87335754104
academy
Security
Privacy
Performance
English
Avast Academy Security Hacking Hacker Types: Black Hat, White Hat, and Gray Hat Hackers

Hacker Types: Black Hat, White Hat, and Gray Hat Hackers

Hackers are computer experts that use advanced programming skills to neutralize security protocols and gain access to devices or networks. But not all hacking is unauthorized, and not all hackers break into systems with nefarious aims. Let’s examine different types of hackers and learn why some hacking is actually helpful. Then, secure your device with anti-hacking software like Avast One.

PC-editors-choice-icon
2023
Editors' choice
AV-Test-Top-product-icon
2022
Top Rated
Product
Academy-Hacker-Types-Hero
Written by Oliver Buxton & Deepan Ghimiray
Updated on November 03, 2023

What are the three main types of hackers?

Hackers fall into three general categories: black hat hackers, white hat hackers, and gray hat hackers. Although hackers are often associated with exploiting vulnerabilities to gain unauthorized access to computers, systems, or networks, not all hacking is malicious or illegal.

Hamburguer menu icon

This Article Contains :

    In its purest sense, hacking is simply the application of computer skills to solve a particular problem. There are many different types of hackers, and a lot of hacking activities are beneficial, because they uncover programming weaknesses that help developers improve software products.

    Here are the three hacking hat types explained:

    Black hat hackers

    Black hat hackers are cybercriminals that illegally crack systems with malicious intent. Seeking to gain unauthorized access to computer systems is the definition of black hat hacking. Once a black hat hacker finds a security vulnerability, they try to exploit it, often by implanting a virus or other type of malware such as a trojan.

    Ransomware attacks are another favored ploy that black hat hackers use to extort financial gains or breach data systems.

    Black hat hackers are also referred to as malicious hackers, unethical hackers, and crackers.

    White hat hackers

    White hat hackers, also known as ethical security hackers, identify and fix vulnerabilities. Hacking into systems with the permission of the organizations they hack into, white hat hackers try to uncover system weaknesses in order to fix them and help strengthen overall internet security.

    Many cybersecurity leaders started out as white hat hackers, but the vital role played by ethical hacking is still widely misunderstood, as made clear by a recent ethical hacking case in Germany.

    White hat hackers working on a team can be referred to as sneakers, hacker clubs, red teams, or tiger teams.

    Gray hat hackers

    Gray hat hackers may not have the criminal or malicious intent of a black hat hacker, but they also don’t have the prior knowledge or consent of those whose systems they hack into. Nevertheless, when gray hat hackers uncover weaknesses such as zero-day vulnerabilities, they report them rather than fully exploiting them. But gray hat hackers may demand payment in exchange for providing full details of what they uncovered.

    What’s the difference between white, black, and gray hat hackers?

    The main difference between white, black, and gray hat hackers is the motivation or intent that each type of hacker has when they break into computer systems. White hat hackers probe cybersecurity weaknesses to help organizations develop stronger security; black hat hackers are motivated by malicious intent; and Gray hat hackers operate in the nebulous area in between — they’re not malicious, but they’re not always ethical either.

    A graphic showing how white hat, black hat, and gray hat hackers have benevolent, malicious, and ambiguous motivations.White, black, and gray hat hackers have different motivations when breaking into systems.

    Other types of hackers

    Although nearly all hackers fall into one of the three categories (black hat, white hat, or gray hat), there are other types and sub-types of hackers.

    Hacker type

    Threat level

    Description

    Blue hat hackers

    Low

    Experts employed by companies to test and improve their cybersecurity.

    Purple hat hackers

    Low

    Self-trainers who hack their own systems to learn in a controlled environment.

    Red hat hackers

    Low

    Vigilante hackers who use aggressive tactics to target black hat communities.

    Green hat hackers

    Medium

    Inexperienced hackers who lack technical skills but can still cause harm.

    Hacktivists

    Medium

    Purpose-driven hackers using “ethical” hacking to support a political or social cause.

