The word “hacker,” without reading its proper definition, already has a negative connotation to us. Most of us imagine a person wearing a hoodie in a dark room lit up only by a computer screen full of codes. They are usually associated with illegal digital activity, theft, and cyber attacks. However, things aren’t always as they seem and did you know that not all hackers perform illicit activities? Yes, you read it right, there are good and bad hackers.
Let’s discuss the different types of hackers in this article, what they do, and how some of them help keep the internet space a safer place for everyone.
Brief definition of hacking
A hack, simply put, is the act of compromising devices, networks, and platforms to find weaknesses in security and chinks in the armour. It’s classically technical — using script, coding and malware to attack a system. There are other ways of gaining entry into a user’s network without their knowledge, without a direct attack, like through phishing.
The kinds of hackers
Hacking gets pretty interesting because it’s not all code-cracking and plundering. There is a range of categories that hackers fall into. The category, defined as the “hat” the hacker wears, all depends on what their intention is and whether the methods are illegal or not.
Think of a hacker like a cowboy: You’ve got the baddies who want to cause chaos, steal from the vulnerable, and terrorize the town. They’re the ones in the black hats. Then you’ve got the opposite: the cowboy who wears the white hats. They exist to bring good.
They’re both cowboys, but their methods and intentions stand in stark contrast.
White Hat Hacker
White hat hackers are the ethical hackers who use their skills to discover loopholes in existing cybersecurity measures to help fix them. These individuals are in high demand from companies that routinely handle sensitive data, in addition to government agencies that are responsible for national security. In the current internet era, white hat hackers are in high demand since the number of cybercrimes has increased drastically.
Private corporations often recruit white hat hackers as a part of an in-house IT security team. Moreover, white hat hackers also work as freelance cybersecurity consultants and participate in bug bounty programs. Companies that offer bug bounty programs generously reward ethical hackers who can discover and highlight exploitable vulnerabilities.
White hat hackers think almost exactly like Black Hat hackers and will try to breach into computer systems using every possible way. However, they do not steal any information or cause disruption. White hat hacking techniques are extremely useful in looking for loopholes that may endanger confidential information.
Black Hat Hacker
Black hat hackers are malicious individuals in cyberspace who try and break into systems & networks to steal confidential information. In addition to stealing, a black hat hacker may also delete or modify certain crucial files to cause disruption and inflict losses. These individuals have stimulated the need for cybersecurity.
In the span of one year between 2013–14, Yahoo suffered one of the worst data breaches in history. The internet giant disclosed that nearly all the 3 billion user accounts had been compromised. The stolen data included names, dates of birth, email addresses, and passwords. Moreover, it was also revealed that hundreds of millions of phone numbers linked to Yahoo accounts have also been stolen.
This was perhaps the worst cyberattack in history, severely affecting Yahoo’s reputation and reducing its valuation significantly prior to its sale to Verizon.
In 2018, luxury hotel chain Marriott International announced that hackers had stolen data of nearly 500 million customers. The stolen information included passport information, contact details, and travel plans. Additionally, Marriott also lost credit card information of about 100 million customers to the attack.
Black hat hackers will use any means necessary to gain unauthorized access into systems and cause disruption. They continue to evolve their methods as a response to growing cybersecurity awareness.
Grey Hat Hacker
Grey hat hackers use methods that are similar to those of white and black hat hackers. However, they do not have any malicious intentions. These are among the most common types of hackers on the internet. A grey hat hacker may breach into a company’s private servers, but instead of stealing information, will notify the management about the vulnerability.
Sometimes the hacker may also offer to fix it for a fee. They neither steal data nor do they offer their services as security experts. But they don’t particularly concern themselves with the cybersecurity of others.
Numerous companies maintain secure databases at several locations. A grey hat hacker usually tries to find ways of illegally acquiring such confidential information. If an exploitable vulnerability is indeed present, the hacker contacts the company’s officials to inform them about it, so that appropriate action can be taken.
Red Hat Hackers
Red hat hackers are similar to policing agents on the internet. They actively search for black hat hackers and shut them down. Whenever they find one, they don’t report the hacker to the authorities, but take matters into their own hands. A red hat hacker will hack the would-be attackers’ computer and halt their malicious activities.
For instance, a red hat hacker can overload a black hacker’s network to block his attempts. Furthermore, some red hat hacker may also employ aggressive methods that may completely wipe-out a black hat hacker’s computer.
In addition to acting individually, groups of red hat hackers may also team up to attack multiple black hat hackers.
Hacktivists are hackers who seek to garner publicity for a certain cause by hacking into the systems or websites of relevant organizations. A Hacktivist may deface the website of a particular company or government agency to protest against certain policies and bring it to the public’s attention and raise awareness.
One of the most famous hacktivist groups operating online is called Anonymous. The group achieved global publicity for its efforts against the terrorist outfit ISIS. Anonymous successfully brought down nearly 150 websites associated with ISIS, in addition to identifying nearly 1,00,000 twitter accounts and 5000 videos used to spread propaganda and hate.
Wikileaks is another famous example of Hacktivism. The organization successfully acquired and released thousands of classified government documents relating to the US war in Afghanistan. The leaked documents highlighted several instances of US soldiers killing Afghan civilians and reporting them as collateral damage.
In addition to this, Wikileaks published documents pointing to malpractices aimed at sabotaging the 2016 election campaign of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.
A script kiddie is an amateur hacker who is only aware of basic hacking techniques. Script kiddies are unlikely to cause significant damage. Such people mainly use open-source hacking software or borrow it from people they know. Script kiddies don’t pose significant threat to anyone’s data and are potential hackers at best. Such individuals can deface a poorly protected website or slow it down by redirecting more traffic.
An increasingly connected digital world maximizes the threat of cybercrime manifold. As more internet companies emerge, the dearth of trained cybersecurity professionals creates exciting career opportunities. As a result, it provides a brilliant opportunity for governments to bolster employment and make the internet safer.
Sign up for cybersecurity courses at the Incognito Forensic Foundation (IFF Lab) to become a highly sought-after ethical hacker. Learn from experienced industry professionals with hands-on training sessions to forge a lucrative career.
Hackers wear many hats and despite the negative connotation, it’s important to recognise that there are white-hatted heroes that serve a crucial part in building secure, reliable infrastructure by finding and pointing out the hidden weaknesses that leave you and your data vulnerable.
As more information becomes widely available on the internet, more people are becoming a victim of hacking and online fraud, especially in the cryptocurrency space. The intensity and type of attack are dependent on the hackers’ ability to find the loophole and penetrate the security system. This puts a lot of pressure on all organizations to always be up to date with their cybersecurity precautions.