The term hacker often brings up a lot of negative connotations. In the media, for example, “hackers” are usually cybercriminals who are hacking into some sort of computer infrastructure for malicious purposes.
However, a hacker is anyone, regardless of intent, who uses their knowledge of computer hardware and software systems to infiltrate and bypass the security measures of a targeted device, computer, or network.
Keep in mind that hacking isn’t inherently bad or illegal unless the hacker is working to compromise a computer system without the owner’s permission to do so. Today, many organizations and government entities employ hackers, or penetration testers, to help them find vulnerabilities and secure their networks.
Although most people think of criminals when they hear the term hack, it’s important to keep in mind that not all hackers are bad.
In fact, if companies didn’t hire white-hat hackers to seek out potential threats and find vulnerabilities before the black-hats do, there would likely be a lot more cybercrime activity and data breaches.
For years, identity theft has been a major concern amongst online consumers. And, with an increasing number of people shopping online and joining social media platforms that require personal information, the potential for cybercriminals to access and leverage this information for their own personal gains has never been greater.
The convenience and ease of use of online shopping has created a rapidly growing market for e-commerce. This is extremely beneficial to consumers, however, every time a consumer makes an online purchase with their credit card, they unknowingly place their financial security at risk.
Cybercriminals often try to access these transactions while they are happening in hopes of being able to steal the cardholder’s credentials.
Many companies now even offer their users’ the ability to store their credit card information online, so that they won’t need to re-enter their information every time they want to make a purchase.
This creates a much more seamless shopping experience; however, it also creates a vulnerability in which criminals can infiltrate these databanks and steal this valuable information.
That being said, it’s now more important than ever to ensure that online consumers adhere to safe online practices and know how to protect personal information online.
In modern usage, hackers and usually classed as either “white-hat” or “black-hat” hackers. These terms come from old Western movies, where the good guys would always wear white cowboy hats, while the bad guys would wear black ones.
In the end, there are two factors which determine whether a hacker is a white-hat or a black-hat: whether or not he or she is breaking any laws, and their motivation for hacking the system. Let’s take a deeper look at what defines them.
Often referred to as “ethical hackers”, white-hat hackers make the choice the use their knowledge and abilities for good, instead of evil.
In some cases, white-hat hackers are paid employees or contractors that are hired to work for companies as security experts. This type of white-hat hackers is usually referred to as a penetration tester, whose job it is to find vulnerabilities in the computer infrastructure by hacking into it.
Typically, white-hat hackers use the exact same hacking techniques that a black-hat hacker would; however, the main difference between the two is that white-hats hack into computer systems with explicit permission from the system’s owner, making the process legal.
Essentially, white-hat hackers test security systems that are already in place to see where they can be improved.
Just like the white-hats, black-hat hackers usually have in-depth knowledge and extensive experience breaking into computer networks by bypassing their security protocols. Black-hats are also the actors responsible for writing malware code, which is one of the primary methods they use to gain access to secured computer systems.
Typically, black-hat hackers are motivated by their own financial or personal gains, however, they’re also often associated with cyberspying, protest groups, or in some cases, they simply get a thrill from committing cybercrime.
Black-hats range from amateurs who are simply looking to spread malware, through to highly-skilled and experienced hackers who are planning on stealing data, be it personal or financial information, or account login credentials.
But, black-hat hackers don’t only seek to steal information, they often want to modify or destroy data as well.
Just like there are plenty of grey areas in life, there are also grey-hat hackers, which fall somewhere in between the white-hats and black-hats.
Most of the time, grey-hat hackers will seek vulnerabilities in a computer system without the owner knowing or having their permission.
If the grey-hat finds an issue, they will usually report them to the system’s owner, and will sometimes ask for a small fee to repair the issue. If the system’s owner doesn’t respond to them or comply with the request, grey-hats will sometimes threaten to post the newly discovered vulnerability online for the whole world to see.
Grey-hats are not inherently malicious in their intentions, they’re simply looking to get something back for their discoveries.
In most cases, grey-hat hackers do not exploit the vulnerabilities they find. Regardless, grey-hat hacking is still considered illegal since the hackers attack the system without having the owner’s permission to do so.