Home Strategy EVE Online Exploration Guide: Performing the Hack

Don’t miss out! This is just one chapter of our full EVE Online Exploration guide.

If you’ve been following along with this guide, you’ve probably wondered “When will this joker get to the part where I make money?”

Now is that part.

After you’ve successfully scanned down a data or relic site, it’s time to do the actual work of hacking the containers therein and making the big bucks. Depending on your success and the loot you find, you can easily nab 20, 30, or 50+ million ISK per cosmic signature. As you can tell, you could PLEX your account even if you only completed one of these per day.

You could even make more ISK via Ghost Sites… we’ll cover that near the end of the chapter.

Preparing Your Malicious Software

Let’s just get this out of the way: if you are in lowsec or nullsec, don’t fucking hack with neutrals in system. Completing a relic or data site is an extremely focus-intensive act that will take up a huge amount of your screen space and attention. Ganking explorers like you is therefore very easy and very, very profitable. You can’t cloak while hacking, and the presence of scan probes may have already broadcast to everyone around “Come kill me! I’m occupied in a non-combat vessel!”

Even seemingly AFK or clueless players may have already scanned down the sites you’ve after, making the absence of their probes no more reassuring. Unless you know with certainty that the players in your system are friendly or otherwise unable to find you, you should wait them out or go somewhere else.

Assuming the coast is clear, warp to 0 off the hack site (here referring to either relic or data), and consider jettisoning some crap like carbon or data sheets. Since 99% of EVE players will warp to 0 into a cosmic signature, this can will decloak anyone who tries to rain on your ISK parade. Think of it as an alarm system. An alarm system made out of data sheets.

Look around at the hack containers and go after something with at least mediocre loot. That means no com towers (data) or rubble (relic), at least to start. These containers can have good gear, but will skew towards trash most of the time. You can use a cargo scanner on anything else in range to pick a juicy target, but if you plan to clear the site you might as well choose something at random. Just keep in mind that if a ganker shows up, it’s best to escape with the shiniest loot already in your cargohold.

Turn on your MWD and speed over to whatever can you’d like. But instead of approaching a container and having your ship give it a slobbery kiss, you should choose a can and keep it at range or orbit it at 3,000 to 4,000 m. Your relic and data analyzers function up to 5,000 meters away, but you can’t cloak within 2,000 m of another object. By taking this approach, you will be able to go invisible instantly if a hostile lands in system or, worse… at your hack site.

If you haven’t already, right-click on your analyzer module and turn auto-repeat off. Unlike most other systems on your ship, your data/relic mods don’t need to auto-cycle to work correctly. This change will save you a little capacitor and also cut down on the reset time that occurs between failed hack attempts!

Finally, make sure your local chat channel and/or d-scan are visible somewhere on your screen. This will be one more line of defense against would-be murderers. If you see something suspicious, get invisible fast and reassess the situation.

How Hacking Actually Works

Like most EVE tutorials, the exploration career guide doesn’t really do a good job explaining how hacking works or why exactly you’re failing so often. Let’s fix that with a quick review.

Whether you’re doing data or relic analysis, your vessel is injecting a computer virus into the software of whatever you’re hacking. This explains why you have to break through various antivirus countermeasures. It doesn’t really explain why you’re “hacking” into archaeology sites with a futuricstic USB drive, but we’ll chalk it up to space magic.

Anyway, your virus (and all the countermeasures designed to stop it) has two stats: coherence and strength. Coherence (the number on the left of your virus status) is essentially your hitpoints. It represents how much damage your virus can take before you fail a hack. Dropping to zero or less results in instant failure, and failing any container twice (or once in a Ghost Site) destroys the container (and, in Ghost Sites, your ship!). Your base coherence can be boosted by your hacking and archaeology skills, your analyzer modules, as well as related rigs and implants.

Strength (the number on the right of your virus status) is the damage your virus does to defensive systems whenever you click on them. Your base virus strength can be boosted by your hacking/archaeology skills, your analyzer modules, and your ship’s role bonus.

