“Why do people hack?” is actually a fairly deep, philosophical question. It cuts to the heart of the human condition. Not dissimilar to asking why people steal, or whether we’re all good when we’re born. What conditions would compel someone to hack, to break the law and potentially risk their personal liberty in the hopes it might improve their life somehow.

Wait, what? That’s not what you meant when you asked me “Why do people hack?” I get it, you just want to know about what ends the hacking achieves – well, my mistake. How embarrassing.

Let’s talk about the benefits hackers get.

Anyways, why do people hack? There’s a number of reasons, some of them overlap – so, we’ll do our best to categorize them.

Hacking because you’re trying to make money

One on the reasons people hack is financial. Something that the target has is worth something to the hacker trying to get it. Payment card information, personal data, login credentials – anything that can be used to make money. Now, it’s probably worth mentioning that even though it’s not going to be easy, the hacking is by comparison the easy part. Turning data into cash is complicated and requires more than just the technical skills needed for hacking. Then, after you’ve converted the data to money you have to launder that money before you can use it. It’s all very complicated, which is why a lot of times you don’t hear about these massive data breaches actually resulting in widespread theft from the individuals impacted.

Hacking because you’re a researcher

White hat hacking, or ethical hacking, refers to when security researchers probe a piece of software or hardware for vulnerabilities in an attempt to make it more secure. There are two kinds of white hats. There are white hats that work directly for an organization to test their software of their customers’ software. Then there are freelance ethical hackers, who often do independent research, for example as part of a bug bounty program.

Hacking because it’s fun

Some people just enjoy causing trouble. Spray painting overpasses and egging cars are passé – now troublemakers have digital targets to go after. Instead of trashing stuff in the physical world, some people just like to hack stuff for fun – deface websites, post porn links on forums, tweet nasty messages from a celebrity’s account, etc.

Hacking to make a statement

Anytime anyone tells you they’re doing anything to “make a statement” there’s a pretty good chance they just like “stirring the pot”, as my grandmother would say. Now let’s mix in the internet and you get “hacktivism.” Most of the time, hacktivism means hackers deface a website, or maybe they’ll DDoS you and take it down all together. Eventually they’ll get bored and move on to their next cause.

Hacking just because you’re a troll

This one is closely related to the previous two reasons. You know that scene in Batman where Alfred tells Bruce that some men just want to see the world burn? There’s a name for those men. Trolls. These guys – are literally doing this just to be assholes and to enjoy the rise it gets out of people. For instance, knocking Playstation Network and Xbox Live offline for a few days on Christmas. That happened, they actually just sent the guy to prison. But think about how many kids that likely disappointed – they waited all the way until Christmas to get this game and now they can’t even play it – why do that? What do you get out of that? You’re just being a troll.

So, why do people hack? Those are the main reasons why people hack. Again, there’s going to be a lot of overlap between these. It’s possible to check several boxes at once. But, pro tip: don’t hack (unless you’re an ethical hacker following all relevant laws!)