Defining distinct types of hackers, motives, goals, and acts
A hat-based classification of types of hackers distinguishes between different attackers. Some might be pranksters, luring people into traps, or flashing controversial messages on their targets’ screens. Others can identify as activists, exposing hypocrisy, illegal behavior, or scrutiny-deserving acts. The third category can be cybersecurity specialists hacking systems at their owners’ requests. Thus, there are many types of hackers, and relating this word to crime is not a just ruling. Let’s throw our prejudice out the window and determine what types of hackers exist, their goals, and motivations.
What is a hacker?
Hackers are people who use a computer to obtain unauthorized access to information or devices. Other names that could relate to these individuals include tricksters, attackers, perpetrators, or digital vandals. The malevolence of cybercrime has affected thousands of entities, from regular users to companies.
You have probably heard of crafty and sophisticated attacks launched on services. For instance, ransomware is a virus that denies access to the targeted device, encrypts files, and demands ransoms. Over the years, hackers have harmed thousands of institutions, including hospitals and schools.
Hackers are responsible for such malicious acts, but sometimes, they do not even need high-tech skills to cause havoc. In 2020, these malicious individuals had stored thousands of passwords and usernames of Spotify users. However, in this case, they had no reason to execute any attacks or hacking sprees. These hackers simply took the credentials stolen in other data breaches and checked whether users had reused them.
Thus, while we might imagine hackers as crafty programming geniuses, they can be far from it. They are opportunistic individuals, searching for the right moment to strike.
Additionally, not all hackers are malicious. Sometimes they use their skills to improve and guide users to safety. Thus, the different types of hackers represent their role in the digital world. While some seek profits and have no moral code, other hackers can be ethical professionals refining cyberspace.
Types of hackers
All hackers have unique motives for pursuing their goals. Some might break through security defenses strictly as a way to entertain themselves. Others may target companies due to their political or societal views. And, of course, some look for monetary gain and nothing else.
White hat hacker
White hat hackers are the types of hackers that focus on penetration testing. Their goal is to find security loopholes in systems by attempting to invade them. Thus, these hackers make a living by helping other companies keep their systems secure.
Most of them participate in various bug bounty programs, promising earnings for detected bugs. In rare cases, the rewards are astonishing, like when Facebook paid a $30,000 bounty for a bug on Instagram. In 2020, Google paid $6.5 million to bug bounty hunters, proving that the life of a white hacker can be lucrative. The best part is that there is nothing illegal here: all these hunters do everything by the book.
So, white hat hackers are skilled individuals with good intentions. They differentiate themselves from criminal hackers and choose a righteous path. Many of them work for government agencies or corporations, while some prefer testing systems’ resistance independently.
Black hat hackers
Black hat hackers are the ones responsible for all the malicious hacks and other illegal acts. These cunning individuals look for gaps in security to exploit them and steal data. Then, for instance, they can sell their loot to interested parties, and many online forums facilitate this market.
Of course, the thriving ground for these malicious artists is none other than the dark web. For instance, our report has shown that hackers sell SSN (social security number) for as little as $4. There are many different types of data that these malicious individuals can sell. Others might even provide hacking software or other tools for less-skilled counterparts.
Thus, a black hat hacker feels no remorse and does not work for a greater cause. Their primary goal is monetary gain, and the means for getting it are not important.
Gray hat hackers
Gray hat hackers are individuals standing in the middle of white and black hat attackers. These individuals might not obsess about monetary gain. Instead, their hacking skills are the tools they use to entertain themselves. Thus, many attacks initiated by gray hat hackers are for fun or to troll users/companies.
Even though they do not have malicious intent, their activities might still be illegal. Any type of unauthorized access is a crime. Therefore, these types of hackers can face legal repercussions for their actions. In 2017, a gray hat hacker accessed 150,000 printers to warn their owners of dangers associated with keeping their printers exposed. It is only one of the examples of how these attackers cause no significant harm.
Hence, some of these individuals might perform relatively benign activities. However, this does not mean that others welcome their contributions. Others feel that gray hat hackers stand on dangerous ground. They are one step away from turning into black hat hackers.
