In the information technology world, few people haven’t heard of hackers. Probably none, because security is a cornerstone of the IT world. A term firmly embedded in popular culture and especially ‘geek’ culture since the 1980s, most people know that hackers come in several types and forms. Hacking is a ubiquitous subject that is present in everything from books to cult movies. Hackers as a result have become romanticized in popular culture and, of course, shrouded in a mystery that attracts a large fan base.
In reality, hacking itself is neither a beautifully orchestrated art form as it is represented in the movies nor are hackers themselves slick, hooded villains that hide in dark rooms filled with blinking lights, screens, and cables everywhere. At least, most of them aren’t. Perhaps movies do more or less reflect the environment and techniques of hackers belonging to the highest echelon, but most hackers are a far cry from this. Also, the notion that only special types of people with special knowledge can hack into systems, networks, and computers is misrepresented in popular culture and media.
The truth is, today, anyone with access to the internet and basic computer knowledge can hack by following one of the many YouTube tutorials out there today. One can simply start hacking this way without any sort of formal programming language. Like most things in technology that have been deconstructed and demystified to a level that is accessible and understandable to the common person, hacking is much the same. No advanced obscure programming language knowledge is required to ‘hack’ today, technically speaking, because of the vast amount of ready-made resources already available out there.
You no longer need to learn the secrets to cooking from a master chef, because there are step-by-step tutorials online on how to create that Michelin star meal. This is a great analogy that helps understand how accessible hacking has become to everyone. There are also free, open-source solutions that are easily accessible and downloadable online that can benefit all types of hacking.
However, not all hackers are equal, and all hacking is definitely not equal. The pros exist for a reason, and what they can do is astounding (no layman would be able to launch a ransomware or MiTM attack, for example.) Yes, you can still technically launch a hack or hack someone directly over the internet, or even buy an infected USB device and insert it into a computer, but it is a far cry from what hardcore hackers today can do. This is why we need to understand what hackers are and the different types of hackers out there.
What Are Hackers?
Before the 1990s, the term hacking was non-existent. In the 1980s, it was known as ‘phreaking’ or ’phone phreaking’ where one would intercept or alter (phreak) telephone networks. Of course, at that time, the internet was not available to the public at large so there was no ‘hacking’ to be done. But, as always, there will be someone (even if it is a group of unruly teenagers) that wants to rebel against the system.
It was during the late 90s and later that hacking actually became a thing. Even though at that time the internet was not what it is today and was much more one-dimensional, things were indeed hacked. It was extremely simple for computer programmers who called themselves hackers to infiltrate and ‘hack’ into a computer system at the time either via a simple executable Windows virus or something like an infected floppy disk.
Today, we associate the term hacking in two ways; a bad hacker and a good, cool hacker. In reality, this is true to reality. There are even those that operate between good and bad, so let’s try to understand the different types of hackers out there.
What Are The Different Types of Hackers?
Today, the internet is vast. That means that hackers have many options via which to attack networks, systems, and individuals as well as a large array of tools. These are called attack surfaces and attack vectors, to be precise. There are a host of different categories of hackers, each with its characteristics. The three general categories of hackers are;
– White Hats
– Gray Hats
– Black Hats
The white hat hackers, as the color indicates, are well-intentioned and are publicly working to fight against black hats which are the bad guys. They are the white ‘good guy’ hats and this defines how they operate and also who they are backed by. White hats are hired by security companies and other IT organizations and are certified for professional roles. Black hats are, you guessed it, the complete opposite. These are the bad guys, the criminals, the ones sponsored by one-party nations, etc.
Thirdly, we have gray hats, which are in between the two and are also highly sought after by the IT industry (especially the cybersecurity industry) because of their experience in both worlds. Sometimes these gray hats don’t want anything to do with anybody and are just ‘playing around, as it were.
It is impossible to protect against sophisticated black hats that are state-sponsored and out to crush the digital defenses of an entire nation or spy on people. On the other hand, one day when Zero Trust Models become fully implemented then this will no longer be true, but those days are still a ways ahead of us. Black hats tend to use ransomware and exploit things like Zero-Days, both of which is as hardcore as it gets in the hacking realm. However, on an individual level, what we can all do is the following;
– Vastly improve our password hygiene by using randomized, longer passwords
– Properly updating and configuring our systems and apps for security
– Using premium cybersecurity tools to the fullest extent
– Not falling for social engineering scams like phishing
– Not oversharing information about our personal lives or credentials information
– Avoiding connecting to unsecured networks like public wifi and visiting unsecured, uncertified websites