    Script kiddies

    Medium

    Novices who use pre-created scripts and programs for hacking.

    Whistleblowers

    Medium

    Employees or insiders who expose illegal or unethical activities within organizations.

    Botnet hackers

    High

    Those who use networks to control swarms of infected devices for large-scale malware campaigns or DDoS attacks.

    Cryptohackers

    High

    Hackers who use phishing and software tools to steal coins and manipulate crypto exchanges.

    Cryptojackers

    High

    People who infect or exploit devices to mine cryptocurrency without paying overhead.

    Cyberterrorists

    High

    Digital terrorists who disrupt infrastructure and spread fear or propaganda to advance an ideology.

    Elite hackers

    High

    Highly skilled professionals who innovate and create new cybersecurity threats.

    Gaming hackers

    High

    Trolls or hackers who target online gamers for login credentials, in-game assets, or account details.

    Malicious insiders

    High

    Employees who operate within organizations with personal motivations to expose data or attack networks.

    State-sponsored hackers

    High

    Government-employed hackers targeting individuals and organizations of adversaries.

    Blue hat hackers

    There are two types of blue hat hackers: security experts and revenge seekers. The former are non-malicious and employed by companies to help improve their security systems by conducting penetration tests. The latter are experienced hackers that use their skills for personal revenge against an individual or organization — without much care for money or fame.

    Purple hat hackers

    Purple hat hackers train their skills by hacking their own computer as an exercise. This entails using one PC to hack another PC that they own, then assessing their hacking techniques. Because purple hat hackers are practicing in a controlled environment for learning purposes, they pose little threat to anyone outside of themselves.

    Red hat hackers

    Also known as vigilante hackers, red hat hackers are motivated by a desire to fight back against black hat hackers, but they do this by infiltrating black hat communities on the dark web and launching hacking attacks against their networks and devices. Unlike white hat hackers, red hat hackers are not opposed to aggressive tactics, like destroying computing resources.

    Green hat hackers

    Green hat hackers are “green” in the sense that they’re inexperienced and may lack the technical skills of more experienced hackers. At this amateur level, they may not intentionally want to cause harm, but may accidentally do so. Green hat hackers may rely on phishing and other social engineering techniques to bypass security systems.

    Hacktivists

    Hacktivists are activists that engage in “ethical hacking.” Primarily, these hackers gain unauthorized access into systems of governments or organizations and expose secrets. Though hacktivists are motivated by what they consider just causes or values, the fallout of their attacks can still harm those who do not align with their ideologies.

    Script kiddies (amateur hackers)

    “Script kiddies” is slang for amateur hackers who lack the technical skills needed to create their own hacking programs or conduct sophisticated attacks, such as SQL injections, so they use scripts created by others. Despite being novices, script kiddies are still dangerous — especially since they often don’t fully understand the damage they can do with the pre-created programs they use.

    Whistleblowers

    Whistleblowers do damage to the organizations they work for by leaking sensitive data. The specific motivation can vary widely, but typically they seek to expose the illegal or unethical activity of their targets. Some aim to expose financial fraud, workplace violations, or harassment. Others tackle government corruption.

    Because their cause may not always align with others, whistleblowers are often controversial figures. Some deem them heroes, while others consider them public enemies.

    Botnet hackers

    Botnet hackers turn scores of infected devices into malware-laden zombies, which they control remotely and use to infect other devices. With a large enough botnet, these attackers can send large-scale spam and malware campaigns, or carry-out devastating DDoS attacks. Using a mirai botnet, hackers can seize control of a network of smart devices.

    Cryptohackers

    Cryptohackers steal cryptocurrency by manipulating crypto coin exchanges or DAOs. Coin exchanges operate like marketplaces, where coin holders can buy, sell, or exchange their crypto for other currencies. Cryptohackers use phishing schemes to lure their victims into scam coin exchanges and use software tools to steal digital currency.