Every defensive module, including the system core you must destroy to complete the hack, also has strength and coherence, shown below each revealed node. When you click on any such defensive node, your virus will first damage that node’s coherence. Then, if the node is still active, it will apply its own strength damage to your virus coherence.

This order is very important, since it greatly influences how much damage you take, if any. Let’s say you have 30 virus strength (hereafter 30-s), and you attack a node with 50 coherence/20 strength (hereafter 50-c/20-s). On your first click, you will lower the node to 20-c/20-s, then take 20-c damage yourself. On the second click, you will destroy the node (pushing it past 0-c/20-s), then take no damage yourself in return.

If the node had 60-c, the outcome would’ve been the same, since you’d kill it in two hits. But if it had even 61-c, you would need three attacks to destroy it, necessitating two counterattacks of 20-s each by the defensive node. You can therefore see that even a tiny change in your virus strength or your target’s coherence can greatly raise the damage you take while hacking. As such, upgrading your skills, equipment, or ship will drastically cut your failure rate and decrease your reliance on luck to win the hacking minigame.

These examples also illustrate one of the most important things to keep in mind while hacking: the minimum coherence necessary for finishing the hack. Since all cores have 10-s, it is relatively easy to do this math on the fly, especially once you have some practice. So if you have 25-s and you know the system core has 70-c, you must maintain 21-c or more in order to succeed.

Determining this number may not seem like a big deal (after all, the nodes are random, right?) but think again. Let’s say you have 30-c left, no powerups, and you must choose between tackling a 10-s restoration node or forging on. In most circumstances, you’d want to kill the restoration node and continue your hack. But in this case, you could fairly guess that you wouldn’t recover enough coherence before exposing the system core. As insane as it seems, your best bet might be to leave the restoration node alone and dig for the core while you still have a fighting chance.

What’s This Button Do?

Let’s take a quick look at what you’ll uncover and how to best deal with each node, good or bad.

Firewalls have medium strength (20) and high coherence (50 to 90), making them a pain in the ass to bust through. While they may not feel as scary as other defensive subsystems, don’t be fooled. Their huge coherence means that even with powerups and high analysis skills, you’re nearly guaranteed to take damage from these nodes. If possible, clear these roadblocks absolutely last.

Anti-virus nodes have high strength (~40) and medium coherence (40 to 60). These will terrify you early on, since clearing one will often single-handedly wipe out your own coherence. Over time, however, you will realize they are less threatening than firewall nodes. This is primarily because several of the hacking powerups are capable of single-handedly destroying these systems, making them a breeze to bypass. Clear these after restoration and suppressor blocks, but before firewalls.

Restoration nodes have low strength (10) and high coherence (80). You’ll find these only in higher tier cans. While a restoration node is alive, every action you perform (attacking, opening nodes, activating powerups) will heal a random subsystem (other than the restoration node itself) +10-c. Leaving this thing alive for anything more than the minimum needed to kill it can quickly create subsystems so coherent you’ll have no hope of ever destroying them. Eliminate these as soon as you uncover them unless doing so will make solving the hack impossible.

Virus suppressors also have low strength (10) and medium coherence (60), and are the only subsystem capable of lowering your virus strength. While active, your attacks will be greatly hindered, making everything a huge pain in the, um, virus. Like restoration nodes, suppressors should be shot down as soon as possible. Unlike restoration nodes, you can kill one of these with a secondary vector utility, greatly diminishing the damage you’ll take while depowered.

The system core has low strength (10) and medium to high coherence (50 to 80). It will be color-coded to the difficulty of the hack, with green being easiest, yellow mediumest, and red hardest. For obvious reasons, you should eliminate the core the instant you uncover it. If you don’t have enough coherence to survive the attack, clear nodes except those adjacent to the core and look for utilities that could help you finish the job. Note that restoration nodes cannot heal the core, but virus suppressors can and will make the final hack difficult by hampering your strength.


On the “good” side, you’ll have access to several utility powerups that can help you bust through your target’s defenses. You’re only able to store three at a time, so make sure you use them up before you find something you don’t have room to keep.

