The 3 Different Types of Hackers Explained

Not all hackers are the same. The 3 different types of hackers are explained by the color of their 'hat' - either white, grey, or black.

Most people hear the word "hacker" and immediately think "criminal!", when in reality, not all hackers are bad. That may come as a surprise due to the fact that every action-packed movie out there has some sort of smart evil genius that uses their hacking skills to take over the world. But in the tech world, a hacker's expertise is explained by the color of their "hat." 

            Black hats, grey hats, and white hats oh my! To the uninitiated, the color of hat a hacker wears can seem ambiguous at best, and scary at worst. Lucky for you I am here to help you understand the key differences between these hackers and how they might be important for your business.

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Black Hats

          Black hat hackers are notorious in the tech space for being malicious in their intentions. Often depicted in media as the man in his early 20’s, wearing a black hoodie, furiously typing away on a computer screen filled with a green terminal in a dark room… yelling the infamous line “I’m in” after successfully hacking the bank account information of an unassuming victim. While this description may feel familiar to most, the truth is that black hat hackers often work in teams that mimic a well-organized corporation. Black hats have the intention of making money by social engineering, stealing information, infecting a company with ransomware, or extortion. When it’s all been said and done, they want to get paid in a cryptocurrency so they can make a quick getaway with no way of tracking them down.

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Grey Hats        

          Life is often filled with grey areas that are hard to define, and so too is the hacker world. Grey hats will violate ethical boundaries but without malicious intent (sometimes). They will break into a system without permission, but then alert the company after doing so. Sometimes they ask for money as a reward for finding a deficiency in a system. If not rewarded, they will then turn around and sell information about a vulnerability on the dark web. The best way to describe a grey hat hacker is any famous anti-hero character from your favorite movie: Han Solo, Jack Sparrow, John Rambo, Mad Max, or Deadpool. People that generally can’t be classified as good or bad, but are always self-serving.

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White Hats

           With great power comes great responsibility and these hackers live up to that expectation. These are the so-called "good guys" that are hired to find vulnerabilities in a system before they can be exploited by the grey or black hats. Organizations will hire cybersecurity-focused companies that will have teams of hackers that are constantly testing your environment and providing guidelines on how to remediate found vulnerabilities. Having some form of a “white hat” team is highly important to making sure your company is protected from any malicious hackers.

The intention and motivation behind why these hackers are doing what they are doing are what separates them into these three groups. It’s important that your organization is staying proactive about your cybersecurity by employing white hats to keep you away from malicious groups of hackers. 

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