Hackers come from all different backgrounds. Some hackers are motivated by money and politics, while others simply hack systems for fun. In this blog post, we will define the three kinds of hackers and how each one differs from the others.
A complicated history
In the 1950s, the term “hacker” was vaguely defined as someone who explored the details and limits of computer technology by testing them for a variety of purposes. But by the 1980s, when computers became more accessible, “hacker” became closely associated with teenagers who broke into government computer systems. These teens referred to themselves as hackers, perhaps because the word has an aggressive ring to it.
Believe it or not, several of those pioneering hackers now run multimillion-dollar cybersecurity consulting businesses, while countless others still run amok online, hoping to make a quick buck off of hapless victims.
3 Types of hackers
Knowing the history of hacking can give you a background on the different kinds of hackers, and this information can also help protect your business from cybersecurity threats. Let’s take a look at the three main types of hackers that can impact your organization.
“Black hat” hackers
Black hat hackers create programs and campaigns to commit all sorts of malicious acts. They’re what most non-IT people think of when the term hacker is mentioned.
Black hat hackers typically use hacking tools to attack websites and steal data. They may also create viruses or malware to damage computers and other devices. They commit crimes such as identity theft, credit card fraud, and extortion for their sole benefit, but they can also work for a corporation or a state and commit espionage and cyberterrorism.
Kevin Mitnick is a prime example of a black hat hacker. In the 1990s, Mitnick went on a two-and-half-year hacking spree, committing wire fraud and stealing millions of dollars of data from telecom companies and the US National Defense warning systems.
After spending five years in prison, he set up his eponymous cybersecurity firm and became its CEO and Chief White Hat Hacker.
“White hat” hackers
Sometimes referred to as ethical hackers or network security specialists, white hat hackers are considered the good guys. They use their hacking skills to find weaknesses in websites and systems to help fix these vulnerabilities so that they can’t be exploited by black hat hackers. Whether it’s selling what they find to hardware and software vendors in “bug bounty” programs or working as full-time technicians, white hat hackers are interested in making an honest buck.
Linus Torvalds is a great example of a white hat hacker. After years of experimenting with the Sinclair QDOS operating system, he released Linux, a secure open-source operating system. Linux is built to prevent malware, rootkits, and other computer pests from being installed onto your device and operated without your knowledge. This is because most infections are designed to target Windows computers and can't cause any damage to the Linux OS.
“Gray hat” hackers
Gray hat hackers fall somewhere in between black hat and white hat hackers. Whether a gray hat hacker works as a security specialist or is a cybercriminal, the majority of their work is usually conducted over the internet.
While most gray hat hackers usually enjoy the anonymity that gives them the opportunities to try their hands at both white hat and black hat hacking, not all gray hat hackers live in the shadows. For example, Marcus Hutchins is a known gray hat hacker. He’s most famous for stopping the WannaCry ransomware by finding a "kill switch."
However, Hutchins also created the Kronos banking malware. He was arrested in 2017 and pleaded guilty, accepting full responsibility for his mistakes. He now uses his talent by working for Kryptos Logic cybersecurity firm. According to Hutchins, he has since been using the same skills that he misused several years ago for "constructive purposes".
The rapid evolution of the cyber realm means there is more information available online every day, and there are many sorts of hackers looking to misuse it. While the purpose behind each hacker's action varies, the danger they pose to your data and company is constant.
If you think your website or data has been hacked, contact our cybersecurity experts as soon as possible. You can also contact us if you have any questions about how to secure sensitive business information.