Who Are They and Why Are They at Risk? | #hacking | #cybersecurity | #infosec | #comptia | #pentest | #hacker

Hackers can easily target anyone and everyone, as they might use various social engineering tactics to trick people into giving up their information. But who do they target the most? Why do cybercriminals focus so heavily on these demographics?

1. Financial Institutions

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The motivation behind many hackers is simply monetary gain, making financial institutions prime targets for cyberattacks. These institutions include banks, credit unions, and other financial service providers that handle vast amounts of sensitive customer data and valuable financial assets.

One of the largest credit reporting agencies, Equifax, was attacked by hackers in 2017. The data breach enabled the hackers to acquire sensitive personal data from approximately 147 million customers. Data including social security numbers (SSNs), birth dates, and other confidential information was stolen.

The likelihood of cyberattacks targeting the financial industries is way higher than other organizations because of the likelihood of huge jackpots. Based on the Modern Bank Heist 3.0 survey, a staggering 80 percent of financial institutions surveyed witnessed a rise in cyberattacks in 2020. This statistic established a notable 13 percent increase compared to the previous year.

What steps should financial institutions take to safeguard themselves against cyberattacks? They need to invest in cybersecurity staff, tools, and training, and implement robust policies and procedures for third-party risk management.

2. Governmental Agencies

Government Office staff sitting at a row of desks

The government is loaded with citizens’ personal information, cross-border secrets, and tons of classified files and documents that are better left under lock and key.

Two notable instances highlight the severity of these attacks. A huge cyberattack hit the U.S. Office of Personnel Management in 2015, exposed the personal data of more than 21 million federal workers. Two years later, another massive cyberattack called WannaCry targeted government agencies around the world in about 100 countries. It caused a lot of chaos and damage, and the NHS estimated that it cost up to $4 billion.

Hackers are drawn to targeting government entities for several reasons.

First, governments store vast amounts of sensitive data, making them attractive targets for espionage or intelligence gathering.

Secondly, the potential for political and economic impact is substantial, allowing hackers to exert influence or gain advantages in international affairs.

Last but not least, government bodies often have several branches, offices, departments, and agencies that run autonomously and have their own IT frameworks and regulations. This makes monitoring and regulating traffic and data flow more difficult, leaving many security vulnerabilities and irregularities in the network.

Hackers love to exploit these gaps and inconsistencies because they can use them to move laterally within the network and access sensitive data and systems.

3. Educational Institutions

black and white photo of university lecture hall

Hackers and malware are not something you would normally associate with schools and universities, right? You would expect these places to be secure and protected, where students and staff can focus on learning and working. That’s only sometimes true. Hackers have expanded their targets beyond colleges and universities to include K-12 schools and educational programs.

In November 2022, schools in Jackson County and Hillsdale County, Michigan, experienced a ransomware attack, leading to several days of closure as a precautionary measure. Similarly, in December 2022, hackers messed with the school district in Little Rock, Arkansas. They locked up the computers and demanded money to let them go. The school district didn’t have much choice. They decided to cough up $250,000 to appease the hackers and end the attack.

Hackers choose to attack academic institutions for a couple of reasons. These institutions hold loads of valuable data. These include student records, research data, and intellectual property, which can be sold or exploited for financial gain.

Furthermore, they often have tight budgets and limited IT staff and security experts, making it hard for them to stay abreast with the latest threats and best practices in cybersecurity. So, cyberattacks might catch them off guard, and they may lack the tools or hands to deal with them quickly and efficiently.

black and white illustration of falsified news

Media outlets shape public opinion, inform people about current events, and expose corruption and wrongdoing. They have the power to sway elections, start social movements, and spark controversies. They also have a lot of enemies, from rival media groups and political factions to disgruntled sources. And they often hold valuable data, including sensitive sources, to investigations that hackers might exploit to gain political leverage.

All these reasons explain why hackers love to target media outlets.

A group called Guardians of Peace hacked Sony Pictures Entertainment in 2014, exposing sensitive information. This notable incident resulted in the public release of highly sensitive internal documents and confidential emails.

Also, in December 2018, some major US newspapers had trouble printing and delivering their papers over a weekend because of a cyberattack on Tribune Publishing, one of the biggest media groups in the country. The hackers deployed a ransomware infection by Ryuk, malicious software that encrypts data and demands payment for its release.

Hackers who go after media outlets have various reasons and ways to do it. But they share a common goal: to mess with the information people get or sway what people think.

5. Influential Individuals or Celebrities

elon musk illustrated portrait

Hackers get the banks, put the government in a frenzy, and shut down schools—your favorite influencer or celebrity is not immune to them either.

Why? One obvious reason is money. Celebrities usually have a lot of wealth and assets that hackers can try to steal or extort. They can also blackmail them with sensitive information or photos they find on their devices or cloud services.

Remember the infamous iCloud hacks where Ryan Collins, a Pennsylvania hacker, infiltrated several Hollywood celebrities’ iCloud and Google accounts? These included notable figures like Jennifer Lawrence and Kate Upton. He unlawfully accessed and stole their private photos and leaked them online.

Another reason why hackers target celebrities is, simply, their fame. Hackers can use celebrities’ online platforms to spread their messages, propaganda, or malware to a large audience. They can break into their online profiles and share stuff that’s not true, biased, or harmful, tricking or hurting the people who see their posts and click on malicious links that can damage their devices.

Hackers can also impersonate celebrities and trick their followers into giving them money or personal information.

Hackers Target the Vulnerable and the Valuable

The threat of cyberattacks will never really go away. No one is immune to these attacks: everyone can be a target, from finance organizations to academic and media strata.

When hackers strike, they can mess up a lot of things. They can expose personal info, make us lose faith in online services, and put important data at risk. Staying informed, updated, and taking action to foster a culture of cybersecurity awareness will go a long way to curb the intensity and frequency of these attacks.


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