Analysis: The Psychology of A Hacker

The first episode of the first season of Mr. Robot began with an iconic scene featuring Elliot confronting a man he had recently hacked. Elliot calls the man out for running a child pornography ring, to which the man replies “are you blackmailing me, so that is what this is about? Money? How much money do you want, I’ll pay you.”  Elliot then calmly replies, “You’re wrong, I don’t give a $hit  about money” before calmly walking away and handing the man over to police.

While this was a Hollywood scene, it does point to a fundamental truth regarding the psyche or mentality of many hackers around the world today. It wasn’t for no reason that the show got such high remarks for accurately depicting “hacking culture” in main stream society.

In line with the clip above, a recent study conducted by Britain’s National Crime Agency has concluded that more “hackers are motivated by idealism rather than money.” The study also indicates that hackers have no discernible”socio-demographic bias” when going about selecting a target and outside of committing “cyber-crimes,” hackers are statistically “unlikely to be involved in traditional crimes.” Meaning hackers are otherwise just normal people in society with no previous criminal record.

Read The Complete Study for Yourself:

To gather data, researches conducted several interviews with hackers throughout the country whom are currently serving prison sentences for various cyber crimes. The researches wanted to cross-reference and compare their answers in hopes of uncovering any potential traits, trends or commonalities between the individuals, which ultimately led them to a life in cyber crime.

Here are some of the key highlights from their findings:

  • A number of teenagers who we asses as unlikely to be involved in traditional crime are becoming involved in cyber crime
  • To date there has been no socio-demographic bias amongst offenders or those on the periphery of criminality.
  • Availability of low-level hacking tools encourages criminal behaviour.
  • Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) appears to be more prevalent amongst cyber criminals than the general populace though this remains unproven.
  • Financial gain is not necessarily a priority for young offenders.
  • Completing the challenge, sense of accomplishment, proving oneself to peers is a key motivation for those involved in cybercriminality.
  • Cyber crime is not solitary and anti-social. Social relationships, albeit online, are key. Forum interaction and building of reputation drives young cyber criminals.
  • Targeted interventions at an early stage can steer pathways towards positive outcomes.

Before I get into an analysis of hackers in general, it is important to note that there are 3 kinds of “hackers in the world. The first is a “White Hat,” the second is a “Grey Hat” and the last is a “Black Hat.” Additionally, the number of “amateur” hackers far exceeds the number of “licensed, professional or Federally employed” hackers.

I would bet that between 90-95% of hackers are White Hat, meaning they hack things for the sheer fun of it (lulz), hack things to secure them (Ethical Hackers) or just they are just beginners in general (n00bs).  Black Hats are the real “cyber-criminals” and nearly all of their actions online are malicious, to ransom, exploit, blackmail or corrupt the people they are hacking. Typically, for obvious reasons, Black Hats also tend to be the most skilled or technologically advanced hackers of them all. Grey Hats are skilled hackers who do not consider themselves criminals, because their actions are motivated to take down Black Hat cyber criminals or others like them. However, considering that it usually requires black hat hacking skills to hack a black hat or catch a criminal, they usually operate within what could be considered a “Grey Area” in regards to cyber law.

Think of it much like Batman. Technically speaking, Batman is a criminal. He is always out there assaulting people, blowing up buildings and smashing cars on the highway, but he does it for “good” and for “Justice” – to do things the police can not. If Batman were a hacker, he would be a Grey Hat. I also think that many hackers would like to think of themselves as internet superhero’s in some way.

This metaphor subsequently leads to the answer as to why many people become interested in hacking in the first place, vigilanty-ism. The core underlying trait of many hackers is the feeling of being powerless and/or worthless in everyday society, in their lives offline.  The bigger the impact and the more of a difference they can make online, the more important it makes them feel about their lives and what they are doing – even if they are just a “loser” in normal society when offline.

For example, ISIS is bad and something should really be done about them, right? But as a low-class American citizen or ordinary person in general, what can anyone really do in their everyday life to solve serious problems in the Middle East? Such is the work of politicians and Government leaders, not everyday peoples. This is what hacking offers some people, a platform that ordinary life does not. Look no further than #OpISIS, the largest hacking operation of 2015/2016.

As a result of this operation, 100’s of thousands of Islamic State web page’s, forums, email servers and social media accounts were hacked, recorded, destroyed and then taken offline. Any and all relevant information uncovered was then collected and passed on to the proper international authorities – id est – the FBI, CIA, INTERPOL and the like. What made this operation so unique/special was that it was carried out by ordinary civilians and amateur hackers from all across the globe.

As reported by Vice News in mid 2016, one US counter-terrorism analyst suggested that these Anonymous vigilante hackers far outperformed sophisticated and well funded Government Agencies, such as the NSA. There were also several other reports released to that effect.

As the video eludes to, US Intelligence Analysts get paid +$70,000 a year with full benefits to accomplish less than what a bunch of ordinary citizens/bums did for free, working on couches in their spare time. This would also certainly confirm the study’s claim that “Financial gain is not necessarily a priority” for most hackers. I think you would find that most hackers are not rich, tend to come from poverty and are motivated to work online through idealism, to be their own superhero and make a difference in the world however they can.

Considering that cyber operations, such as #OpISIS, sometimes require hundreds to thousands of people working on a shared goal at the same time, coordination and communication is key. As the National Crime Agency even concludes themselves, cyber activity “is not solitary and anti-social. Social relationships, albeit online, are key” in a hackers overall development online. You would be surprised to learn just how many different and diverse people you end up meeting online, that you would never have the possibility of encountering in real life.

As for their statements that the “Availability of low-level hacking tools encourages criminal behaviour,” I think this is obviously true. While I do not “encourage” hacking activities, I have reported before about some of the most popular and widely used “low-level hacking tools” these guys are talking about.

Lastly, I refute the studies claim that hackers “perceive the likelihood of encountering law enforcement as low.” This could not be any more untrue. Hackers go to great lengths to conceal their identity online because they know if they ever got caught, they would be arrested. Moreover, the worlds best hackers are the ones who know how to not be seen, because they are actively eluding law enforcement as they work. The last thing anyone involved in the hacking community is doing is wandering around internet nonchalantly thinking they cant be hacked themselves.

The whole idea behind ‘being Anonymous’ or working with the Anonymous Hacker Collective is to literally remain hidden and keep all of your personal identity/information secret while working online.

Categories: Hacking News

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