When you think of the term “hacker,” you probably immediately think of illegal activity. You’re not alone! There definitely are a lot of hackers who use their skills to break the law.
However, other hackers use their skills at breaking down and bypassing computer security for good purposes. For instance, a hacker may be employed by a security company or the government for the purpose of testing new systems.
Before you put all hackers in the same group, it’s important to understand that there’s a difference between white hat, black hat, and grey hat hackers. Let’s take a look at each one.
Black Hat Hackers
Black hat hackers are the people the public usually associates with the term “hacker.” These are criminals who compromise computer security systems for personal or financial gain. They may also work on behalf of governments and terrorist organizations to achieve illicit goals for those groups.
Sometimes, though, a black hat hacker is a company employee, group insider, or known by the victim. They gain trust and then use it to breach computer systems for their own purposes.
These hackers often look to steal personal financial information that they can use or resell. Sometimes they target companies to steal money or get access to sensitive information.
Black hat hackers generally use malware, intrusions, service attacks, and data breaches to achieve their goals. Sometimes a former black hat hacker will turn good and become a leader in the white hat hacker community.
White Hat Hackers
White hat hackers have strong computer skills and can identify security vulnerabilities and areas that criminals can exploit. These professionals are very valuable to the information technology industry because they help prevent breaches and create more robust security systems.
Some white hat hackers are employees, while others are contractors or do white hat hacking as a hobby in their spare time. When they uncover a vulnerability, they disclose it to the organization or manufacturer.
Some companies have bug bounty programs, where hackers can win money or prizes for uncovering problems. Others request help from white hat hackers to run security audits or test how easily the current security can be breached.
Grey Hat Hackers
Grey hat folks walk the line between ethical and criminal activity. Sometimes they work as security researchers or have a corporate job, or they may be computer hobbyists. A grey hat hacker might discover a security problem without permission but report the problem rather than using the data for their own gain.
Grey hat hackers sometimes demand a fee in return for the information they share or threaten to reveal the vulnerability to criminals if the company doesn’t respond in a certain amount of time.
Because a grey hat hacker doesn’t have permission to work on computer systems in this way, their activities are often illegal even if they plan to share the breach details with the target.
Addressing Security Vulnerabilities
When you understand that not all hackers are criminals — and not all hacking is illegal — it helps you recognize that there are ways to test your security that you haven’t considered. If you are contacted by someone who has hacked your system, they may want to help, not hurt you.
If you’re interested in using ethical hackers to test your systems, consider setting up a bug bounty program or contracting with a white hat hacker. You may be surprised at what you discover!
To learn more about how to address computer security in your organization, check out more of our blog or contact us today.