What Is Black Hat, White Hat, Gray Hat Hackers And Others
Traditionally, the term “hacker” referred to individuals who possessed advanced computer skills and used them to explore and manipulate technology for various purposes. Hackers were often motivated by curiosity, the desire to learn, or to push the boundaries of technology. They sought to understand systems, find vulnerabilities, and develop innovative solutions.
However, there are different categories of hackers, each with their own motivations and intentions. These categories are commonly referred to as black hat, white hat, and gray hat hackers. The terms draw inspiration from the old Western movies, where the protagonists wore white or light-colored hats, symbolizing good, while the antagonists wore black hats, symbolizing evil.
Black Hat Hacker
Black hat hackers are individuals who engage in hacking activities with malicious intent and without authorization. They break into computer networks, systems, and websites to cause harm, steal sensitive information, or disrupt operations. Their actions are illegal and driven by self-serving motives such as financial gain, revenge, or simply the desire to create chaos. Some black hat hackers may also have ideological motivations, targeting individuals or organizations they strongly disagree with.
What Is A Black Hat Hacker?
Black hat hackers often start as novice hackers known as “script kiddies.” These individuals use pre-made hacking tools and software purchased from the dark web to exploit security vulnerabilities and gain unauthorized access to systems. They may also receive training from more experienced hackers or criminal organizations looking to profit from their activities. The most skilled black hat hackers often work for sophisticated criminal organizations that provide collaboration tools and even offer service agreements to their customers, mirroring legitimate businesses. On the dark web, black hat hackers can even purchase malware kits that come with warranties and customer service.
Black hat hackers tend to specialize in specific areas of hacking, such as phishing or managing remote access tools. They often find job opportunities through forums and connections on the dark web. While some black hat hackers develop and sell their own malicious software, others prefer to work through franchises or leasing arrangements, similar to legitimate business models. While government-sponsored hacking exists, it is more common for black hat hackers to work alone or in collaboration with organized crime organizations to gain easy financial rewards.
How Black Hat Hackers Work
Black hat hackers employ various techniques and strategies to carry out their malicious activities. Hacking has become a lucrative business, with criminal organizations operating on a large scale and distributing malicious software. These organizations have partners, resellers, vendors, and associates, and they buy and sell licenses for malware to other criminal groups, expanding their reach into new regions or markets.
Some black hat organizations even operate call centers, where they make outbound calls, pretending to be representatives from reputable technology companies like Microsoft. In this scam, hackers try to convince unsuspecting victims to grant remote access to their computers or download software. By doing so, the victims unknowingly enable the hackers to harvest sensitive information like passwords and banking details or take control of their computers to launch attacks on others. To make matters worse, victims are often charged exorbitant fees for this fraudulent assistance.
Other black hat hacking techniques involve swift and automated attacks that do not require human interaction. Attack bots roam the internet, scanning for unprotected computers to infiltrate. They may exploit vulnerabilities through phishing emails, malware attachments, or compromised websites, infecting systems and stealing information.
Black hat hacking is a global problem, making it extremely challenging to combat. Hackers often leave minimal evidence, use the computers of unsuspecting victims as proxies, and operate across multiple jurisdictions. While authorities occasionally succeed in shutting down a hacking site in one country, the same operation may continue elsewhere, allowing the group to persist.
Black Hat Hacker Example
Kevin Mitnick is one of the most notorious black hat hackers in history. At one point, he was the most wanted cybercriminal in the world. Mitnick hacked into over 40 major corporations, including IBM and Motorola, as well as the US National Defense warning system. After being apprehended, he served time in jail. Following his release, Mitnick transformed into a cybersecurity consultant, using his hacking knowledge for ethical purposes.
Another prominent example is Tsutomu Shimomura, a cybersecurity expert who played a crucial role in tracking down Kevin Mitnick. Shimomura, a computational physics research scientist, also worked for the US National Security Agency. He was one of the first researchers to raise awareness of the lack of security and privacy in cell phones. Shimomura used his expertise for ethical purposes and played a significant role in bringing Mitnick to justice. His book “Takedown” was later adapted into a film called “Track Down.”
What Is A White Hat Hacker
White hat hackers, also known as ethical hackers or good hackers, are individuals who use their hacking skills to identify and expose security vulnerabilities in computer systems or networks. They are the antithesis of black hat hackers, as they work with organizations to improve their security measures and protect them from malicious hackers.
