Understanding Black Hat, White Hat and Gray Hat Hackers

hatsWhat are some word associations you have with the term hacker? Words like crook, cybercriminal, Fancy Bear, Anonymous, activist or hacktivist might jump to mind pretty quickly. Doesn’t it seem peculiar that the words cybercriminal and activist are associated with hacker? The goal of a cybercriminal is to blackmail and extort money. The goal of an activist is to shed light on an injustice. How can two seemingly different types of groups both be hackers?

Defining What it is to be a Hacker

As human beings we all have our own motivations for doing what we do; hackers are not an exception to the rule. Some hackers work hand-in-hand with companies to show them where vulnerabilities lie in their network. Other more despicable hackers (the cybercriminal) use their tech skills to destroy the reputation of an organization by infiltrating the network and publishing the private content they find. And then there are still others who like to stretch their fingers and see if they can break-in passed security access codes. If they can, they let whatever organization they targeted know that their cybersecurity is weak and in need of an update. Who are these many-faced hackers, and what are they really hoping to achieve?

The White Hats

White Hat hackers are a group of security researchers (hired by companies to test their cybersecurity vulnerabilities) who delve deep into software to learn where and how a cyber breach can expose data. If and when they find a wonky code in the network, they patch it up for a fee, and with companies like Microsoft launching a $100,000 bug bounty program, White Hats turn massive profits.

The Black Hats

Black Hat hackers are cybercriminals. Black Hat hackers were responsible for hitting Target and Snapchat with expensive cybersecurity breaches that caused monetary and reputational damage to their brands.

Black Hats don’t care about how large or how small a network hit is, their only concern is gaining entry into a private network, collecting the sensitive data they find (including usernames, passcodes, credit card numbers and bank routing numbers) and extorting money for the information. This type of hacker will sell back the sensitive information they stole for a large amount of cash to the highest bidder, leaving the organization they targeted high and dry or even out of business. Black Hats have three motivations for what they do: money, fame and power.

The Gray Hats

Of course, not everything is so black and white, and that’s where the Gray Hat hacker comes in. Gray Hat hackers enjoy a challenge, and will try to infiltrate a network just to see if they can. Unlike the Black Hats however, Gray Hat hackers do not extort or sell private data. Instead, Gray Hats will offer to sell their services and coding hacks to government agencies, including militaries and intelligence agencies. Though Gray Hat hackers use their power for good, they go about hacking by controversial and at times unethical means. Remember, the organizations they’re targeting don’t know beforehand, they only learn of the attempted breach after the fact.

If a hacker is able to gain access to your organization’s network, it’s game over. The average cybersecurity breach costs $4 million to repair. Unless you have millions sitting in the bank, your company won’t survive a cyberattack. This is why it is essential for every business to invest in cyber protection insurance. Cyber insurance will help to cover the costs of the breach and will keep your business from going under. What’s a few extra bucks a month for cyber insurance when it can save your company millions?

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