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.

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Written by Oliver Buxton
Published on October 12, 2022

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.

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.

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.

White hat hackers

White hat hackers are ethical security hackers who 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 a system’s overall 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.

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.

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.

  • 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. Green hats may rely on phishing and other social engineering techniques to bypass security systems.

  • Blue hat hackers: Blue hat hackers are white hat hackers who are actually employed by an organization to help improve their security systems by conducting penetration tests.

  • 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.

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 respectively.White, black, and gray hat hackers have different motivations when breaking into systems.

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

Block hackers and protect your personal data with Avast One


Block hackers and protect your personal data with Avast One

Oliver Buxton