First published: 21 May 2020
Last updated: 05 Jan 2023

Content written for

Individuals & families
Small & medium business

What is hacking?

Hacking refers to unauthorised access of a system or network, often to exploit a system’s data or manipulate its normal behaviour.

How it works 

Hackers have to find a way to break into a network or account, just like a thief needs to find a way to break into a home. Often finding out a password is the first step in cracking a network’s security.

Once in, a hacker can modify how a network works, steal data, obtain passwords, get credit card information, watch what you are doing or install malicious software (malware) to further the attack.

While hacking is often highly targeted, some hacking tools such as ransomware or phishing malware can spread on their own via links and attachments. Malware can compromise your system or accounts without someone specifically targeting you.

How to protect yourself from hacking

  • Always install updates for applications and operating systems when they are available. The longer you delay, the longer you are vulnerable to hackers or malware.
  • Use strong, unique passwords. The Australian Signals Directorate’s Australian Cyber Security Centre (ASD’s ACSC) has published advice on using password managers and creating unique passphrases, a strong type of password.
  • Always use multi-factor authentication, where possible.
  • Always backup your data so if your system is compromised, you won’t necessarily lose everything.
  • Always practice secure online browsing behaviour and be on the lookout for suspicious links or email attachments.

For more information, access our guides on Personal Cyber Security:

Learn more and get help

Was this information helpful?

Thanks for your feedback!


Tell us why this information was helpful and we’ll work on making more pages like it