RESEARCH BLOG

All hackers are not created equal

Hackers aren't the Hollywood cutouts that have been portrayed in countless movies, slapping away at a keyboard until the big screen at the CIA headquarters has a giant skull and crossbones projected on it. They come in all shapes and sizes, with multiple motivations behind their acts, so let's discuss what different hackers actually look like:

Black hat

Black hats are the types of criminals most people envision when they think of hackers. These individuals are the ones who knowingly break the law for personal gain, whether that be money or simple satisfaction. However, they don't always have to be the ones to actually hack into an organization's network to steal the data. In fact, many black hats make a living off of finding vulnerabilities and telling other criminals about them for a significant fee. 

That particular fact will be discussed here later, but the fact of the matter is that black hat hackers are bad news. They don't care about who they hurt or what systems they breach as long as they get their reward. 

White hat

As the name implies, white hat hackers are the exact opposite of their nefarious counterparts. These people are the guardian angels of the Internet, working constantly to inform companies and individuals about current weaknesses in their cyber security systems. White hats often do this in accordance with their moral compass, however, that's not always the case. 

Many white hat hackers actually make money through their exploits. Businesses need to protect their data from black hats, and yet they often don't have the talent to think like a cyber criminal. This is where the organization will hire an outside moral hacker to test their systems and suggest ways in which they could patch these vulnerabilities.

Although these individuals are certainly helping the companies they work with, they're also compensated incredibly well for their efforts. Penetration testers, who are the quintessential white hats, make more than $77,000 a year on average, with many topping out at more than $124,000, according to PayScale. That's not even counting bonuses, which can often be quite a lot of money if the individual does a good job. 

Moral ambiguity is big in the hacking community. White and black hat hackers are only two of many personality types.

Grey hat

Although some would like to think all people can be categorized as good or evil, the reality of the situation is that this simply isn't the case. This is especially true of hackers, who often cross the line between being a white or black hat. People in this group are called grey hats, and they make up a majority of hackers out there. 

A perfect example of this kind of personality is the case of Phineas Fisher. This hacker, who won't give a real name and instead goes by the aforementioned pseudonym, decided that he wanted to give money to Syrian forces fighting the ISIS invasion. Most people would agree that this would have been a moral act, but Fisher didn't want to give up his own money. 

"Hackers often cross the line between being a white or black hat."

In fact, Fisher eventually donated $11,000 in bitcoin to Syrian freedom fighters that he had previously stolen from a bank, according to Newsweek contributor Anthony Cuthbertson. Of course, Fisher may have had good intentions behind his act. However, stealing is undeniably wrong, regardless of the cause, and Fisher most certainly broke the law here. Most hackers involve themselves with these kinds of moral ambiguities, making it hard to discern where they stand. 

Script kiddie

Remember how black hats will sell known exploits to other people for profit? Well, the people who pay for these are called script kiddies, and they're considered by many to be the lowest rung in the hacker totem pole. This is because these individuals often have little to no cyber security knowledge, instead relying on the efforts of others in order to get into protected systems. 

Despite the derogatory name, script kiddies are not to be taken lightly. In fact, they can sometimes be even more dangerous than black hats because they have no idea what they're doing. They wield incredible power that they didn't work to attain, and it can sometimes end very poorly for their victims. 

Clearly, hackers aren't a singular personality type. They're a diverse group of individuals with moralities ranging from sinner to saint, and comprehending this can help you gain a fuller understanding of the current cyber security scene.