Most people have acquired much of their familiarity with what a hacker is through the mixed representation seen in pop culture today… but does this impression match up to a hacker in real life? Popular entertainment unfortunately doesn’t differentiate between different hacker types and their motivations very well, so that’s what we’ll handle here.
In truth, popular entertainment has taken quite a few creative liberties with the concept of a hacker, while simultaneously reducing them into a few noticeable stereotypes and tropes. You have the standoffish and reclusive criminal, the quirky member of a given law enforcement acronym team, and a handful of other, very similar archetypes.
However, these tropes have all contributed to a predictable, stereotypical caricature that most people associate with the term “hacker”: Someone sitting alone in a room, surrounded by monitors, typing while windows open and close on their screens.
But again, this is a caricature, an exaggerated approximation based on a limited view of reality.
In the real world, there are many different kinds of hacker, differentiated by their ultimate goals and the methods they employ to achieve these goals.
Admittedly, there were originally just two, differentiated by referencing the costuming traditions of Western movies. The hero would wear a white hat, the villain, a black hat. Hackers were categorized between white-hat and black-hat, initially, with more colors being adopted to accommodate the many varieties that developed.
White Hat: These are the good guys - they’re the ones who go through official channels and try to hack into program so that vulnerabilities can be identified and resolved. The white hat hacker frequently uses vulnerability assessments and penetration tests to accomplish their objective.
Black Hat: Again, in keeping with the traditions of old Western movies, the black hat hacker is a villain, and is closest to the stereotype of a hacker that most people are familiar with. Generally with selfish, greedy, or vindictive motives, a black hat hacker seeks to do harm as they steal financial information, trade secrets, or leave an unpleasant surprise on your network.
Grey Hat: You have to mix black and white to get grey, and that’s more or less how it applies to hackers. Acting as a kind of online vigilante, the grey hat hacker largely works to take down online threats as a white hat hacker would - but by employing the kind of tactics that a black hat hacker would use.
Red Hat: Red hat hackers are the guerillas of the hacking world. Intercepting the attempts made by a black hat hacker, red hat hackers attack their systems to sideline the black hat hacker.
Green Hat: Inexperienced and uninitiated, green hat hackers have no practical hacking experience. However, they will lurk on forums to learn more about hacking attempts from other hats.
Blue Hat: Another form of amateur hacker, a blue hat will take advantage of preexisting attack vectors to infiltrate their targets. They are often inspired into action by their personal feelings, and use very basic attacks to their advantage.
There are many reasons that a hacker may be driven to do what they do - and there isn’t always a single reason for it. Some common motives include:
This is one of the most obvious reasons for a hacker to do what they do, as there are many ways that a hacker can use stolen data for their own benefit. Whether they steal a person’s credentials and drain their accounts, blackmail them with private data, or simply steal data to sell to other criminals, a knowledgeable hacker can almost certainly profit from their spoils.
Some hackers use their crimes to promote a platform. Take, for instance, the notorious infidelity dating service Ashley Madison that was hacked - the hackers responsible left a message that clearly outlined why the website had been targeted, and demanded it be shut down or the data would be dispersed. Other politically motivated “hacktivists” will attack political entities and organizations to spread their message and gain visibility.
Similarly to the Ashley Madison case, some hackers will target a website with an attack meant to disrupt it and lead to it crashing, such as some strains of malware, or a DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attack.
The lesson to be learned from all this? There’s a type of hacker to target everyone, which means you need to have sufficient protections in place. To help protect your business, reach out to the professionals at MERIT Solutions. Give us a call at (757) 420-5150 today.