Self repair wrenches heal your coherence by a semi-random amount over the course of three turns (typically 5-c to 10-c a turn). There is absolutely no reason not to use this the instant you find it, since you might need the extra health sooner than you think, and also because there is no cap on your coherence. This means it can easily climb past 100, even past 200 if you get super lucky. Wrench away!

Kernel rot cuts the coherence of one targeted defensive subsystem by 50%. This is a hugely useful powerup at all stages of the hack. Early on, it can slash an anti-virus node low enough that you can pop it without taking any damage in return. Later on, you can use it to reverse the effects of a nasty restoration node on an important roadblock. And when you end up at the system core just a few coherence short, kernel rot can give you enough of a headstart to blast through its defenses and survive. In general, you should save this until you are absolutely cornered.

Polymorphic shield protects you from exactly two defensive counterattacks, no matter their strength. For this reason, I advocate putting up your shield immediately before taking out anti-virus nodes, then blasting two of them at a time. This way, you’ll be shrugging off more than 80-c damage! You could also activate polymorphic shield as soon as you get it, but that’s only useful if the field is littered with restoration nodes you don’t intend to be taking out immediately… which is almost never.

Secondary vector acts like a reverse self repair unit, except it always deals 60-s to the targeted unit over three turns (20-c per turn) while you prance around the grid doing other things. These are ideal for handling suppressor nodes, which conveniently have exactly 60-c, but can also be used to soften up more coherent targets, including the system core. Try to leave a few nodes empty before activating your secondary vector so you actually have enough moves to use it up!

Oh yeah, there’s also data caches, little white blobs that are guaranteed to be either a sweet utility or a terrible defensive subsystem. Leave these things for absolute last, since they’ll never be the system core and they can very often fuck over your hacking attempt if opened too early. Once the map is clear and you’re desperate for powerups, only then should you consider popping these data zits open.

The Tortoise and the Hare

This is going to sound like crappy advice, but you need to clear the hack as fast as you can while working slowly enough to avoid stupid mistakes. While cosmic signatures are not on a timer (unlike Ghost Sites), the longer you’re sitting there, the higher the odds are someone will show up to disintegrate your squishy little exploration vessel. Moving quickly also means faster loot, which means a higher ISK/hour rate. That said, if you move too fast, you’re likely to make errors that will cause you to fail the hack. And once you’ve bombed it twice, kaboom, no more loot at all.

So, how can you effectively move through your target’s defensive subsystems smoothly without messing up too often? Here’s some advice.

  • Clear empty nodes before defensive subsystems. You never know where the core could be, so if there are still nodes to open, you might as well look there before damaging your virus.
  • Avoid opening adjacent nodes. In other words, try to click on areas of the map that aren’t directly connected to nodes you just opened. This will greatly decrease the chance you uncover a cool utility then immediately block access to it by opening an anti-virus right next to it!
  • Open nodes around edges first. If they end up being blocked by a defensive subsystem, they’ll only cut off nodes one row deep from the edge. By contrast, clearing center nodes can result in uncovering blocks that black out up to seven nodes, all smack-dab in the middle of the map.
  • Move towards the opposite corner of your starting area. While not always true, the system core is usually located very far from the beginning node. Assume and plan accordingly.
  • When choosing what to attack, kill defensive subsystems that are blocking the highest number of nodes. Simply put, eliminate the stuff that will open up the most nodes first.
  • Sometimes, you’ll have to bite the bullet early. If you suspect you’ll be hitting a lot of restoration or suppressor nodes, you may want to clear anti-virus nodes early… before you can’t!
  • Turn the game audio up and learn to recognize the sound of an empty node, a utility, and the a defensive subsystem. These noises can help you react more accurately to what you uncover.
  • Improve your skills and equipment, but don’t lean on them. A better ship, higher skills, and some implants and rigs sure help, but practice makes perfect. Learn the game and improve!

I Ain’t Afraid of No Ghost Site

Ah, Ghost Sites. You’ve probably heard of them, either from the original EVE: Rubicon trailer, or perhaps in my videos where I’ve alternatively succeeded and failed at completing the buggers.

