White, Black, and Gray Hat Hacking, Explained

When it comes to hacking, most of us only think of one thing: a breach to cybersecurity. The stories about the hacking of Sony a few years ago left us wary, or even scared, of hacking. One of our biggest nightmares is having our social media and email accounts hacked by some unknown source. So we rely on network security companies to constantly upgrade cybersecurity so that we could feel confident about the safety of our information online.

In reality, though, not all acts of hacking are bad. In fact, hackers play a vital role in the development of cybersecurity. Without them, companies wouldn’t have an idea of what type or level of security that they need.

This is why many companies hire highly skilled hackers. They are tasked to provide support for the company and make sure that their networks and information are all secured.

To better understand the differences between hackers, these are the different hats that they wear: white, black, and gray hats.

White Hat Hacking

White hat hackers are the ones that companies typically hire. They practice “ethical hacking” by using their skills to benefit a company, develop cybersecurity systems, or train other information technology (IT) specialists to further develop cybersecurity systems.

Because of their strong grasp on programming and network, they have a keen eye that can target any suspicious activity. Even if it’s just a file in an email attachment or a link, they’d be able to identify the threats behind them. And through this skill, they’re able to take down those threats before they could ever cause damage to the company.

With such skills, they’re also able to act as actual damaging hackers and test the strength of a company’s network security. This act is called penetration testing. It’s how they’ll be able to identify the weak spots of cybersecurity systems. White hat hackers are actually quite in demand in the private sector. With the numerous news reports on hacking, companies are very wary of anything that can affect their business.

Black Hat Hacking

person typing on a laptop

Black hat hackers are the ones that we should be careful of. If white hat hackers are often called “ethical hackers,” then black hat hackers are the “cyber attackers.” They are the ones who create malware, conceal them in email attachments or links, and send them to employees. Then employees open such attachments or links with none the wiser. Thus, they’re opening the doors for the black hat hackers to their network and access any confidential information.

They can access financial records, personal emails–what have you. All of the things, if they go out to the public, could cause some serious damage to a company. Black hat hacking is a criminal offense with charges that could reach thousands of dollars.

Gray Hat Hacking

Like most things, hacking isn’t just black and white. It doesn’t have a clear distinction between the good and bad sides. This is why gray hat hackers exist. Although they generally don’t have malicious intent like black hat hackers, they’re not exactly innocent either. They use their hacking skills to damage other companies and organizations for their ideas of the greater good.

A prime example of this is hacktivism. It’s when hackers penetrate or bring down cybersecurity to release information they feel that the public needs to know. There are ongoing debates on the nature of hacktivism. Is it an online crime? Or is it actually activism that operates under civil disobedience?

Knowing the differences between white, black, and gray hat hackers will help us understand the importance of cybersecurity, especially for companies. There are various debates on the importance of sharing information with the public. But the right to privacy is still something that every person and company should be able to enjoy.

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