The word hacker has a pretty negative connotation. It brings to mind other words like cybercriminal, thief, and malicious. It’s easy to see why hacker has a bad rep. The news is full of stories about hackers stealing data from large companies and the government. Hackers are the bad guys.
But are they?
Tesla just recently announced they are hiring hackers to find and fix security holes in the Model S car. Google started a league of hackers called “Project Zero” to track down security flaws in their software. Companies like Facebook and others sponsor hack-a-thons, where anyone is invited to try and crack their systems, all the time. Why would these companies want to hire or incentivize hackers?
The truth is not all hackers are the same. Here are the different kinds of hackers:
- White hat hackers: Also known as “ethical hackers,” these hackers use their skills to make the Internet a safer place. Some white hat hackers do this for fun and then report the information to companies or sites they have broken into so the companies and sites can be fixed. It is these white hat hackers that Tesla is hiring they can find any security holes in their Internet-enabled cars before the bad hackers find and exploit them.
- Gray hat hackers: These are the guys in the middle. They sometimes act legally, sometimes not. They usually do not hack for personal gain or have malicious intentions, but may or may not occasionally commit crimes during the course of their technological exploits. An example of gray hat hackers is hacktivists—who hack to bring attention to a political agenda or social cause. Anonymous, a predominant hacktivist group, recently took down multiple Israeli websites in protest of the Gaza crisis.
- Black hat hackers: These are the bad guys that give the word hacker its negative connotation. These hackers are committing crimes…and they know it. They are looking to exploit companies or you and your devices for their financial gain.
So the next time you hear the word hacker, don’t automatically assume it’s a bad thing. Hacking can used for good and evil, it all depends on the hacker’s intent.
Robert Siciliano is an Online Security Expert to McAfee. He is the author of 99 Things You Wish You Knew Before Your Mobile was Hacked! Disclosures.