Hackers 101: Understanding the different types and what they do

Back in the 1950s, the term “hacker” simply described someone who enjoyed tinkering with computers and pushing their boundaries. However, with the rise of personal computers in the 1980s, the term became associated with individuals who exploited vulnerabilities in computer systems, often teenagers who enjoyed the thrill of breaking into government IT systems. Interestingly, some of those early hackers now run successful cybersecurity businesses, while others continue to exploit security gaps for personal gain. Understanding these historical roots helps us appreciate the different motivations behind hacking today. Let’s delve into the three main types of hackers you should be aware of.

Black hats: The malicious hackers

Black hat hackers are cybercriminals who develop tools and strategies to carry out a range of malicious activities, such as: 

  • Creating and deploying harmful software such as viruses and ransomware
  • Engaging in identity theft, credit card fraud, and extortion
  • Collaborating with corporations or state entities for espionage and cyberterrorism

An example of a black hat hacker is Kevin Mitnick. In the 1990s, he orchestrated wire fraud and stole sensitive data from telecom companies and the US National Defense warning systems. After serving time in prison, he launched his cybersecurity firm and served as its CEO and Chief White Hat Hacker. 

White hats: The ethical hackers

White hat hackers, also known as ethical hackers or security specialists, are the good guys in the hacking community. They use their hacking skills for positive purposes, such as:

  • Conducting security assessments and penetration testing to identify vulnerabilities
  • Participating in bug bounty programs to report vulnerabilities to software vendors
  • Collaborating with organizations to enhance their cybersecurity posture

Linus Torvalds, the creator of the Linux operating system, is a prominent white hat hacker who prioritizes security through open-source software development.

Gray hats: Operating in the middle ground

Gray hat hackers are in the middle ground between black hat and white hat hackers. They may use their hacking skills for both good and bad purposes, including:

  • Conducting security research and experimentation
  • Developing and distributing software with questionable intentions

An example of a gray hat hacker is Marcus Hutchins, also known as MalwareTech. He became famous for stopping the WannaCry ransomware attack by finding a kill switch. However, he also created the Kronos banking malware and faced legal repercussions. Since then, he has redirected his skills toward cybersecurity consultancy.

Conclusion: Protecting your business from cybercriminals

If you suspect your business has been hacked, it’s crucial to contact our cybersecurity experts immediately. We can investigate the incident, mitigate the damage, and help you improve your security posture to prevent future attacks. 

You can also contact us for any questions or concerns about securing your sensitive business information.

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