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What are Black Hat, White Hat, and Grey Hat Hackers?

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What is your gut reaction upon hearing the word “hacker”?

If you’re like most, there’s likely a negative response. Though hackers have been traditionally viewed in a bad light, not all hackers have malicious intent. Some hackers are even people you may want to hire!  As cybersecurity threats increase, so too has an expanding field of ethical hacking. In this post, we’re going to take a quick look at the differences between black hat, white hat, and (as a bonus) grey hat hackers.

What is a Black Hat Hacker?

Following the popular trope that “the bad guy wears black,” the term “black hat” in the context of cybersecurity denotes a hacker with malicious intent. These may be hackers themselves, malware developers, identity thieves, or other unethical technology specialists. Though their primary goal is financial gain, some black hat hackers enjoy the thrill of the crime.

This thrill may even be enough to motivate them while they develop the skills necessary for a career in cybercrime.

What is a White Hat Hacker?

On the flip side of the coin, ethical hackers, also known as white hat hackers, are hackers employed by clients, companies, or even government agencies to attempt to hack client systems purposely. While this sounds counterintuitive, these white hat hackers are instrumental in helping their clients find weaknesses in their systems as well as giving their cyber defenses an overall “cup check.”

White hat hackers perform within predetermined parameters laid out by clients and cause no malicious damage to digital systems or data. Their penetration testing (also known as “pen testing”) gives clients immense insight on how to better secure their systems against black hat hackers and other threats.

For those wondering how to become a white hat hacker, a background in cybersecurity is essential. While some white hat hackers are black hat hackers or grey hat hackers who have gone legitimate, most have extensive experience in cybersecurity systems without having the criminal record one would come to expect from a black hat or grey hat hacker.

What is a Grey Hat Hacker?

As their name suggests, gray/grey hat hackers are those who blur the lines between ethical and unethical. Grey hat hackers typically will hack into different systems in the same manner as a white-hat hacker, though without express permission by the system owner.

Once hacked, they’ll reveal the issue to the owner, typically requesting payment for either fixing the problem or providing their full findings. Their behavior would be somewhat akin to someone picking the lock on the door of your house, then waiting on your porch till you come home so they can demand money in return for reporting the faults in your door lock.

In Conclusion

The best way to protect yourself from both black and grey hat hackers to elect for the services of professional white hat hackers. White-hat hackers can perform rigorous penetration testing necessary to determine your organization's threat level and supply necessary defenses. 

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