There’s no question that data breaches are becoming a common occurrence in today’s world. In fact, according to the Data Breach Index over 5 million records are lost or stolen every day. These breaches affect businesses, individuals, and governments alike.

For many, the question remains – what actually happens to your personal data once it’s been stolen? In this article we cover the typical use cases, including what type of data is most valuable and why hackers hack in the first place.

Why hackers hack

There are a number of reasons why hackers steal data in the first place. The most popular and most obvious reason is financial gain. The majority of hackers want to make a profit, and they can easily do so by stealing information like bank or login details. They can steal your money from your accounts, apply for a credit card or loan under your name, or they can also resell your information to another criminal on the internet. The dark web is full of criminals buying and selling stolen personal information.

In the past few years, there has been a new development in hacking for financial gain. It has become increasingly popular for hackers to break into your device and encrypt the data on it. It’s called ransomware, and malicious actors hold your files hostage until you pay the ransom within a certain period of time. If you don’t pay, the data is usually destroyed by the hacker.

Surprisingly, not all hackers are in it for the money; some steal information and act as shadowy vigilantes. Known as “hacktivism”, groups or individuals work together to take down terrorist groups, oppressive regimes, governments, and trafficking rings. We’ve all heard of Edward Snowden, probably one of the most well known hacktivists, who leaked data from the National Security Agency. There’s also the Anonymous group, which has been behind 45% of hacktivism in the past four years. However, the group now seems to be defunct, or at least very quiet.

A very small number of hackers just want to show off what they can do, and they have no intention of stealing information or making a profit. Sometimes they launch a hack to show how poor a corporation’s cybersecurity is. An example of this is the infamous Ashley Madison data breach, where the profiles of 32 million users were made publicly available. The hackers didn’t want money; they just wanted the website taken down. Ashley Madison is a dating platform for people seeking extramarital affairs, and the leak quite literally tore some families apart.


What data is the most valuable?

There are typically five types of data that malicious actors will want to steal:

  1. Payment information – Given that financial gain is the primary reason why hackers hack in the first place, payment data is the most valuable.
  2. Authentication details – Once a hacker has gained access to one account, chances are they can get into others too. The more accounts they hack, the more information they collect.
  3. Copyrighted material – Most software can be pretty pricey, and hackers would rather not pay.
  4. Medical records – This might come as a surprise, but medical identity theft is extremely common. Perpetrators will use your information to gain access to healthcare for themselves.
  5. Classified information – While this won’t affect most people, classified information is very valuable for blackmail purposes.