What Actually Happens When Your IT System Is Hacked?

IT System

Cyber-attacks are a real and persistent threat to businesses. Every week, there are news headlines about yet another data breach or hack. Unfortunately, this is unlikely to change anytime soon. Hackers are getting more sophisticated, and IT security systems must work much harder to keep up. Although hacking is something most of us have heard of, do you know what actually happens when an IT system is hacked? Here’s the step by step process of what happens during a hack, plus some tips on what you can do to protect your business.

The issue of hacking started to garner attention in the late 1970s and 1980s, when early personal computers and networks came into existence. This period gave birth to the “phreaking” movement, where individuals manipulated telecommunication systems for free calls or to explore the network. By the 1990s, the rise of the internet presented a new frontier for hackers. High-profile cases such as the Morris Worm and the attack on Yahoo! shook public perception and brought the issue of cybersecurity to the forefront. This period marked the transition of hacking from a hobbyist pursuit to a serious security concern for businesses and governments worldwide.

Academic and industry researchers are diligently working to understand and mitigate the threat of hacking. Among their strategies is the development and use of “honeypots“. These are decoy systems used to attract and analyze the tactics of cybercriminals. This proactive approach allows researchers to study hackers’ behavior in a controlled environment, providing insights into attack patterns and methods. In addition, they are utilizing advanced machine learning and AI techniques to predict and identify potential threats, thus enabling timely interventions. Researchers are also focusing on social engineering attacks, which exploit human vulnerabilities rather than technological ones. This includes studying patterns in phishing attempts and educating users about the signs of such attacks. In essence, the research into hacking is a multifaceted and ever-evolving discipline, combining technological prowess with psychological insight. And of course, experts who work in the IT industry, such as this managed IT service in Pasadena, are staying on top of the latest strategies to stop hackers in their tracks.

Although it’s heartening to know that work is being done to reduce the capabilities of hackers, what actually happens if your systems are hacked right now?

The Hack

The first stage of a hack is when the attacker gets into your system. They do this by exploiting vulnerabilities. Typically, this will involve a malicious email that tricks users into clicking on a link or malicious code embedded on the website that infects the user’s computer. Once the attacker has gained access to your system, the damage has already been done.


The next stage is where the attacker begins stealing your data. They will typically start with the most sensitive information, such as credit card details, social security numbers, or other personally identifiable information. This data will be exported to the attacker’s server so they can use it for their own purposes.

Backdoor Access

During the exfiltration process, the attacker may install backdoor access to your IT system. This will allow them to come and go in your system as they please without being detected. With this continued access, the attacker can continue to gather intelligence or prepare for further attacks against your business.


Once an attacker has access to your system, they can use ransomware to encrypt your files and databases, rendering them unusable. They will then demand payment from your business to release the decryption key, which will enable you to regain access to your data. Some hackers also use the threat of publicly releasing sensitive data to increase the pressure on the victim to pay up.

Damage Assessment

After an attack, the business will need to conduct a damage assessment to find out what has been compromised and how. This stage involves discovering all of the systems that have been impacted, evaluating the actions taken by the attackers, and identifying any potential leaks or data breaches.

Protecting Your Business

Implementing robust security measures is crucial to protect your business from hackers. Start by installing a quality firewall and maintaining up-to-date antivirus software across all devices. Regular software updates are key as they often contain patches for known security vulnerabilities.

Investing in a Virtual Private Network (VPN) for secure and encrypted connections, especially when using public Wi-Fi, can provide an additional layer of protection. Intrusion detection systems (IDS) can also be useful for identifying suspicious activities in your network early on.

One of the most common ways hackers gain access is through phishing attacks, so educating employees about identifying such attempts is vital. This should include training on not opening any suspicious emails, especially those with unfamiliar links or attachments.

Implementing strong password policies is another essential step. Encourage the use of complex passwords and change them regularly. Where possible, implement two-factor authentication for added security.

Regularly backup all important data. If your system does get compromised, having a secure backup will make recovery much easier and quicker.

Lastly, consider hiring a cybersecurity professional, if you don’t already have one on your team. They can conduct regular security audits, stay current with the latest threats, and help develop an incident response plan in case of a breach.

Remember, the cost of implementing these security measures is much less than the potential loss from a successful hack.

The threat of cyber-attacks is a real and present danger for all businesses. But it’s not inevitable. There are many steps businesses can take to prevent, detect, and respond to such attacks. At the very least, businesses should have a robust data backup and recovery system in place. Effective IT security measures must also be adopted and maintained across the organization. By doing so, businesses can reduce the risk of a cyber-attack and protect themselves from the potentially devastating consequences.

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