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Understanding Black Hat, White Hat and Gray Hat Hackers

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What word associations do you have with the term hacker?

Words like a crook, cybercriminal, Fancy Bear, Anonymous, activist, or hacktivist might quickly jump to mind.

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 purpose of an activist is to shed light on 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 an organization’s reputation by infiltrating the network and publishing private content.

Plus, some hackers like to see if they can break security access codes. If they can, they let whatever organization they targeted know that their cybersecurity is weak and needs an update.

Who are these many-faced hackers, and what are they 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 so much about the size of the network. Gaining entry into a private network and collecting sensitive data (including usernames, passcodes, credit card numbers, and bank routing numbers) puts them in a position where they can extort money for the information.

Black Hat hackers will sell 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.

It’s safe to assume black hat hackers have three motivations: 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 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 can gain access to your organization’s network, it’s game over.

See here for the statistics on cybercrime. Unless you have millions sitting in the bank, your company may not survive a cyberattack if it takes down everything. You haven’t got a contingency plan that includes regular systems backups and disaster recovery. This is why every business needs to invest in cyber protection insurance. What’s a few extra bucks a month for cyber insurance when it can save your company millions?