Hacking: How Difficult?

Here’s how difficult hacking is:

Hacking is a broad topic with nearly countless applications and variations.

There is no single difficulty level that would describe all that is involved.

There are simple hacks that you can learn to do in a few minutes.

There are incredibly complicated hacks that represent a lifetime of work, and everything in between.

So if you want to learn all about the different levels of difficulty of various hacking methods, then this article is for you.

Let’s jump right in!

Hacking: How Difficult? (3 Levels)

How Do We Compare Hacking Difficulty?

I’m about to take you on a difficulty tour through the world of hacking.

It’s a lot to cover, but we’ll get through it.

Before all of that, it’s important to get the disclaimer out.

Many forms of hacking are illegal.

I am not here to encourage illegal behavior.

I’m not here to teach you how to do illegal hacking.

I’m going to explain how difficult these things are for the purpose of education.

When you see how easy some hacks are, it might help you think about your own security.

Likewise, seeing the various difficulties and types of hacks is useful knowledge in general.

With that out of the way, let’s talk about how to rate difficulty.

It’s really a nebulous concept, and everyone defines difficulty in their own way.

I’m not going to get into a specific, mathematical description of difficulty, but I am ranking the difficulty of a number of different hacking methods below. 

Here’s the gist of how I compare it.

Things are easier if they require less specialized knowledge and overall time to carry out the hack.

They’re harder if they need more specialized knowledge and/or more time to pull off.

That’s really all I’m doing here.

What Does “Easy” Hacking Look Like? (5 Ways)

With all of that said, we can get into some of the easier hacks that exist.

Now, any of these practices can get very difficult in a hurry.

It depends on how well-defended the subject of attack is.

It also depends on how you go about doing such an attack.

Hacking is much like any other thing in life in this respect.

You can do things the easy way or the hard way.

To keep this from turning into a 90-page dissertation, I’m going to focus on the easy way only in this section.

#1 Phishing

Phishing is one of the most common attacks in the digital world.

You can do it a lot of different ways, but the most direct is the easiest.

You send out a bunch of emails asking for people to reply with their username and password.

Usually, you disguise this so that people don’t understand that their response will make them vulnerable.

So, a common phishing email might claim to be from the IRS.

They need to confirm your IRS username and password and possibly your social security number.

When someone replies with that information, you now have access to their financial information, and you can use it nefariously.

No specialized computer skills are needed here.

If you can work an email account, you have the necessary capability to perform this kind of attack.

#2 Deploying Software

Other attacks seem more difficult on the surface, but they don’t really have to be.

For instance, you can send out a phishing email that doesn’t directly ask for account information.

Instead, it includes a fake link that allows people to try to sign into an account.

The fake link actually involves software that records their login information and sends it back to you.

Making all of this from scratch would definitely be tough.

Unfortunately, you don’t have to.

There are already programs and websites that exist that can be used for this purpose.

It’s mostly illegal, but if such a site is hosted in a country without international prosecution or extradition treaties, then the websites can remain active with impunity.

The point is that you can just use what already exists for this kind of attack.

No hacking skills are really required at all.

#3 Manipulating People

Then there’s the idea of social engineering.

One of the easiest ways to hack a system is to type in the correct username and password.

How do you get access to that information?

You cleverly ask for it.

Technically, the first phishing example would fall under this category, but there are more ways to do it.

You can befriend people on social media or other networking websites.

Through conversation, you can talk people into giving up personal information, login information, or even direct cash.

Have you ever heard of catfishing?

It’s a type of social engineering, and it’s very much in line with the idea of maliciously hacking someone’s account.

The big difference here is that you don’t need to be a master of the digital world to do it.

A little charm is all it takes.

#4 Remote Logins

This is on the challenging end of easy hacks, but it’s still pretty accessible.

You can use remote login tools to directly attack computers or other devices.

If the device under attack doesn’t have sufficient security, then the tools will get you in there nice and easy.

You can even do these attacks manually by looking up a few commands for your computer.

Basically, this involves sending a remote access request to an undefended computer.

Granted, finding such a computer can be difficult, but if you happen to know that such a target is out there, you don’t need to study for months to pull this off.

And, no, I’m not going to link instructions.

That might help someone pull off such an attack, which is very much not the goal today.

#5 Spying

More specific than a remote login, you can make data requests from unprotected computers.

Again, this can be extremely difficult when the device is properly secured.

But if you happen to know that there’s a defenseless computer out there, then things get really easy.

By spying, I’m referring to stealing data and even accessing things like webcams.

What Are “Medium-Difficulty” Hacks? (2 Schemes)

Those are the easy hacks.

Now, we’re ready to jump into hacking procedures that require a little more knowledge.

You still don’t need a professional computer science degree to carry out these activities, but at least something beyond the most basic knowledge is involved.

#1 DDoS

Technically speaking, you could read a tutorial on DDoS attacks and carry one out in a matter of hours.

