Hacker motives

Hacker motives

Hacker Motives

Why do Hackers Hack? This is a question asked repeatedly by average consumers and users of computers and computer technology. Through years of study and research, the answers have become more clear. Just like every act committed by a criminal, there is a motive for every computer-related crime.

Hacking is commonly used to refer to forms of trespass against a computer belonging to another. However, this does not cover the entire definition of hacking. An intention to commit a serious offense, or to cause harm or inconvenience, is one of the underlying principles of the more serious computer offenses. Accessing data alone is an offense where there is an intent to commit a serious offense. The modification or impairment of data is an offense if accompanied by an intention to cause harm or inconvenience.

The reasons behind hacking are likely to be self-serving. In order to understand the reason behind the digital crimes, the different types of motives must be considered. Grabosky and Smith cataloged possible motives of hackers as:

Monetary Gain Intellectual Challenge Power Self-Expression and Peer Recognition Mischief or Curiosity (with unknown consequences) Vengeance and Vindictiveness Attacking the 'System' or Terrorism Testing Computer Security


Money can be acquired by means of hacking through many different illegal techniques. One way such way is through ATM card information, credit card skimming, and password scams. Valuable data, services or capacity such as data storage or communication can be stolen. Marketing schemes and frauds can turn an illegal profit, as well as the theft of intellectual property, which is known as Piracy.

Intellectual Challenge

Some hackers commit digital crimes just for personal gratification or an ego boost and do not want to receive any sort of publicity or recognition. One hacker, Simon Vallor, was jailed for 2 years after being caught hacking. His reason was to 'see if I could do it'.

Power and Terrorism

Some hackers are motivated by individual grievances leading to attacks on individuals or companies. An example of an individualized attack that lead to widespread harm in the physical world was the hacking of the sewage treatment system in Queensland, which caused raw sewage to be pumped into waterways. The offender was convicted and sentenced to two years imprisonment.

It is increasingly being recognized that web-based illegal activity may be used to finance terrorism. While computer hacking may in the future be used directly to further terrorist aims, this does not appear to have occurred to date. Hacking has the capacity to cause damage, or aggravate damage from other forms of attack. Items that are critical to the national information infrastructure or key utilities involving energy, communication, health and hazardous materials provide obvious targets for malicious hacking.

Vengeance and Vindictiveness

A government study showed that computers sabotaged by corporate insiders are motivated by revenged against their bosses. In many cases these attempts risk endangering the economy or national security.

The Department of Homeland Security funded the study, which examined a large number of cases from 1999 to 2005 to see what motivates a trusted person, usually an employee in a technology department, to attack a network and how their actions can completely shut down or harm the most important data. These people were typically angry over disciplinary actions, missed promotions or layoffs. The attacks included crippling whole networks, deleting important data, or posting pornography on an employer's web site.

Testing Computer Security

Some hacking attempts are controlled and are used solely for the purpose of testing the security of a computer or network. Not always malicious, these attempts help research and develop safer and more protected systems that lead to advances in the network security field.


Grabosky P & Smith R 1998. Crime in the Digital Age. Sydney: Federation Press

[http://www.aic.gov.au/publications/htcb/htcb006.html Australian Institute of Criminology]

[http://www.crime-research.org/news/18.05.2005/1239 Inside Hackers' Motives, Study]

Leyden J 2003. Welsh Virus Writer Vallor Jailed for Two Years. The Register 21 January

[http://safari.oreilly.com/0130464163/ch02 Halting the Hacker: A Practical Guide to Computer Security]

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