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  • Writer's pictureMichael Paulyn

Hacker Types 101: Black Hat vs. White Hat vs. Grey Hat Hackers

Updated: Oct 21, 2023

When most people hear "hacking," their minds instantly go to some data breach or complete network cyberattack. But there are good hackers out there and some not-so-good ones. Businesses use them to keep their businesses safe and fight against possible attacks.

Black Hat Hackers

The term "black hat hackers" stems from old Hollywood western movies where the bad guy wore a black hat and clothing. If only all villains decided to be inconspicuous, life would be much easier.

An example of a black hat hacker is, imagine it's late a night, and the streets are dead silent; a person dressed all in black walks up to a high-end jewelry store and picks the lock of the front door, turns right after he turns off the cameras.

Once he's in, he punches in the code for the alarm system. Then, he quickly makes his way to where all the most expensive items are throughout the store. He runs into the darkness with many priceless gemstones, rubies, and diamonds worth tens of thousands.

That is a black hat hacker, but imagine it's a company's breached network instead of a jewelry store, and sensitive data is lost forever. Black hat hackers are all about doing whatever is illegal and malicious activity to stealthily steal anything of value and leave just as quickly as they came.

White Hat Hackers

If black hat hackers are the villains, then white hat hackers are the good guys. Also coined from those old Hollywood movies, the good guys always wore white hats that distinguished them from their archnemesis.

In that same scenario, imagine the jewelry store owner returning the next day to find his shop wrecked and ruined like you wouldn't believe. In this case, the shop owner calls a white hat hacker to find out who did this and bring them to justice.

The white-hat hacker begins by looking for any weak points or vulnerabilities throughout the store; she records and catalogs whatever she finds. Once she's done researching, the white hat hacker will begin running simulations to discover precisely how this black hat hacker got away with such an incredible heist without even making a peep.

Instead of a jewelry store, imagine a business owner who hires a cybersecurity expert to run many tests to find out how the security breach occurred and what can be done to fix it. In this case, the cybersecurity expert is the white hat hacker, and they run simulations with the owner's consent to help the company fix its weak security points.

Gray Hat Hackers

A grey hat hacker is a mix of white and black hat hackers who conduct security checks without the decision makers' knowledge. It's sometimes like proving a point to those in power, so they might need help understanding what risks they are currently open to.

For example, one of the jewelry store employees sees many aspects of the store that need better security; he brings it up to the owner but is told not to worry. In the end, the owner gets back the items, but now (ideally) has a clearer idea of what needs to be fixed, so an actual heist doesn't happen.

Hungry for more? Join me each week, where I'll break down complex topics and dissect the latest news within the cybersecurity industry and blockchain ecosystem, simplifying the world of tech.

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