Why Do Hackers Use Phishing Schemes?
If hackers are so good at computers, why is phishing the dominant type of hack today?
Modern professionals often find themselves wondering at this question when reading tech news or discarding the third obvious phishing email in a week.
For most people, the idea of a “hacker” starts with someone who is good at computers and – for their own criminal reasons – chooses to misuse that ability to crack into other’s servers and steal from them. Hackers are, in concept, supposed to be like the second-story jewel thieves of the modern data world. Except that most of them aren’t.
A hacker is really someone with just-enough computer skills and a desire to take shortcuts at the expense of others. Phishing has been identified as the “easiest” way to do this. Today, we’re diving into the true motivations of the modern hacker. Why do they phish? What do they hope to gain? Not only will you understand the deep inherent laziness of phish-hacking, but also gain insight into spotting future phishing attempts by identifying which hacker-motivation a phishing message will serve.
So why do hackers use phishing schemes?
Because It’s Easier Than Hacking
Most hackers use phishing because it’s easy. Tricking someone into downloading malware onto their computer is a heck-of-a-lot easier than actually cracking modern network security measures. Firewalls, virus detection, resource monitoring, and other clever tricks we install into our networks prevent hackers from easily opening up a server to steal or insert their malware. But tricking a person, that requires almost no technical skills at all. Many phishing schemes should – in truth – barely be considered hacking. There might be some copy-paste malware in the email link or a nefarious plan to sell your personal information, but mostly phishing is about writing a convincing (usually bullying) email. And as we all know, writing an email is much easier than writing a computer program – much less one that can crack today’s advanced cybersecurity measures.
Most hacking today circles around phishing because only the top-end of hackers even have the technical capability to actually hack a computer or network.
To Get Their Malware On Your Computer
Malware is a catch-all term for malicious software that hackers use. It’s usually designed to stay hidden and collect data and/or cause problems. Malware can be anything from a data-skimmer to all-out ransomware. What you don’t know is that most hackers don’t write their own malware, they copy it from shared sources on the darknet, maybe with tiny modifications. These programs are advertised to do a variety of things like steal your payment info, steal your identity data, or infiltrate a computer for a more long-term effect.
Hackers use phishing to get you to click that link and download their copy-pasted malware, or visit an infected site that will do the same thing. Then the pre-written program wreaks whatever havoc it was originally designed to do.
To Get Their Malware on Your Employer’s Computers
Of course, many hackers realize that a company has a much deeper trove of theft-worthy data (or havoc they could cause) than a single personal computer or device. So they try to target businesses – specifically to phish employees from businesses. A business cybersecurity stack is usually strong enough to repel these opportunistic phishers, but if just one employee clicks a malicious link in a weird email, then the malware downloads itself to a company computer. From there, it can potentially read confidential data on that computer or even spread to the company’s entire internal network.
To Acquire Your Personal Information to Later Steal Your Identity
Some hackers specialize in identity theft, whether it’s to use your stolen credit card for one pizza order in a distant city, to sell your information, or to impersonate you for their future crimes. Identity theft is a very serious problem today, focused on by the savvier of the phishing hackers. Identity theft is often a more sophisticated scheme than simple malware exposure because it happens in multiple stages and has so many different ways to mess up a person’s life.
Personal information phishing schemes also tend to be a little tougher to spot. Be diligent about confirming who you are speaking to – especially if the sender isn’t already in your contacts list. Your personal information includes your full name, address, birthday, medical details, financial information, details about your work, and even social details about your friends and family that one would not normally consider confidential
All of this personal data can be put to use either to steal from you or use your identity to later phish others.
To Gain Access to Your Finances
Every criminal thinks of their schemes as a route to money. This is why ransomware was the popular malware-darling of the hacker world for so long and ist still being used. Hackers like to think of themselves as thieves, so it’s no surprise when they dive for your digital wallet. Be wary of any email that even mentions money, your bank, or asks for account numbers.
Phishing attempts to gain access to your finances are often worded in a more threatening or urgent way to create a sense of panic in the recipient. They want to convince you to act -right now- without second-guessing or checking with your team before providing financial information.
To Give Them Access to Your Employer’s Information or Funds
Just as hackers often target a business to malware-infect instead of an individual, smarter hackers may be angling to gain access to your employer through their email to you. This is especially true if an unexpected message with a not-so-veiled threat asks about internal company data or mentions finances in any way.
Through social hacking, or phishing, hackers hope to gain access. They’re likely aiming for a double-hitter by installing malware on the business network and tricking an employee into revealing more than they should. The ultimate win for a financial hack, naturally, is to convince you transfer funds without checking-in upstairs first.
Because it Makes Them Feel Powerful to Trick and Hurt Others
Finally, the ultimate motivation for hackers of any sort is because they like to trick people. Phishing hackers, in particular are looking for that “I fooled you” sense of superiority they feel when someone earnestly answers one of their emails. Many hackers especially like the feeling of hurting another person for their own benefit, or sometimes just for the laughs. These are immature motivations which lead to an immature mis-use of technical skills or personal intelligence. Anyone can lie through an email and anyone can send pre-written malware through a malicious link.
Today, the average professional stays on their toes, guarding themselves both at home and work against phishing attempts. Fortunately for us, most hackers have taken the phishing path because they are lazy and not very technically skilled. This means anyone with a sharp eye and a cautious attitude about information, links, and finances can aptly defend themselves and avoid the hacking attempt completely. All you have to do is not answer or, even better, alert anyone associated with or mentioned in the scheme so they can boost their defenses as well.
For more insights into social hacking and phishing or to discuss your companies cybersecurity measures, contact us today!