What Is Hacking?
In simple words, hacking is when someone accesses data or files without their owner’s permission. And while hackers have the stereotypical image of a mysterious person in a dark room, typing zeros and ones on a black screen, that’s rarely the case.
Hacking can simply be someone guessing your password and logging into your accounts without your knowledge. It’s also considered hacking if they access your account or device because you forgot to log out, as you didn’t give them permission.
As more people depend on online accounts and digital devices to store sensitive data, understanding the types of risks is key to staying safe. Hackers are categorized by their motivation and intention. These motivations range from financial gain to ideological reasons and sometimes just fun and passing time.
But instead of ending up with countless categories depending on individual cases, hacking is mainly divided into three types: black-, gray-, and white-hat hacking.
What Is Black-Hat Hacking?
You can easily identify black-hat hackers for their malicious intent.
A black-hat hacker is after personal gain at the expense of others. They may be directly stealing money from companies or copying user data, breaching user privacy, and harming a business’s reputation.
However, the goal isn’t always getting money or data. Sometimes, their motive is ideological.
They attack because someone doesn’t have the same beliefs as them.
Note that black-hat hackers don’t always target companies and businesses, but individuals as well. Notable examples of black-hat hacking aimed at individuals are fake customer support call centers and phishing emails.
Those both rely heavily on social engineering, i.e. tricking you into giving sensitive information away such as your social security number and login credentials.
What Is Gray-Hat Hacking?
You might have heard of this term too, so what exactly is a gray-hat hacker? Gray-hat hackers operate in a gray area—hence the name.
While their actions often break the law, they typically have good intentions, which leaves them in a morally ambiguous area between public support and opposition.
In terms of hacking, gray-hat hackers often use similar methods to black-hat hackers to gain unauthorized access to classified data and private accounts.
Gray-hat hackers often leak data and information they believe should be public knowledge. They sometimes reveal evidence and information to criminalize a person, an institute, or a public figure, acting as a whistleblower.
While the majority of people aren’t scared of gray-hat hackers, the fact that they resort to shady tactics and illegal methods to get what they want makes many believe that gray-hat hacking is a slippery slope towards black-hat hacking.
Also, instead of being bound by the law of their state or country, victims of gray-hat hackers are often at the mercy of the hacker’s moral compass.
What Is White-Hat Hacking?
White-hat hacking—also known as ethical hacking—is a legal type of hacking. It’s mostly used by cybersecurity experts to test their networks and devices against black- and gray-hat hackers.
White-hat hackers don’t generally operate on their own. Instead, they’re hired by a company or an individual to try and hack into their system, database, or device to locate weak points and vulnerabilities.
In this case, they’re working both within ethical and legal bounds, with their motivations mostly financial gain from companies they work with and strengthening cybersecurity measures.
In addition to making sure a company’s software and hardware are impenetrable, white-hat hackers often test the employees’ cybersecurity awareness by staging social engineering attacks to see which are effective and the percentage of employees that fall for them.