A Gartner report notes that we could soon see physical retaliation from the nation state victims of cyberattacks in the form of wars. This news comes at a time when cyberattacks are becoming more sophisticated and targeting military networks, hospitals, and critical infrastructure of nations.

If Gartner's prediction comes true, then governments and organizations will be well served to lure hackers to their side to fight fire with fire. With hackers on their side, governments can:

  • Perform counterattacks on their enemies.
  • Test and plug vulnerable loopholes in their networks.

While those who perform attacks and counterattacks on nation states are considered black hat hackers, hackers who attack with the end goal of discovering and plugging vulnerabilities are considered some of the good guys.

This raises several questions: How many types of hackers are there? Are there only the two types that we have discussed already? It turns out that there are six different types of hackers: White hat, grey hat, red hat, black hat, blue hat, and green hat.

White hat

You may have seen advertisements for courses on hacking, promising lucrative job opportunities. Those aspiring learners become sought-after professionals called ethical or white hat hackers. For example, Certified Ethical Hacker (C | EH) is one popular professional certification for would-be white hat hackers.

White hats:

  • Identify and repair vulnerabilities within the organization.
  • Act as consultants to devise cybersecurity strategies
  • Program tools and software to strengthen defenses.
  • Conduct research and penetration testing.

Government organizations such as the NSA and various technology firms employ ethical hackers to work in their interest. Some firms even organize bug bounty contests to spot vulnerabilities in their infrastructure and reward the winners. White hats can freelance or even go on to found their own cybersecurity firms offering consulting services.

Recently, Tree of Alpha, a white hat hacker, publicly tweeted to Coinbase, a cryptocurrency trading platform, about a potential vulnerability in its trading system. Coinbase's CEO quickly responded that the company would investigate further and thanked Tree of Alpha.

Grey hat

Grey hats are similar to white hats; the only caveat is that they operate without prior permission. Grey hats usually hack a network without the owner's consent to check for existing vulnerabilities, drawing attention to their ability and skills in exchange for a reward or getting hired.

Poly Network, a cryptocurrency firm, offered a $500,000 bounty and a job to a hacker who stole $600 Million worth of tokens and eventually returned all of it. The firm was thankful to find and fix such a huge vulnerability in its network.

Red hat

Red hats are individuals who act in the victim's favor. They target black hats by deploying counterattacks to stop them. Their main motivation is to attack and take down the black hats, and they may even resort to illegal means to do so. Red hats do not work for legal authorities; they take justice into their own hands. They are known to:

  • Break into hacker networks to disrupt and cease operations of black hats.
  • Launch malware, DDoS, and other attacks to destroy the their target hacker's infrastructure.

Red hats are often referred to as vigilantes.

Black hat

Black hats are the hackers everyone fears. They are the real bad guys who break into a network with the sole intention of causing damage, exfiltrating data, or demanding a ransom. They are cybercriminals who want to cause havoc motivated by self-serving interests, such as financial gain. Black hats are known to:

  • Hack into hospitals and government networks to cease operations and extort money.
  • Steal and sell sensitive information from private firms and governments.
  • Carry out financial fraud.
  • Conduct phishing campaigns.

As of February 13, Mabanaft, a German fuel storage company, has been unable to restore operations after a cyberattack that occurred in late January. It is estimated that 15% of the country's fuel demand was disrupted as a result of the outages.

Blue hat

Blue hats are hackers who seek vengeance and harass their target. They do not seek monetary gains, but they can cause serious damage, just like black hats.

Recently, North Korean authorities faced disruption in their network due to a DDoS attack. The attack was found to have come from an individual hacker who was a victim of a North Korean spying campaign from the previous year. The annoyed hacker had retaliated out of anger but sought nothing.

Green hat

Green hats are aspiring black hats who are just getting started. They target the vulnerable small and medium-sized businesses to hone their skills and grow bigger in the process. They may not be highly skilled but are as much of a threat as the hackers of the major leagues.

They are self-taught, often gaining easy access to tutorials and malicious tools via channels such as the dark web. These easy-to-use tools in the hands of the wrong person can aid in the launching of DDoS and malware attacks on the target.

Green hats are also sometimes called script kiddies. A wannabe hacker is facing criminal charges in the United States for stealing credentials of various computers in order to commit financial fraud and ransomware attacks. All of this was accomplished using a botnet purchased from the dark web.

Understanding good and bad hats

Governments and technology giants like Google and Apple collaborate with ethical hackers to build strong networks. There are also instances where notorious hackers have been head-hunted to become security consultants. At the same time, terrorists and criminal organizations are also betting on hacking talent.

So yes, there are hackers out there who can help you and hackers out there who can exploit you. It is important to understand the motive of the attacker and the ways they operate to prepare and deploy the best defense strategy.

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