Cyber security hackers sound like an intimidating bunch, but not every security hack is conducted with malicious intent. In fact, to protect your business from hackers that steal your data, you’ll need to employ ethical hackers to assess your vulnerability to a cyber attack.
This article from EliteSec will cover the three main types of cyber hackers: White Hat Hackers, Black Hat Hackers, and Grey Hat Hackers. Join us as we discuss how each type of hacker could impact your business in this article.
What Are The 3 Types of Cyber Hackers? The Good, the Bad, and The Ugly
There are numerous ways to categorize hackers based on their intentions, methods, and targets. However, the three main types often discussed are the following.
White Hat Hackers: These are also known as ethical hackers, they use their skills for good. Part of their job is to find security vulnerabilities in things like your computer networks so they can be fixed before they’re exploited by malicious actors. They typically work within the law and may be employed by companies as cybersecurity experts.
Black Hat Hackers: When people talk about “hackers” in a negative sense, this is who they’re referring to. Black hat hackers illegally infiltrate networks and damage computer security with malicious intent, such as stealing data, disrupting services, or distributing malware. They’re the bad guys.
Grey Hat Hackers: Falling between white and black, these hackers don’t necessarily have the malicious intent of black hat hackers but still operate outside of the law. They may break into systems without permission to expose vulnerabilities, often notifying the system owner afterwards. Their actions can be seen as helpful or harmful, depending on the perspective.
With these categories, there are subcategories as well, such as “hacktivists” who hack for political or social reasons, and “state-sponsored hackers” who are employed by governments to conduct cyber espionage or warfare.
However, they still fall within the above classifications.
What Are White Hat Hackers?
White hat hackers, also known as ethical hackers, are cybersecurity professionals who leverage their skills to protect and enhance the security of your computer system and other digital infrastructure. These tech-savvy individuals employ the same techniques as malicious hackers but with a key difference - their actions are entirely legal and ethical. Their goal is not to exploit vulnerabilities for personal gain but to discover potential weaknesses and rectify them before they can be maliciously exploited.
Prominent White Hat Hackers From The Past
You’ll find that many white hat hackers were once black hat hackers who started using their powers for good, often after getting apprehended by the authorities. One notable example of a white hat hacker is Kevin Mitnick. At one point, he was one of the FBI’s most wanted due to his hacking activities. He has since turned his life around and today, he runs a successful cybersecurity company where he helps businesses protect their systems against the kind of attacks he used to perpetrate.
The Many Roles Of White Hat Hackers
White hat hackers are the unsung heroes of the digital world. Their role involves safeguarding the cybersecurity landscape by identifying and addressing vulnerabilities in systems that could be exploited by malicious actors. They’re always strategizing to stay one step ahead of those who seek to undermine digital security.
By fulfilling these roles, white hat hackers serve as the first line of defence against cyber threats, reinforcing the walls that keep your data and digital life secure. Thus, they also act as guardians of your business’ reputation.
Here are just a few of the ways that white hackers help out businesses. Remember that if they ever manage to obtain control over your system in nefarious ways, they will always give control back to you and keep the data confidential. They’re white hat hackers.
One of the primary responsibilities of a white hat hacker is performing penetration testing. This involves simulating a cyber attack on a system, network, or web application to evaluate its security and identify vulnerabilities. Hence, they identify any weaknesses that could be exploited by black hat hackers, thereby preventing potential security vulnerabilities.
The goal of a penetration test is for the tester to gain administrative control over your network. Of course, if they achieve this goal, that means you have a lot of work to do to repair your security posture.
Another crucial task white hat hackers perform is vulnerability assessments. Usually, these take place before a penetration test to help the tester determine which weak points need to be tested first. They conduct comprehensive scans of systems to detect potential security vulnerabilities, including improper configurations, inadequate security controls, and other weaknesses.
White hat hackers also often engage in security auditing and risk assessments, examining systems to ensure that they comply with all necessary security standards and policies. They determine the potential impact of an attack and provide recommendations to reduce the risk.
