What comes to your mind when hearing the word “hacker”? Someone hiding behind a monitor, typing fast on the keyboard, tries to gain unauthorized access and take control over your systems?
Well, you are partially correct. One of the definitions of “hacker” is “a person who illegally gains access to and sometimes tampers with information in a computer system”. But hackers can also refer to an expert at computer technology or programming who loves to share his/her knowledge to solve problems.
Different types of hackers
There are several types of hackers, including “black hat”, “white hat”, and “gray hat”(or spelled grey hat) hackers. Those who try to break into a network, steal information and cause damages are called “black hat hackers” or “crackers”. They use their knowledge to exploit system vulnerabilities for personal indulgence.
“White hat hackers” are the ones who act in public interest and draw on their computing expertise to improve cybersecurity. They do have the abilities to break into the computer systems, but instead of gaining unauthorized control and causing chaos, they point out the security weaknesses or bring the flaws to the attention of the service providers. These hackers submit found exploits to service providers or software venders who can then release security updates to prevent real malicious exploits.
Internet and software companies often hire these skillful hackers and provide them internal information and permission to discover the subtlest weaknesses and further prevent any possible attacks.
Lastly, gray hat refers to a hacker who may violate laws or typical ethical standards but does not have the malicious intent. Instead of bypassing internet security illegally or reporting to the service providers, a grey hat hacker would publicize the vulnerabilities when he/she exploits a security flaw. Such action could simply be a show-off, or cause severe consequences, since malicious hackers might use the information to conduct destructive activities.
Next time when you read or hear about hackers, do not fall into the “bad guy” stereotype immediately. Perhaps they are the white hat who have saved you from countless security incidents without you knowing!