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Main Types of Hackers Explained

 With the proliferation of the internet has come the ability for skilled individuals to try to gain access to other people’s networks. Doing this successfully requires a very particular skillset, whatever the underlying motive. But hackers tend to be distinguished not just according to what they’re doing, but why they’re doing it.

Types of Hackers

The popular categories describe hackers through analogy with old western films, in which the bad guy would wear a black hat and the good guy would wear a white hat. But what does this exactly mean in practice? Let’s run through the terms.

Black Hat Hacker

A hacker is said to be wearing a ‘black hat’ if they’re acting maliciously, or for their personal profit. If an attacker sends a phishing email in the hope of accessing someone’s bank account, or they launch a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack on a website, then they’re a black-hat hacker. In some cases, an organisation or individual might hire out black-hat hackers as freelancers, to target other organisations.

Black hats represent the threat with which modern businesses and governments are mostly concerned. They steal, destroy, or compromise data, often with extremely damaging consequences for the person whose data is affected.

White Hat Hacker

You can think of a white-hat hacker as kind of stress-test for a secure network. They will attempt to break into the network in much the same way as a black-hat hacker might, allowing you to identify exploitable weaknesses and solve them. 

Those aspiring to work as white-hat hackers might look for a special qualification, and advertise their services as a Certified Ethical Hacker. This is an internationally-recognised qualification, which provides businesses with the assurance they need before allowing a hacker to target their systems.

In the real world, the term ‘white hat hacker’ can cover a broad range of job titles, including Security Analyst, Network Engineer, and Security Administrator. In principle, they all perform the same function: helping organisations to secure their networks.

Grey Hat Hacker

Of course, the real world is rarely so black and white as all this might suggest. There’s still a role for ‘grey hat hackers’. These individuals are operating with the best of intentions – except they often aren’t operating with the permission of the network owner. You might file ‘hacktivists’ into this category, as well as hackers who do what they do for the sheer thrill of it.

Since there’s no intrinsic reward to be had from grey-hat hacking, most of its practitioners are doing so in their spare time. The majority of people in the online hacking community are grey hats – though that doesn’t mean that they’re not vulnerable to legal blowback. This is where the services of a competent white-collar solicitor are invaluable.

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