    Cryptojackers

    Mining cryptocurrency is lucrative, but the process is time-consuming and expensive because it requires lots of computing power. Cryptojackers bypass the costs of crypto mining by infecting unsuspecting devices to perform complex mining processes, which then send the product (cryptocurrency) back to the hacker.

    Cyberterrorists

    Cyberterrorists use hacking to disrupt a country’s infrastructure or networks to advance an ideology. They can use computer hacking to burden critical systems, like electricity, finance, and transportation networks. Cyberterrorism can also be used to spread fear, misinformation, or propaganda. These attackers often finance their agenda by extorting large sums of cryptocurrency.

    Elite hackers

    As the name suggests, elite hackers are the top-tier of hackers. They usually have years of hacking experience behind their skills and expertise. Often switching between white and black hat hacking, elite hackers are innovators that both spot cyberattacks before others and create the latest cybersecurity threats.

    Gaming hackers

    Gaming hackers target online gamers’ login credentials, payment details, and other account information, or use DDoS attacks to shut down their accounts. Credits accumulated by professional gamers for in-game features and gear are a form of currency — and therefore, a sought-after prize for gaming hackers. Considering the prize pool for some eSports can be in the millions, this form of cyberattack is big business.

    Malicious insiders

    Like a whistleblower, malicious insiders operate from within an organization — but their goal is personally motivated. These hackers often have a personal vendetta against their target and aim to get revenge by exposing organizational data or attacking their network. Motivations can vary from not getting an expected raise to proving flaws in network security.

    State-sponsored hackers

    State-sponsored hackers are employed by governments to hack the systems of rival governments. Like soldiers in digital warfare, these hackers may be required to monitor for incoming threats or to steal confidential information. Though technically illegal, state-sponsored hackers act with a degree of impunity since they operate on behalf of their government.

    Ways to protect against hackers

    Prevention is key for staying safe from hackers. Here are some tried and tested ways to help protect against hackers:

    • Download files only from trusted sources: Hackers use file downloads from websites and emails as one of their main methods for infecting devices with malware. Don’t click downloads, links, and attachments from unfamiliar or suspicious sources.

    • Use antivirus software: Standard-issue antivirus like Windows Defender may not be enough to detect and remove the very latest malware threats. Use the best antivirus software to help ensure your device is protected, and watch out for signs of phone hacking.

    • Install a VPN: The best internet security software should include a VPN, which hides your true IP address and encrypts your internet connection to prevent hackers locating you or intercepting your data. For maximum protection, complement a VPN with a firewall.

    • Create strong passwords and enable 2FA: Strong passwords and two-factor authentication (2FA) will make it much harder for hackers to crack into your accounts and profiles using brute force attacks and other methods.

    • Avoid public Wi-Fi: Public Wi-Fi is often unsecured, making it easier for hackers to exploit and leech user data, or gain back-door access to devices. If you must use public Wi-Fi, always connect via a VPN, and protect yourself with one of the best security apps for iPhone or Android.

    • Install updates regularly: Hackers are always discovering new exploits to attack your devices and program. Regularly installing updates will help ensure that you're protected against the latest hacker threats.

    • Backup important files: If a computer hacking episode requires you to reformat your system, you’ll have to part with all your files and data. Having a backup of your important files enables you to pick up where you left off.

    Keep your digital life safe from hackers

    Despite the best efforts of white hats, malicious hackers are always finding new weaknesses to exploit. That’s why having an extra layer of protection that defends against all kinds of online threats is so important.

    Avast One is comprehensive cybersecurity protection that’s built on top of an award-winning threat detection network. With automatic updates to help you stay ahead of hackers and heuristic malware detection to identify new and emerging threats, Avast One offers unparalleled online security.

    Secure your digital life against intruders with a firewall, built-in VPN, password protection, and other advanced privacy features. Install Avast One today.

    Protect your iPhone against hacking and malware with Avast One

    Free install

    Protect your Android against hacking and malware with Avast One

    Free install
    Hacking
    Security
    Oliver Buxton & Deepan Ghimiray
    12-10-2022