What is a hacker?
Broadly speaking, the term hacker may be used to describe any person that has a high-level understanding of computers, including programmers and cybersecurity experts. In popular terminology, though, a hacker is a person who seeks to exploit the vulnerabilities of a computer system or network. These are also referred to as security hackers.
There is an ongoing debate around the definition of the word hacker. The original meaning carried no negative connotation. It was more related to the act of playing around with technology to solve problems or achieve certain goals. Today, however, the prevalent meaning relates to criminal activities performed by security hackers.
So, we may define hackers as individuals who use their technical knowledge to bypass cybersecurity obstacles, gaining unauthorized access to digital information and computing environments. In some cases, hackers use their skills to disrupt or break a specific program.
Usually, security hackers are classified as either white hat, black hat, or grey hat – according to their methodology and motives.
What does a hacker do?
As mentioned, the term hacker was originally used to describe someone who sought innovative ways to push computers past their defined limits. Today, however, the term typically refers to an individual who tries to breach the security of a network or system. From one who simply cracks an account password to others who use advanced methods to manipulate a computer’s hardware.
The effects can be positive or negative, depending on the hacker’s motivation. Today, hackers are described as having different color “hats” – just like good or bad characters were once identified in Western cowboy films.
White hat hackers
Also known as ethical hackers, white hat hackers strive to improve security by finding vulnerabilities so that they can be patched. Working with the permission of their target, some white hats are hired as full-time employees. Others go after bounty programs and hacking competitions, which reward them for each security flaw they find or for each system they manage to break. Most white hat hackers hold a college degree in information security or computer science, and many of them are certified in ethical hacking.
Black hat hackers
Sometimes called “crackers,” black hats work without permission against their targets. They search for vulnerabilities to exploit for malicious purposes or personal gains. Acquiring money, gaining notoriety, stealing company secrets, spreading misinformation, or even intercepting national intelligence communications could all be among the motives of a black hat hacker.
Grey hat hackers
As the name suggests, grey hats are somewhere in between the other two groups. Usually, they use their skills to break into systems and networks without permission, but they do so for a mixture of reasons.
In some cases, grey hat hackers find vulnerabilities and report them to the owners of the target website or program. They may also offer their help in fixing it in exchange for a fee. Although not always interested in financial gains, grey hats often perform illegal or unethical activities.
Another group of hackers, known as hacktivists, are sometimes classified as grey hat hackers because they are motivated by political or social causes. Anonymous is a popular example of a hacktivist group.