal your users’ identities.

They simply want to prove to themselves – and their hacker friends, perhaps – that they can break past your defenses.

The greater your company’s reputation, the more tempting it is for attackers to show that they defeated your security measures.

There is no particular way to respond to these types of attackers. You simply need to follow data security best practices in general. Monitor your systems for signs of attack, lock down access control and avoid unnecessary attack vectors.

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