Ethical Guidelines For White Hat Hackers
White hat hacking is fundamentally rooted in ethics. White hat hackers operate under a strong set of ethical guidelines and principles that distinguish them from their black hat counterparts. Two of these principles are particularly noteworthy: permission and respect for privacy.
Unlike black hat hackers and grey hat hackers who invade systems without permission, white hat hackers always operate with explicit permission. This permission usually comes in the form of a legal contract, often termed a “Get Out of Jail Free Card,” that outlines the scope of their activities, including what systems they can test, when they can test, and how they can test. Usually, this legal agreement is part of your larger contract with a cybersecurity firm that employs white hat hackers.
Respect for privacy is another cornerstone of ethical hacking. White hat hackers may come across sensitive information during their work, but they are ethically bound to respect privacy and maintain confidentiality. They do not exploit, disclose, or misuse the information; instead, they report it and ensure that measures are taken to secure it. Confidentiality will be part of your agreement with a white hat hacker too.
What to Look For in A White Hat Cyber Hacker
When hiring a white hat hacker, it’s crucial to ensure they hold recognized cybersecurity certifications. These attest to their skill level, knowledge, and commitment to ethical practices. Here are a few notable certifications:
- OSCP (Offensive Security Certified Professional): This certification validates a hacker’s ability to conduct penetration tests and understand the techniques that may be used during a cyber attack.
- OSWP (Offensive Security Wireless Professional): This certificate demonstrates a hacker’s expertise in identifying weaknesses in and attacking wireless networks.
- CISSP (Certified Information Systems Security Professional): This globally recognized certification verifies a cybersecurity professional’s knowledge and experience in designing, implementing, and managing a best-in-class cybersecurity program.
- CEH (Certified Ethical Hacker): This certificate validates a professional’s knowledge in identifying weaknesses and vulnerabilities in systems, using the same knowledge and tools as a malicious hacker, but in a lawful and legitimate manner to assess the security posture of a system.
- CISM (Certified Information Security Manager): This certification focuses on the management and governance of information security and is particularly valuable for those who are leading a team of white hat hackers.
Naturally, you have to consider more than just certifications. You should also assess a white hat hacker’s experience, problem-solving skills, understanding of your specific industry, and commitment to ongoing learning.
Cybersecurity threats evolve quickly, so a good white hat hacker must always stay up-to-date with the latest trends and threats.
What Are Black Hat Hackers?
Black hat hackers, the infamous cyber villains of our digital age, are individuals or groups who use their technical skills to exploit vulnerabilities in computer systems and networks with malicious intent. Unlike their white hat counterparts who hack ethically, or grey hat hackers who often operate in a moral grey area, black hat hackers have clear malevolent intentions. And usually, their crimes have an objective.
These hackers are motivated by a variety of factors. Financial gain is often a significant driver, with tactics such as stealing credit card information, executing bank fraud, or deploying ransomware to demand payments. But money isn’t the only motivating factor. Some black hat hackers may be driven by the desire for notoriety within their underground communities, the intellectual challenge of breaching secure systems, or even political motivations in the form of cyber espionage and state-sponsored hacking.
Black Hat Hacking Example: The WannaCry Hack
One of the most notorious examples of a black hat hack is the infamous WannaCry ransomware attack that occurred in May 2017.
The attack leveraged an exploit known as EternalBlue, believed to have been developed by the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) and leaked by a group called The Shadow Brokers. The ransomware spread rapidly, infecting vulnerable systems running outdated versions of Microsoft Windows. It encrypted users' files and demanded a ransom payment in Bitcoin to unlock them.
The attack had far-reaching effects, impacting an estimated 200,000 computers in 150 countries. High-profile victims included the UK’s National Health Service (NHS), where the attack caused widespread disruption of healthcare services. Other victims spanned various sectors, including telecommunications, logistics, and manufacturing.
The WannaCry attack served as a wake-up call for many organizations about the dangers of running outdated software and the importance of regular patch management. Microsoft released a patch to fix the EternalBlue vulnerability before the attack occurred, but many organizations had not applied it in time.