White hat hackers can be paid employees or contractors working for companies as security specialists. They are responsible for finding gaps in security and making recommendations for improvement. Their efforts help large organizations have less downtime and experience fewer issues with their websites.
A subset of ethical hackers includes penetration testers or “pentesters,” who focus specifically on finding vulnerabilities and assessing risk within systems.
How White Hat Hackers Work
White hat hackers use the same hacking methods as black hats, but the key difference is that they have the permission of the system owner first, making their activities completely legal. Instead of exploiting vulnerabilities to spread malicious code, white hat hackers work with network operators to help fix the issues before they can be discovered and exploited by others.
White hat hacker tactics and skills:
1. Social engineering:
White hat hackers commonly use social engineering techniques to discover weaknesses in an organization’s “human” defenses. Social engineering involves tricking and manipulating victims into performing actions they should not, such as making wire transfers or sharing login credentials.
2. Penetration testing:
Penetration testing is a key tactic used by white hat hackers. It aims to uncover vulnerabilities and weaknesses in an organization’s defenses and endpoints so that they can be rectified. By simulating real-world attacks, penetration testers can identify potential entry points and vulnerabilities.
3. Reconnaissance and research:
White hat hackers conduct extensive research on the organization to discover vulnerabilities within its physical and IT infrastructure. The objective is to gather enough information to legally bypass security controls and mechanisms without causing any damage.
White hat hackers use their programming skills to create honeypots, which are decoys designed to lure cybercriminals. Honeypots can distract attackers or provide valuable information about their tactics and techniques.
5. Using a variety of digital and physical tools:
White hat hackers utilize hardware and devices that allow them to install bots and other malware, gaining access to networks or servers. These tools help them identify vulnerabilities and assess the overall security posture of the system.
Some white hat hackers participate in bug bounty programs, where they report vulnerabilities to companies in exchange for cash rewards. There are also training courses, events, and certifications dedicated to ethical hacking, providing opportunities for white hat hackers to enhance their skills and knowledge.
Black Hat Hacker Vs White Hat Hacker
The main difference between black hat hackers and white hat hackers is their motivation. Black hat hackers access systems illegally, with malicious intent, and often for personal gain. They exploit vulnerabilities to cause harm, steal data, or disrupt systems. In contrast, white hat hackers work with companies to identify weaknesses in their systems and make corresponding updates. Their goal is to ensure that black hat hackers cannot access the system’s data illegally.
White Hat Hacker Example
1. Tim Berners-Lee:
Famous for inventing the World Wide Web, Tim Berners-Lee is also a member of the white-hat hacking camp. He currently serves as the director of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), which oversees the development of web standards and protocols.
2. Greg Hoglund:
Greg Hoglund is a renowned computer forensics expert known for his work and research contributions in malware detection, rootkits, and online game hacking. He has previously worked for the US government and the intelligence community.
3. Richard M. Stallman:
Richard Stallman is the founder of the GNU project, a free software project that promotes freedom regarding the use of computers. He founded the free software movement in the mid-1980s, advocating for the use of software that allows users to cooperate rather than hinder cooperation.
4. Charlie Miller:
Charlie Miller gained fame for finding vulnerabilities in Apple products and winning the well-known Pwn2Own computer hacking contest in 2008. He has also worked as an ethical hacker for the US National Security Agency.
5. Dan Kaminsky:
6 Jeff Moss:
Jeff Moss served on the US Homeland Security Advisory Council during the Obama administration and co-chaired the council’s Task Force on CyberSkills. He is the founder of hacker conferences Black Hat and DEFCON and currently serves as a commissioner at the Global Commission on the Stability of Cyberspace.
What Is Gray Hat Hacker
Gray hat hackers are individuals who engage in hacking activities that fall somewhere between the ethical practices of white hat hackers and the malicious intent of black hat hackers. They may search for vulnerabilities in systems without permission or knowledge of the system owner. If they discover vulnerabilities, they typically report them to the owner, sometimes requesting a small fee to fix the issues.
Gray hat hackers often believe they are doing something good for companies by exposing weaknesses in their websites or networks. However, their unauthorized actions are generally not appreciated by the owners, as they breach privacy and legal boundaries.
While gray hat hackers may violate laws or ethical standards, they do not have the malicious intent typically associated with black hat hackers. Their motivations can range from showcasing their skills to gaining recognition or contributing to cybersecurity awareness.
