The very first thing hackers do as criminals

The very first thing hackers do as criminals

Learn the steps they use every day

by Kurt Knutsson

Have you ever wondered what goes on in the mind of a cybercriminal? How do they plan and execute their attacks on unsuspecting victims? What are the tools and techniques they use to break into computers and networks and steal data?

Knowing these answers could help get you off a hacker’s target list. Cybercrime is a serious and growing threat that affects millions of people and businesses around the globe. Not to mention that cybercriminals are consistently finding new ways to attack us.

Just so you are aware of what you are up against, let me lay out the four steps that a cybercriminal will often take when plotting a cyberattack. Then you’ll become more powerful with some important tips on how to protect yourself from becoming their next target.

Cybercriminals’ steps when plotting a cyberattack

These are the 4 steps that a cybercriminal will always take when plotting a cyberattack.

1. Finding their target

A cybercriminal has to find a specific person or organization to attack before they can do anything else. They use various ways to do this; however, they typically will aim for whoever seems to be the easiest and most vulnerable target. Here are some of the ways they can target an individual or business.

Social media: Cybercriminals can use social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Threads to find personal info, such as location, occupation, hobbies, interests, etc., that can help them tailor their attacks or scams.

The Dark web: Cybercriminals can also use the dark web to buy or sell stolen data, such as credit card numbers, passwords, usernames, etc., that can be used to access online accounts or commit identity theft.

Information brokers: Cyber swindlers use information brokers to obtain data that is collected from public sources, such as motor vehicle records, court reports, and voter registration lists. This deeply intimate information can reveal personal details, such as your full name, address, and phone number, that can be used to target or impersonate you.

Network scanning: Cybercrooks also use network scanning tools to scan the internet for devices or systems that have vulnerabilities or weak security. They can then exploit these vulnerabilities to gain access or launch attacks.

This first step is perhaps the most important of a hacker’s manipulation game because it makes or breaks a hacker’s game. You see, without a target, there’s no crime to commit.



2. Researching their target

After finding a potential target, a cybercriminal will likely do some research to gather as much information as possible in order to steal your credentials. They’ll tap into various tools and techniques to do this, such as:

Reconnaissance tools: They can deploy reconnaissance tools to scan the target’s network and discover their IP address, open ports, operation system, services, etc. This can help them identify any vulnerabilities to exploit later.

Social engineering: This is used to trick the target into revealing sensitive info, such as passwords, security questions, or personal details. They do this by impersonating something or someone the target trusts, such as a friend, a colleague, or a customer service rep from a familiar organization. These tools include phishing emails or phone calls to lure the target into clicking on malicious links or attachments or downloading dangerous malware.

Keyloggers. This popular sneaky technique is used by cybercriminals to secretly record the keystrokes of the target and capture login credentials, messages, and emails. They often install keyloggers on the target’s device by using malware or physical access to continue spying for extended periods of time, scooping up account numbers, credit cards, and any valuable data.

By researching their target, a cybercriminal can gain a better understanding of their habits, preferences, and vulnerabilities. This can help them plan and execute a more effective and customized attack.




3. Breaking into the network

This is where the hacker really begins to be creative. The most widely deployed way that a hacker will break into a network is with phishing.

Phishing emails & websites

This could be a phishing email scam with malicious links attached or even a phishing website that is designed to look like a legit company so that the victim falls for it and hands over their information.

This is one of the most popular attacks now that hackers are using phishing-as-a-service tools that basically do all the dirty work for them. By giving these hackers a bulletproof template that could trick anyone, they just have to sit back and allow the victim to fall for the trick.


Digitized human hair follicle

Other clever tools a hacker might use include a creepy way of displaying a digitized human hair follicle on a victim’s phone or tablet screen so that when they go to brush it away, malware is downloaded immediately.

Fake ads

Or they might use fake ads and post them on social media sites like Facebook, hoping that the victim will fall for them. Instead of it going to a real company, it leads you and me straight into the grasp of criminals. The possibilities are truly endless for a good hacker.