In terms of financial impact, estimates vary, but the losses due to WannaCry are believed to be in the billions of dollars globally. These costs include ransom payments, the cost of responding to the attack, loss of business due to system downtime, and subsequent investment in improved cybersecurity measures.
Common Techniques Used by Black Hat Hackers
Black hat hackers implement many different techniques to breach security systems, steal data, and wreak havoc. Black hat hackers constantly refine these techniques and devise new ones to circumvent security measures, making them a perpetually evolving threat in the cybersecurity landscape. Here are a few common methods:
This technique involves sending deceptive emails that appear to come from legitimate organizations. The goal is to trick recipients into revealing sensitive information like passwords or credit card numbers or to click on a link that installs malware on their computer.
In a ransomware attack, a hacker infiltrates a system and encrypts the victim’s data, effectively locking them out. The hacker then demands a ransom, often in a hard-to-trace cryptocurrency like Bitcoin, in exchange for the decryption key.
Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks aim to overwhelm a system, server, or network with traffic, rendering it inaccessible to its intended users. These attacks can be used to cause disruption, divert attention from another malicious activity, or as a form of cyber protest.
This involves exploiting vulnerabilities in a website’s database to manipulate its SQL code. This can allow the hacker to view, steal, or manipulate the site’s data.
Short for “malicious software,” malware encompasses various types of software designed to damage, disrupt, or gain unauthorized access to computer systems.
How Black Hat Hackers Can Threaten Your Businesses
No matter what size your business is, and what industry you operate in, you’re exposed to black hat hackers. As long as you have an online presence, you need to take precautions. Hackers’ malicious activities can result in substantial financial losses, significant operational disruptions, and severe damage to your company’s reputation.
Imagine if a black hat hacker gained access to your sensitive customer data, including credit card details or personally identifiable information. The resulting data breach could not only lead to direct financial loss but also irreparable damage to the company’s trust with its customers.
Preventative Measures Against Black Hat Hacking
To protect against the threat of black hat hackers, your business should adopt robust cybersecurity practices. Here are some essential preventative measures:
- Regular Software Updates: Keep updating your software as new updates and patches for recently discovered security vulnerabilities arise. Otherwise, they could be exploited by black hat hackers.
- Secure Passwords: Businesses should enforce strong password policies, including the use ofunique, complex passwords, and two-factor authentication where possible. Network Security: Proper network security practices include firewalls, intrusion detection systems, and network segmentation to make it more difficult for hackers to gain access or move laterally across a network.
- Employee Training: Many successful cyberattacks start with social engineering, where a malicious actor tricks your employees into revealing sensitive information or inadvertently installing malware. Regular training can help employees recognize and avoid these scams.
- Regular Backups: Regularly backing up data is an example of a good cybersecurity practice that can help companies recover in the event of a ransomware attack or data loss due to other types of attacks.
In the face of increasing cyber threats, businesses must prioritize these preventative measures to protect themselves from the dangers posed by black hat hackers. It’s not a matter of if a cyberattack will happen, but when, and proactive security practices are the best line of defence.
Of course, your best means of defence is to hire a cybersecurity expert like the ones at EliteSec. We can conduct vulnerability assessments and penetration tests, which are white hat techniques, to find your security weaknesses. Then, we’ll help you implement defence mechanisms to keep hackers under wraps.
What Are Grey Hat Hackers?
Grey hat hackers occupy the murky middle ground between the ethical intentions of white hat hackers and the malicious motivations of black hat hackers. As grey is a blend of black and white, grey hat is a perfect name for a group of hackers that straddle the line between legality and illegality, ethicality and unethicality. Unlike white hat hackers, grey hats may not necessarily have explicit permission to probe systems and networks for vulnerabilities. Yet, unlike black hat hackers, their ultimate intention isn’t to cause harm or exploit these vulnerabilities for personal gain. Rather, they often reveal the vulnerabilities they find to the system’s owners, sometimes offering to fix them—possibly for a fee—or publishing the vulnerabilities if they are ignored.
Grey hat hackers might be able to help you, but at the same time, they have their own best interests in mind and employ unethical tactics to try to help you.