Green hat hackers
Green hat hackers are the rookies in the hacking realm. They are wannabes attempting to replicate the success of seasoned attackers. However, they might lack technical skills; thus, some even refer to them as “noobs.”
Despite the gaps in their skillset, green hat hackers desperately pursue their goals. And, for the most part, they are not a highly severe digital threat. Nevertheless, many regard them as dangerous not for their intentional hacks but for the accidental errors they might make. In some cases, the damage they inflict on a system might be irreparable and useless to hackers themselves.
Similar to a green hat hacker, script kiddies are also new to the hacking lifestyle. They lack knowledge and ability, and they are unlikely to cause damage to properly-secured systems. Thus, script kiddies choose targets that might be less demanding to compromise.
Additionally, many of these types of hackers exploit scripts or code written by other, likely professional hackers. Therefore, their primary goal might be to get some attention, have a laugh, but their knowledge of the hacking process is very minimal.
Blue hat hackers
There are two ways to see blue hat hackers:
- Security professionals working outside of an organization. Companies might invite them to test software or systems for bugs.
- Amateur hackers seeking attention and popularity amongst their peers. They might also be vengeful individuals, using hacking as means for revenge. For instance, they might commit doxxing on the people who wronged them.
Red hat hackers
Red hat hackers are the knights in shining armor who try to stop black hat hackers. However, despite their noble goal, their actions also typically constitute illegal behavior. Thus, they choose the wrong means for pursuing righteous aims. Also, they often select rather ruthless tactics for stopping black hat hackers. Therefore, just like their targets, red hat hackers will face the appropriate legal consequences.
So, these types of hackers are the caped crusaders of the digital world. Sadly, means do not justify the ends. As a result, according to the law, they are also the ones who break it.
These hackers work for various government institutions. Their primary goal is to defend a nation’s interests and security at home and abroad. In some cases, they might target another country as means of finding controversial or sensitive information. There are many state-sponsored hacker groups pledging allegiance to a specific country.
For instance, Cozy Bear is a big part of the Russian attempts to wreak havoc on their targets. Allegedly, the group was the one to influence the 2016 US presidential elections. The second well-known name is Lazarus Group. Sponsored by North Korea, the group has quite a few dishonorable medals. For one, Lazarus Group is the one allegedly responsible for the devastating WannaCry attacks in 2017.
Hacktivists typically claim to have a solid moral code as their hacking raids reflect their societal or political beliefs. Therefore, government institutions or companies suspected of shady behavior might become their targets. Thus, hacktivists claim to be advocates for social justice. However, they take matters into their own hands and pursue illegal activities to expose conspiracies, crimes, and racial injustice.
Hacktivists divide society into people with two contrasting opinions. One side believes these hackers to be modern-day Robin Hoods, exposing the shady dealings of the rich and powerful. The other side cannot overlook the fact that they break the law, which is illegal no matter the end goal.
Have you heard stories of an ex or current employee exposing the companies they work for? Whistleblowers are these individuals following a moral agenda to uncover illegal or unethical activities. For the most part, whistleblowing does not constitute an unlawful act on its own. However, if these people hack into systems, their actions become criminal.
For instance, Daniel Ellsberg is one of the notorious whistleblowers who released the scandalous Pentagon papers. You might have also heard of Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning, Reality Winner, and Shadow Brokers. Despite making certain decisions for the greater good, whistleblowers are in no way relieved of the responsibility to obey the law.
Types of hackers: different motivations and goals
Overall, not all types of hackers use their excellence to commit crimes. Some choose good deeds in the hopes of shaping a safer digital tomorrow. Thus, being a hacker does not necessarily relate to malicious intentions. Many of these experts deserve our applause and appreciation for their contributions. However, certain types of hackers do pose a risk to our digital lifestyles. And while others do follow a righteous path, their means for achieving justice turns them into criminals as well.
Former chef and the head of Atlas VPN blog team. He's an experienced cybersecurity expert with a background of technical content writing.