The concept is pretty simple.

In fact, let’s explain the concept really quickly.

A DDoS attack is when you use computers to make information requests from a system on repeat.

Most commonly, these attacks are used against a web server or web host.

If that server or host gets too many requests at the same time, it can slow down or even crash.

So, a DDoS attack is spamming the server with requests to try to get it to slow down or crash.

In order to do this, you need a computer system that can perform repeated requests.

But, that’s usually not enough.

What you really need is a lot of systems to spam the attack together, as a synchronized effort.

So, you don’t actually have to build that system yourself.

You can get access to powerful computer systems or botnets that can carry out devastating DDoS attacks.

But, accessing such systems and getting software to coordinate the attack requires a little more homework than the easiest hacks I mentioned.

#2 Theft and Fraud

Technically, this is a little off-topic, but it’s worth discussing.

Whether the attack is difficult or easy, if it’s used to commit a crime, then it comes with risk and a burden of knowledge.

If a hacker is going to steal data or money from someone, then they need to know how to avoid detection.

If you just get caught right after the attack, then why even bother?

So, any theft, fraud, or other computer crime can reasonably be called a “medium-difficulty” hack or harder based on this idea.

Until you know how to actually get away with cybercrime, you’re not really equipped to carry it out, are you?

What Are the Hardest Hacks? (3 Methods)

We’ve covered the easy stuff.

We dipped our toes in some more challenging concepts.

Now, we’re crossing into pro hacker territory.

These are things that are generally difficult to execute.

They usually require extensive knowledge (or at least access to such knowledge), and some of these attacks can take years to plan and execute.

This is big-league hacking.

#1 Custom Software

If easy hacks involve deploying malicious software, where does the software come from?

It comes from software developers.

Since we’re talking about malicious software, it’s not exactly produced by Silicon Valley elites.

Instead, this software is produced by some of the most skilled hackers in the business.

Building software from scratch is not easy.

It requires years of study just to have the skillset.

From there, it often requires thousands of hours of labor to design, build, test, and deploy the software.

It’s a major undertaking and not something you’re likely to accomplish as a hobbyist or enthusiast. 

#2 Brute Force Attacks

Attacking undefended systems is pretty easy.

Attacking well-defended systems is a lot harder.

There are many ways to try to attack such a system, and one common method is with a brute force attack.

This is where you basically tell one computer to attack another with whatever method you choose.

As an example, you could have a computer continually guess passwords until it gains access to the system you’re after.

So, if a hacker wanted to steal a bunch of Bitcoin, they could brute force attack a computer that’s used to store the digital currency.

Typically, if a password is involved, then there are encryption methods and reasonable security involved.

Because of that, true brute-force attacks usually aren’t viable.

Instead, hackers have to come up with clever ways to simplify the problem to give their attack a chance.

So, they might try a list of commonly used passwords first.

Do you see how this is starting to get complicated very fast?

If you’re going to design a direct attack to get through digital security, you have to know things about how the security works and what even has a chance to get past it.

We’re well beyond the simplest concepts at this point.

#3 Botnets

I mentioned earlier that botnets can be used for DDoS attacks.

They can actually be used for a lot more than that, but we’re back to the basic question.

If you didn’t build the botnet, who did?

Once again, we’re in the realm of advanced hacking.

One of the common ways to build a botnet is to make malicious software that can infect a large number of devices.

The software subtly tells those devices to perform botnet tasks in the background without alerting the owners.

In this way, a hacker can build a powerful botnet that can carry out incredible attacks.

As you can imagine, designing such a subtle yet powerful system is not easy.

How Difficult Is Ethical Hacking? (2 Kinds)

So far, it’s been all about attacks, but there’s an entire other side to hacking.

Hacking can be ethical.

Ethical hackers often look for security issues in order to root out problems before they can be exploited. 

You can even become an ethical hacker by learning how to reset someone’s password.

So, the next time a family member accidentally locks themselves out of their device you know how to help.

Ethical hacking can range from simple tasks to full-time professional work.

#1 Casual Attempts

Starting with the easier stuff, ethical hacking doesn’t have to be extremely complicated.

Going back to the password example above, you can learn that in a few minutes for any device.

It’s pretty easy.

Even if you want to try to look for security vulnerabilities, you can do that as a hobby.

You don’t need to be a world-class hacker.

You can learn as you go, and sometimes, you will be rewarded by software companies for finding problems with their systems.

So, how hard is this?

It’s as hard as you make it.

It ranges from an afternoon of learning to a lifetime pursuit.

#2 Professional Hackers

But, if you want to make a profession out of ethical hacking, you have to be good at it.

While there is no set standard of prerequisites to get a job in ethical hacking, the work is comparable to other professions in the realm of computer science.

You can expect it to require something comparable to a four-year degree along with industry experience.

So, it’s pretty hard to get into.

If you want to spend years learning, it is doable, but it’s certainly not something that you will master over a weekend of studying.