There are a wide range of different types of hackers out there, from hardcore evil ones that aim to bring down governments, to the good guys fighting to save the day and a whole heap of different kinds in between. The way we distinguish hackers is through two factors: 1) skills and 2) motivations. These factors create a spectrum where we can position different types of hackers. At some point, you’ll want to figure out where on this spectrum you belong as well.
Script kiddies are the derogatory label for amateur individuals who want to hack for pointless reasons, without necessarily wanting to learn anything or steal anything. Their primary goal is often to impress friends, gain attention or just do random things for the sake of it.
Script kiddies might figure out how to utilise tools and scripts crafted by other hackers, but they don’t have the depth of knowledge or experience to create their own, or do much more than copying and pasting. Generally script kiddies just download existing hacking software and watch YouTube videos to learn how to use it. Common types of attacks from script kiddies include DOS (Denial of Service) or DDOS (Distributed Denial of Service) – both are annoying but are not necessarily damaging.
Black Hat Hackers
These are the seriously bad guys; the ones you hear about on the news. Black hat hackers are cyber criminals driven by malicious intent, with goals to sabotage others or get personal gains from the hacks they perform. They are responsible for a broad array of digital crimes ranging from stolen credit card details to identity theft. By using whatever loopholes they can find in a system, they can hack into your computer or network and gain access to your personal, business and financial information.
Black hat hackers use viruses, trojans and malware to perform their criminal behaviour. The motivations are varied – some do it to show off or as a power trip, while others want to cause active harm and damage to others.
White Hat Hackers
These are the good guys who we don’t often hear about, also known as ethical hackers. White hat hackers spend their days hacking in order to improve the security of systems and networks. They’re involved in what’s known as “penetration testing”, where they probe websites or a company’s internal network to search for and uncover potential vulnerabilities, before helping developers fix these issues. They also help remove viruses and malware when discovered.
While the skillset between black hat hackers and white hat hackers are relatively similar, their motivations and intentions are on opposite ends of the spectrum. Additionally, many white hat hackers also hold some kind of computing or security related qualification and have official careers in cyber security.
Increasingly governments and companies are hiring security specialists or are offering bug bounty programs. They recognize the inherent threat of cyber security flaws, and need to protect themselves and their clients.
Grey Hat Hackers
These hackers sit in the middle of the spectrum. Grey hat hackers may work offensively or defensively based on the particular situation at hand. While they’re not driven by malicious intent, they still enjoy breaking into third-party systems. Some of their motivations may include the thrill or the glory of announcing new-found vulnerabilities. These types of hackers probably comprise the majority of the hacking community.
Green Hat Hackers
These are the newbies of the hacker world. They’re totally new to the hacking game and mainly use basic scripts. Similar in skill to script kiddies, they differ in that they have goals or aspirations to become more serious hackers. They’re often leeching off other hackers for advice and tips, and can easily be identified as the ones in online forums asking all the follow-up questions to get a full understanding of a topic or technique.
Blue Hat Hackers
These are another type of novice hacker. Similar to script kiddies and green hat hackers, they have elementary skills. The difference is that they aggressively take revenge on others who bother them. With no desire to learn or improve, they use simple but effective attacks to take down other individuals. Basically, they are a script kiddie with a vengeful agenda.
Red Hat Hackers
These are similar to white hat hackers in motivation, but not in approach. The goal of red hat hackers is to take down black hat hackers, but they do so in a ruthless and hostile manner. Rather than reporting a malicious attack performed by a black hat hacker, they aim to simply bring down the perpetrator instead through aggressive cyber attacks against them.
These are the vigilantes. Hacktivists are a type of hacker who uses their skills to protest against injustice or in the name of protecting human rights like free speech. They generally attack websites to gain attention about a particular case or to popularize a specific point of view, which is often linked with their social, political or religious agenda. While their intentions may seemingly be noble, their actions break the law. Some examples of well-known hacktivist groups include Anonymous, LulzSec and WikiLeaks.
While we can’t label the government as hackers, it seemed worthwhile to consider what would happen if they did become involved in hacking. The potential consequences are huge. Not only do they have access to billions and trillions of dollars, but they’re also the ones who are deciding and upholding the laws in your country. If they become adversarial, it would be devastating to everyone’s lives and privacy.
There are plenty of theories that there are already state or nation sponsored hackers out there, employed by governments to snoop through confidential information from other governments.
What about you? Where do you think your skills and motivations position you?
All hackers start out similarly, learning the same basic hacking techniques. Picking up strategies, practices and tools is something that all hackers do. Basically they all start on an even, equal playing field, and the same applies to you.
Where you end up later is an entirely different story.