Unlike most data or relic locations, Ghost Sites are cosmic anomalies, not signatures and therefore don’t need to be scanned down. You can zoom into any star system, make anomalies visible in your probe scanner, and look for covert research facilities. I don’t know why CCP calls them Ghost Sites in the lore but named them something else in-game, but these are the same people who modeled space physics as if it were a submarine simulator. Go figure.

When you warp to a Ghost Site/covert research facility, you’ll find it looks similar to a normal relic or data site. You’ll see hackable containers, some decoration, and that’s about it. What you won’t see is the hidden fucking timer that’s ticking away in the background. The millisecond you show up, it starts, and when the clock hits zero, the only notification you’ll get is a fleet of angry NPCs who show up to destroy the evidence of what’s in their vaults… and your ship, too. They don’t have bounties, they don’t drop loot, and they’re hellbent on your death. I don’t think I need to tell you that time is of the essence here.

There will always be four containers to hack, and you’ll generally land right in the middle of them. You can use either a data or relic analyzer for this task, so go with whatever module you have trained higher. Now it’s up to you to determine how many containers you attempt. If you have a cargo scanner, I’d say scan all the cans quickly, then hack the one with the best loot. If you don’t have or don’t want a cargo scanner, just complete the two closest cans.

In either scenario, you should get the hell out as soon as (or preferably well before) the pirate swarm descends on you, your loot, and your vessel. They do have warp scramblers, so sooner is better than later.

As far as the hack itself, you will always find they are relatively easy. Firewalls will have 50-c at best, and the system core will be as green as a $20 bill. The difficulty of course comes with working fast. Working fast and the stress of knowing that failing the hack will also result in a self-destruct sequence. And by sequence, I mean immediate explosion for thousands of damage.

Certainly, you can try to tank the dangers of a Ghost Site, but be warned that not every ship is up to the task. For all practical purposes, you will need a Stratios or a strategic (T3) cruiser. Anything smaller will be instantly disintegrated upon failure, and anything larger will be too slow to successfully complete the hack. On top of this, your cruiser will need to be fitted with a few special items in order to survive the rats and their associated explosion:

  • Armor plates or shield extenders to cover at least 11,000 explosive damage
  • Explosive-specific armor/shield hardeners to soften the Ghost Site kaboom
  • Faction-specific or omni-tanking to handle the initial pirate NPC alpha strike
  • Repair module(s) to clean up whatever hull or armor damage is sustained

If you’re flying a cruiser anyway, you can store these fittings, along with a mobile depot in your cargo hold. Then when you encounter a Ghost Site, simply slap these puppies on and go to town. Conversely, you could simply zip around all of New Eden searching for Ghost Sites exclusively, allowing you to keep your ship fitted accordingly and saving you the trouble of ever having to scan down signatures again.


Try EVE Online Free for 1 Month

Interested in checking out the EVE universe for yourself? Click here to activate a 30-day trial!

8 replies to this post
  1. Many thanks for this great and quite entertaining work. Learned a lot from this, even for an early eve days (but by now rusty) veteran very inspiring. Although when reading this, i was sometimes thinking i couldnt get it at all, but in my first try this turned out to be an excellent preparation, so this is my exploration handbook and reference now.
    Again, thank you very much for this.
    And btw thanks for sharing the 2 dimensional probing approach! :D :D :D

  2. First attempt at scanning something after the training.

    In Diaderi 0.8 I found a signature that took me a long time to scan down and helped me get a lot better in the process. It turned out to be a Blood Raider site and when I finally was able to get in I found a site with several depots. I approached the first one and started to try getting it to open. Suddenly I was hit for 945 damage in a single shot from Secure Depot, Blood Raider Covenant.

    I’m not sure what caused that explosion. Was this a ghost site and the timer ran out?

    • You don’t scan Ghost Sites, so if this happened at a site you scanned down, then no.

      It sounds like you found a site with NPCs that killed you.

Leave a Reply

Newest Articles

Disciple of the Ring
8 5187

Since I began playing Magic: the Gathering nearly 20 years ago, I've been drawn to blue/red decks. Maybe it's just that I've always favored instants...