How Gray Hat Hackers Work
Gray hat hackers may actively search for vulnerabilities in systems without obtaining permission from the system owner. They exploit these vulnerabilities to demonstrate their capabilities or to prove the need for improved security measures. Unlike white hat hackers, they may not wait for permission before attempting to infiltrate systems.
When a gray hat hacker gains unauthorized access to a system or network, they may suggest to the system administrator that they or someone they know be hired to fix the vulnerabilities for a fee. However, this approach is becoming less common as businesses are increasingly inclined to prosecute such actions.
Some organizations have bug bounty programs in place to encourage gray hat hackers to report vulnerabilities. In these cases, the organization offers rewards or bounties to hackers who responsibly disclose vulnerabilities. However, it is essential for gray hat hackers to obtain explicit permission from the organization before attempting any hacking activities to avoid legal consequences.
If organizations do not respond or comply with their reports, gray hat hackers may resort to more aggressive actions, such as publicly disclosing the vulnerabilities or even exploiting them themselves, potentially crossing into black hat territory.
Gray Hat Hacker Vs White Hat Hacker
The key distinction between gray hat hackers and white hat hackers lies in their adherence to ethical hacking practices. White hat hackers strictly follow legal and ethical guidelines, obtaining permission from system owners before conducting any hacking activities. They focus on improving security and helping organizations protect their systems from malicious attacks.
In contrast, gray hat hackers may engage in hacking activities without permission, blurring the lines between ethical and unethical practices. While their intentions may not be malicious, their actions are still considered illegal and unethical by many in the cybersecurity community.
Gray Hat Hacker Example
One notable example of a gray hat hacker is Khalil Shreateh, who, in 2013, hacked into Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook page to demonstrate a bug he discovered. Shreateh had previously reported the bug to Facebook, but they dismissed it as not being a vulnerability. In an attempt to prove the severity of the issue, Shreateh exploited the bug on Zuckerberg’s page. Despite his intentions to help Facebook address the vulnerability, he violated their policies and was not compensated through their white hat program.
Other Types Of Hackers
Other types of hackers include green hat hackers, blue hat hackers, and red hat hackers.
1. Green hat hackers:
These hackers are inexperienced and may lack technical skills. They often rely on phishing and social engineering techniques to bypass security systems.
2. Blue hat hackers:
Blue hat hackers are white hat hackers who are employed by organizations to conduct penetration tests and improve their security systems.
3. Red hat hackers:
Also known as vigilante hackers, red hat hackers infiltrate black hat hacker communities on the dark web and launch hacking attacks against their networks and devices as a means of fighting back against black hat hackers.
How to protect yourself from hackers
1. Use unique, complex passwords:
Create strong passwords that are not easy to guess and use a combination of upper- and lower-case letters, special characters, and numbers. Avoid sharing passwords with others and consider using a password manager tool.
2. Never click on links sent in unsolicited emails:
These links may be part of phishing scams that aim to steal your personal information. Clicking on such links could download malware onto your device.
3. Use secure websites:
When shopping online, ensure that the website has SSL encryption (HTTPS://) to protect your personal and financial information. Avoid saving payment information on shopping websites.
4. Enable two-factor authentication:
Add an extra layer of security to your login process by requiring a second authentication factor, such as a PIN sent to your cell phone. This makes it more difficult for identity thieves to gain access to your accounts.
5. Be cautious when using public Wi-Fi networks:
Public Wi-Fi networks can be unencrypted and unsecured, making your personal information vulnerable to hackers. Consider using a VPN (Virtual Private Network) for added security.
6. Deactivate the autofill option:
While convenient, autofill features can also be convenient for hackers. Avoid storing sensitive information in autofill forms to reduce the risk of identity theft.
7. Choose apps wisely:
Only download apps from trusted sources and regularly update your software and apps. Remove any old apps that you no longer use.
8. Trace or erase:
Take precautions to secure your data if your mobile device is lost or stolen. Install software that can wipe your phone remotely and set up your device to lock itself after a certain number of failed login attempts.
9. Disable and manage third-party permissions:
Review and manage the permissions granted to third-party applications on your mobile devices. Be mindful of location services, automatic uploads, and data backup permissions that may expose your personal information.
10. Install trusted cybersecurity across all your devices:
Use reliable cybersecurity software that can block viruses, malware, and remote hacking attempts in real-time. Keep your devices protected with regular updates and scans.