Exploring The Motivations of grey Hat Hackers
Understanding the motivations of grey hat hackers requires a nuanced perspective. Many grey hat hackers are driven by a genuine desire to improve cybersecurity, much like white hat hackers. They may believe that by uncovering and exposing vulnerabilities—sometimes without permission—they’re compelling companies to prioritize security and protect users' data. It’s quite a neat sales tactic after all.
Look at it this way, imagine a man coming to threaten you at your office, causing a big ruckus, only to change his tone 30 minutes in. Then, he launches into a sales pitch offering to provide security guard services for your building. In the end, you’d be mystified, and you would probably call the police. Suffice to say, their actions would be considered pretty morally ambiguous, just like that of a grey hat hacker.
Without explicit permission, the actions of grey hat hackers constitute illegal access, which is why they’re not wholly on the ‘white’ spectrum. Furthermore, when they publicly disclose vulnerabilities—especially without giving adequate time for the vulnerability to be patched—they risk providing information that black hat hackers could exploit.
Some grey hat hackers may also be motivated by the thrill of the challenge, the prospect of recognition within their community, or potential financial gain from bug bounties or fees for fixing vulnerabilities.
Threats Posed by grey Hat Hackers to Businesses
Despite their intentions not being expressly malicious, grey hat hackers can still pose significant threats to your business. As they often operate without explicit permission, their activities can disrupt operations, inadvertently expose sensitive information, and create public relations challenges. In some instances, a grey hat hacker might identify a vulnerability and publicly disclose it without giving the business adequate time to fix it. This rush to disclosure can provide a roadmap for black hat hackers to exploit the vulnerability, causing significant harm before the business has a chance to respond.
For instance, a software company might find itself in a crisis when a grey hat hacker publicly announces a critical vulnerability in their widely-used product. The company’s reputation may take a hit, and the scramble to issue a patch could divert resources from other important areas, all while the risk of exploitation remains high.
Legal Implications of grey Hat Hacking
From a legal perspective, grey hat hacking often falls into a legal grey area—hence the name. Laws like the US Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) and the UK’s Computer Misuse Act, among others, deem unauthorized access to computer systems illegal. Even if the intention isn’t to cause harm, the act itself can still be considered a criminal offence.
This means that grey hat hackers can face serious consequences for their activities, including fines and imprisonment. For instance, in 2016, a grey hat hacker known as “Weev” faced federal charges in the United States for exposing a flaw in AT&T’s security that revealed the email addresses of iPad users.
The Role of grey Hat Hackers in the Cybersecurity Landscape
The role of grey hat hackers in the cybersecurity landscape is as complex as the individuals themselves. On one hand, their activities can lead to improved security. By identifying and exposing vulnerabilities, they can compel businesses to prioritize cybersecurity and protect users' data. In some cases, they’ve exposed vulnerabilities that might otherwise have gone unnoticed until exploited by a black hat hacker.
However, their methods can cause harm and create ethical dilemmas. Even when their intentions are good, their tactics can result in unintended consequences. This is why it’s not uncommon for grey hat hackers to transition into white hat roles over time. Recognizing the potential to use their skills for unequivocally beneficial purposes, these hackers may seek employment in cybersecurity, where they can contribute to enhancing security while operating within legal and ethical boundaries.
Indeed, some of the most skilled white hat hackers started their journey in the grey area before fully committing to the principles of ethical hacking. Their intimate understanding of hacker tactics, combined with a clear ethical framework, makes them powerful assets in the fight against cyber threats.
At the end of the day, the white hat hackers protect you from the black hat hackers, and to a lesser extent, the grey hat hackers. The best way to protect yourself from those black and grey hat hackers is to be proactive.
Since you don’t have time to become a white hat hacker yourself, your best option is to hire a white hat hacker from a firm like EliteSec. We help you with everything from penetration testing to training your staff in cybersecurity best practices.
Book a free appointment below to see where your weaknesses lie.
We would be more than happy to discuss this topic further and help you build out your own security controls for your organization. Contact us today and we’ll be happy to chat with you!