I think we all know that real computer hacking doesn’t happen the way you see it in movies and television, but what really does happen when a hacker tries to take over a computer?
Most Computer Hacking Has A Profit Motive
Hackers on television often have some noble motive—or they’re certifiably crazy. But in reality, most serious hackers are just trying to make a buck.
Most hackers come from semi-impoverished nations. They’re rich enough to afford old computers and basic Internet access, but they’re not located in rich nations so they can’t get a high-paying job as programmers or system administrators, so they resort to hacking.
Hacking doesn’t pay well (usually). Most hackers make money by breaking into computers and then using them to run a scam or send spam email—but most people know better than to buy from a scam site, and even when they do buy from a scam site, credit card companies and banks deny the hackers money, so hackers only make money from 1 person in 100,000.
Computer Hacking Rarely Target PCs Directly
If you’re famous, there’s probably a computer hacker trying to break into your computer right now. But if you’re just a regular person, hackers won’t usually dedicate the time to try to break into your computer directly.
Instead, hackers write viruses to break into thousands or millions of computers at the same time. Then they use these computers as robots (“bots”) to power their scams. They don’t care about you personally, but they also don’t care how much damage they do to you through their computer hacking.
Computer Hacking Targets Servers
But there are individual computers hackers will target personally—powerful Internet servers. If they take over one of these computers, they can use it to serve false information or they can get customer data from it directly.
Your data is most vulnerable when it sits on a poorly-secured Internet data server. If hackers break into your computer, they get just your data. But if hackers break into a corporate server, they get information for thousands or millions of people all at once, making it worth their effort.
Computer Hacking Is A Slow Process
In the movies, the computer hacker types a few commands at 200 words per minute and instantly gets into highly-secured servers. In reality, hackers almost always need to try dozens or hundreds of attacks before one succeeds, making computer hacking a slow process.
Hackers do write small programs called scripts to speed up the process, but these only turn a process that takes weeks into a process which can take days or hours. (These scripts often become viruses when they’re perfected.)
Computer Hacking Doesn’t Always Work
The last thing you see in the movies is that the super hacker is always successful. But real-life hacking is almost never successful. If there was a super hacker out there with even a 50% success rate, he could access billions or trillions of dollars on a whim.
In reality, the basic security techniques everyone advises you to follow—use a firewall, use anti-virus, beware of scam links—these techniques block practically all attempts at computer hacking from cyber security terrorists.