Network hacking is the process of identifying and exploiting a network’s weaknesses to gain illegal access to computing devices and networks. Once a hacker enters the network, they can carry out all sorts of unauthorized activities, like downloading files, changing the computer’s configuration, stealing passwords, or infecting the network with malware.
With a hacker attacking every 39 seconds, organizations must know the ins and outs of hacking and learn how to avoid being hacked.
This guide will describe how hacking works, the types of hacking methods, and how best to prevent them.
How hacking works in 5 steps
Hacking typically proceeds over the course of five stages: reconnaissance, scanning, access, maintenance, and clearing tracks.
Reconnaissance is the first phase of hacking, where the hacker tries to gather the maximum information possible on the target’s computer system. It is a time-consuming process, as the hacker has to identify weak entry ports and active machines and do network mapping to gain detailed information about the target network.
To aid the process, hackers use social engineering and dumpster diving techniques to obtain sensitive information like passwords, account details, social security numbers, and other credentials.
After the organization’s surveillance has been satisfactorily completed, hackers scan the network for specific vulnerabilities they can exploit. Weaknesses they look for include open services and ports and the devices used on the network.
There are three types of scanning:
- Port scanning to extract information about live ports and services running on the network.
- Vulnerability scanning to identify vulnerabilities and exploit them. Hackers often use automated vulnerability scanners to speed up the process of detecting vulnerabilities more quickly.
- Network scanning to create maps of networks and locate the organization’s firewalls, routers, and networks.
In the access phase, hackers do the actual hacking. They use various techniques like man-in-the-middle (MitM) attacks, brute force attacks, spoofing, session hijacking, and denial-of-service (DoS) attacks to infiltrate the system. The network maps created in the previous process aid them in gaining access to confidential data and systems in the network.
4. Maintaining access
In this phase, hackers strive to maintain the access they gained earlier. They use several options like backdoors, Trojan horse viruses, and rootkits to secure continued access to the network and acquire administrative privileges.
Getting elevated privileges allows them not only to control and modify data within the network but also to use the system to launch attacks on other networks.
5. Clearing tracks
This is the last phase of hacking, where hackers try to remove all signs of the attack to evade detection. They achieve this by deleting log files, closing all open ports, and clearing cookies and caches.
How to prevent network hacking
Organizations can protect their networks against hacking by implementing anti-malware protection and firewalls, keeping software updated, and using strong passwords as part of a robust cybersecurity stack.
Use anti-malware protection
The first thing organizations should do is to download and install a reliable antivirus software solution that can protect their network from hard-to-detect malware.
A robust antivirus or anti-malware solution will regularly scan your computer for both incoming and existing threats. These solutions even prevent users from accessing suspicious websites. Further, they come with regular updates to counter newer versions of malware.
A sound network firewall system equipped with robust security features is a cornerstone of any network security stack. Firewalls add multiple layers of protection to your security measures and block illegal access to your data and devices.
Network firewalls are located on the network’s edge and scan incoming traffic for potential threats. As part of a defense-in-depth approach to security, firewalls don’t just block incoming attacks: they also check for data exfiltration and limit insider threats as well.
Keep your software updated
Outdated software can make hacking your networks and computing devices easier for cybercriminals. A case in point was the 2017 WannaCry ransomware attack that targeted users and organizations who did not update their software on time.
With new vulnerabilities constantly emerging, keeping your software updated is one of the best defenses against cybercriminals.
Use strong passwords
Weak passwords are one of the most common entry points for hackers. Using strong passwords can make it more difficult for cybercriminals to compromise your system.
Some pointers to keep in mind are:
- Avoid using the same password for multiple accounts.
- Use a combination of words, special characters, and symbols.
- Change your passwords often.
You can also use a password manager to keep track of all your company passwords and ensure accounts remain secure and only accessible by authorized users.
Types of hacking
Hacking can come in many different forms, but some of the most common approaches are through social engineering, brute force, backdoors, and distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks.
Social engineering is a manipulation method fraudsters use to trick users into giving away sensitive personal information. Social engineering is a relatively easy way to get into a system, as the user willingly hands over confidential and vital information to the hacker.
Social engineering attacks depend on popup ads, instant messages, and various forms of phishing to achieve their aim.
Brute force attacks
Brute force attacks are trial-and-error methods hackers use to obtain passwords. Hackers use guesswork to decode passwords by generating different combinations for letters or numerical patterns to help them crack password combinations.
Using long, complex passwords with a mix of letters, numbers, and symbols can help make your passwords hard to guess.
Backdoor attacks are attacks where hackers gain root access to computer systems and networks without the user or organization noticing it. Once they gain high-level access, they can steal info or inject malware into the system.
According to the IBM Security X-Force Threat Intelligence Index 2023 report, backdoor attacks were the most common attacks by threat actors in 2022, leading to a significant spike in Emotet cases in the months of February and March.
Distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks
A DDoS attack is a hacking method where hackers send unusually large amounts of traffic to a website, preventing users from loading and accessing its pages. DDoS attackers use botnets or zombie computers and spoofed IP addresses to overload a computer system with data packets, eventually leading to a website crash.
DDoS attacks remain one of the biggest cyber challenges, with attacks growing by 150% in 2022 compared to the previous year.
What can happen if a hacker gets into your network?
Depending on the hacker’s motives — e.g., financial gain, hacktivism, or theft (see below) — they might execute all manner of different attacks on your network.
Successful hacking attempts might result in the perpetrator:
- Stealing your bank details and opening bank accounts in your name.
- Selling your personal information for monetary gain.
- Exfiltrating your data for ransom or other purposes.
- Deleting important files on your device.
- Encrypting your essential files and decrypting them only when you pay a ransom.
- Damaging your credit score or your organization’s reputation.
Top reasons people hack into networks
Hackers typically break into networks for personal monetary gain, political or ideological hacktivism, or to steal information for a variety of purposes.
While there are several reasons why people hack into networks, monetary gains remain one of the primary motivations for hackers. In fact, an overwhelming 95% of breaches are financially driven.
As ransomware attacks continue to rise year-over-year, they cost businesses huge sums of money. Ransom payments by organizations worldwide amounted to $8.44 trillion in 2022 alone. And these figures are expected to increase further and reach $23.82 trillion by 2027.
Hacktivism is a form of hacking where hackers or “hacktivists” attack corporate organizations or governments that they deem dangerous or oppressive. These attacks are more likely to be centered around sabotaging organizations by deleting or corrupting data, rather than simply stealing it.
Usually driven by political reasons, the main aim of hacktivists is to promote a particular ideology and draw public attention to issues they feel have been sidelined. Some of the most famous examples of hacktivism include WikiLeaks, LulzSec, and, more recently, the Russia-Ukraine war.
Yet another common reason for cybercriminals to hack is to steal information. This could range from financial details to classified information about your clients or business. With this info, hackers can perform identity theft, initiate an account takeover, perform phishing attacks, or demand a ransom.
Bottom line: Protect your organization against network hacking
The ramifications of a cyberattack resulting from hacking can be devastating. Losing organizational data to hacking not only results in monetary losses, but your company’s reputation also takes a hit.
With hackers getting more innovative with time, paying close attention to cybersecurity and safeguarding your data and networks is critical. One of the best methods is educating your staff on cybersecurity best practices, as is downloading a comprehensive anti-malware security solution to protect your networks from the latest cybersecurity threats.