4. Taking control of the network

This is the final stage of the hacker’s attack and the most rewarding one for them. After gaining access to a system, they exfiltrate any valuable information they can as quickly as possible with the help of post-exploitation tools, such as AdFind and Cobalt Strike, which are designed to collect and transfer data from compromised networks. They will either disappear with the stolen data or use it to extort money from their victims, depending on the target and the motive of the attack.


What can I do to protect myself from these hackers?

Fortunately, there are precautions that you can take to avoid becoming the next victim of these cybercriminals.

Erase personal information from the internet: Invest in removal services  

A hacker can’t easily use you as a target if they can’t find your information on the internet. Data broker sites run by scammers get fed with the personal data a hacker steals from you, including email addresses, Social Security Numbers, and more. They do this so that they can sell the information to third parties and make a profit.

While no service promises to remove all your data from the internet, subscribing to a good removal service is the most effective way to constantly monitor and automate the process of deleting your information from hundreds of sites continuously.

A service like OneRep can help you remove all this personal information from the internet. It has a very clean interface and will scan 195 websites for your information and remove it and keep it removed.

Special for CyberGuy Readers:  OneRep offers a no-ask 30-day money-back guarantee and charges $7.49/month for one person on their monthly plan or $13.99/month for your family (up to 6 people) on their annual plan. I recommend the family plan because it works out to only $2.30 per person per month for year-round coverage. It’s an excellent service, and I highly recommend at least trying it out to see what it’s all about.

Check out my top picks for removal services here.

How to remove yourself from the Internet


Have good antivirus software

Having strong antivirus software installed can help keep hackers out of your phone, tablet, and computer. This will also prevent you from clicking malicious links intending to install malware, allowing hackers to gain access to your personal information.

Special limited Back-to-School deal for CyberGuy Readers:  My #1 pick is TotalAV, and you can get a limited-time deal for CyberGuy readers: $19 your first year (80% off) for the TotalAV Antivirus Pro package. 

Find my review of Best Antivirus Protection here.

Best Antivirus Protection


Use identity theft protection

Identity Theft companies can monitor personal information like your home title, Social Security Number (SSN), phone number, and email address and alert you when it’s being sold on the dark web or being used to open an account in your name. They can also assist you in freezing your bank and credit card accounts to prevent further unauthorized use by criminals. 

The great part of some identity theft companies is that they often include identity theft insurance of up to 1 million dollars to cover losses and legal fees and a white glove fraud resolution team where a US-based case manager helps you recover any losses.

If you want a service that will walk you through every step of the reporting and recovery process, one of the best things you can do to protect yourself from this type of fraud is to subscribe to an identity theft service. My top recommendation is Identity Guard.

Special for CyberGuy Readers:  Save up to 51% with my top recommendation is Identity Guard.

Read more of my review of best identity theft protection services here.

Best identity theft protection services 2023

Use a VPN

Consider using a VPN to protect against hackers snooping on your device as well. VPNs will protect you from those who want to track and identify your potential location and the websites that you visit.

See my expert review of the best VPNs for browsing the web privately on your Windows, Mac, Android & iOS devices.

Best VPNs for browsing the web privately 2023



Kurt’s key takeaways

Cybercriminals typically follow a four-step process when plotting a cyberattack, which includes finding a target, researching their target, breaking into the network, and taking control. To protect yourself, I strongly suggest you erase personal information from the internet, have good antivirus software, and use identity theft protection services.

Why do you think Americans have become the single biggest target of hackers? Do you think you are prepared to protect yourself from cybercriminals who are constantly looking for ways to attack you? Let us know by commenting below.




1 comment

Susan Rosler September 9, 2023 - 5:22 am

Your information is quite valuable. It makes me think of the number of times I open something on facebook i.e. the five foods you should not eat…open it and find no information.


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