Why Do People Hack?

Skilled hackers engage in cyber crime due to political, financial, or ideological motivations. Whatever the factors, a cybersecurity degree can help cyber experts predict and prevent malicious cyber security attacks from hobbyists, domestic vigilante groups, and international threats to the security of our nation’s digital infrastructure.

Hacking Is On the Rise

Ever since the advent of networked computers, there have been hackers who seem to consider it their personal mission to exploit those networks. Now with the interconnectedness (and, therefore, vulnerability) of everything from the devices in our pockets to the vehicles we drive, information security risks are greater than ever before and it is easier than ever for hackers to access our files. 

But why do hackers do what they do? When most people think of hacking, they envision sensitive information being stolen and used for financial gain—but the truth is, hacking can spring from a variety of motivations.

Motivations for Hacking

As with any crime, the factors that motivate highly skilled hackers range from personal gain to idealism to political machinations. Modern cybersecurity degrees look at these motivations so that students can deepen their understanding of where and when cyber attacks may strike. There is a current debate about ethics in cyber security surrounding hacking and how the information collected should be used in various cases. Some computer security experts justify hacking as a means to finding valuable security pitfalls, while others say there are more honest ways to go about finding and reporting those issues than garnering unauthorized access.


Hackers frequently decide to hack secured systems for the same reason mountain climbers feel an irresistible urge to climb Mount Everest: because it’s there. There are also bragging rights associated with accomplishments like hacking very secure data sets.

Many young hackers are extremely intelligent, unmotivated at school because of their intelligence, and looking for an opportunity to prove themselves with their programming skills. The challenge of overcoming obstacles, coupled with the thrill of knowing they’re doing something they aren’t allowed to do—and that they’ve bested someone else’s security, thus proving their superior proficiency—are sometimes all the motivation needed to begin hacking.

Amateur or unaffiliated hackers frequently exploit personal computers and networks that are not password-protected or even using a firewall, seeing such unsecure situations as an open invitation to enter. To avoid detection, these hackers often hijack the IP address of someone else so that the activity cannot be traced back to them.

Help Identify Security Breaches

Some hackers take the thrill of the chase one step further into vigilantism. They compromise the websites and databases of large organizations for the purposes of identifying security risks, holes or flaws. Organizations can then use these results to improve their methods and security.

Organizations respond to this “assistance” in a variety of ways. Some companies and government organizations recognize these efforts and actively recruit from the hacking community to help them identify and close gaps in security.


The disparate activist group known as Anonymous has been making headlines for years by compromising large, secure entities—among them oppressive foreign governments and regimes, national credit card companies, Wall Street and large banks, police departments across the country, even the United States Department of Justice—to protest anything members of the various factions consider immoral or oppressive.

Because Anonymous is a leaderless group, its parameters cannot be defined; idealist hackers from all over the globe can claim Anonymous affiliation and break off into cells, initiating floods of DDoS (distributed denial of service) attacks in well-coordinated campaigns and, in some cases, hacking into and defacing the websites of organizations with whom they disagree. They often do not face consequences because there are so many among the group.

Financial Gain

Criminal hackers often act for financial gain, either individually or in coordinated groups. They can achieve this in a variety of ways: by installing malware on individual computers in order to collect passwords to sensitive user accounts; by compromising business websites and email systems and tricking users into providing sensitive information; or by directly hacking into business or government databases to collect credit card numbers or other data of large numbers of users in one fell swoop. To the astonishment of some, this kind of hacking does not require a supercomputer or futuristic equipment and can be done from nearly any computer sold in stores today.

Some hackers use what is known as a Trojan horse to gain entry into a database. When this type of virus is launched, it works as a backdoor program so that the hacker might have remote access to the data inside without anyone being flagged.

Malicious Intent by Foreign Governments and Militants

This particular kind of hacking government computers usually takes place in the more secretive branches of the militaries around the world due to the sensitive nature of the information they uncover. Sometimes this kind of hacking can be ethically justified by the country in charge of the operation because it can be seen as homeland security.

In one of the more serious cases of malicious hacking, the Chinese and other governments have been under suspicion for politically motivated hacking. In one recent example, the New York Times was hacked in response to an article they ran on the finances of China’s prime minister and his family.

While the Chinese government continues to deny involvement in these information security issues, cyber experts have found patterns that indicate a strong connection between recent attacks and university computers that have been used in past cyber attacks on the United States.

Join the Fight against Hacking

Regardless of the motivation, hacking is a serious threat to national security. In order to defend that security and take effective preventative action, those who fight hackers must have a similar skill set. Join the authorities who hunt down computer hackers and help to reduce computer crime.

A cybersecurity degree from Regis University Online gives graduates the skills they need to qualify for employment in some of our nation’s top defense organizations. With a stable information assurance career, cyber experts can help defend our existing infrastructure, create secure systems, and apply counterintelligence methods to predict and prevent attacks.

Visit our Resource Center for more details on the information assurance industry.

Access Information Assurance Resources