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Are All Hackers Bad Guys? A Guide to Different Types of Hackers

Are All Hackers Bad Guys? A Guide to Different Types of Hackers


Since the 1950s, the term 'hacker' has been vaguely defined as someone who explores the limits of technology by testing them in as many different ways they can. But by the 1980s, the term ‘hacker’ became associated with users who were caught breaking into government and other private computer systems, leaving the word with a negative reputation. Today, several pioneering ‘hackers’ run multimillion-dollar cyber security consulting businesses aimed to help protect the average technology user from attacks. So what should you call someone who uses their knowledge for good?

“White hat” hackers

Also known as ‘ethical hackers’, or ‘network security specialists’, these hackers are the heroes of the hacker name. Whether it’s selling what they find to hardware and software vendors in “bug bounty” programs, or working as full-time technicians, white hat hackers are just interested in testing technology and protecting users. Linus Torvalds is a great example of a white hat hacker. After years of experimenting with the operating system on his computer, he finally released Linux, a secure open-source operating system.

“Black hat” hackers

Closer to the definition that most people outside the IT world know, black hat hackers aim to create software and other technology campaigns with the purpose of causing damage. These attacks have a variety of different goals; such as financial harm in the form of ransomware to digital vandalism. Albert Gonzalez is one of the most infamous black hat hackers. In 2005, he organized a group of individuals to compromise poorly secured wireless networks and steal information. He is most known for stealing over 90 million credit and debit card numbers from TJ Maxx over the course of two years.

“Gray hat” hackers

A sort of ‘in-between’ of the other categories, a ‘gray hat’ hacker does the majority of their work on the internet. This anonymity affords them opportunities to try their hand at both white hat and black hat hacking. Today, there are quite a few headlines making the rounds describing Marcus Hutchins as a gray hat hacker. Hutchins became an overnight superstar earlier this year when he poked and prodded the WannaCry ransomware until he found a way to stop it. During the day, Hutchins works for the Kryptos Logic cybersecurity firm, but the US government believes he spent his free time creating the Kronos banking malware. He has recently been arrested and was branded as a ‘gray hat’ hacker.

The world of cyber security is far more complicated than the stylized hacking often seen in Hollywood movies. Internet-based warfare is not as simple as good guys vs. bad guys, and it certainly doesn’t only aim for big money targets. If you need a team of experienced professionals to help you tackle the complexities of modern cyber security, call Info Advantage today at (585) 254 – 8710.


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