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From black hats to white hats: Your ultimate guide to the different types of hacker 

The term “hacker” is commonly used to describe cybercriminals who use their programming skills to gain unauthorised access to systems and data. But there are different types of hacker — and not all of them have criminal intentions. Read on to learn about the different types of hacker attacks, what the different hacker hats mean, and how you can shield your devices from unauthorized access with the latest solutions like Avira Free Security. 


What are hackers? 

Hackers are IT experts who use their knowledge to gain access to systems. The term is often used synonymously for cybercriminals who gain unauthorized access to systems with the intention of stealing sensitive data or causing other damage. But criminal intent doesn’t motivate all types of hackers. There are also legal hackers who, for example, actively uncover security holes so they can be fixed. 

What are hackers after? 

Hackers are typically driven by the singular aim to gain access to systems and get their hands on data. Most cyberattacks are carried out to gain access to data such as names, email addresses, or phone numbers so hackers can send targeted ads to their victims. Although committing crime isn’t always the intention behind hacking, the captured data can also be used as the basis for phishing attacks where hackers try to access and misuse much more sensitive data, like bank account details. 

How does hacking work? 

Whether technical or social, networks have vulnerabilities that compromise their security. Hackers specifically exploit these weaknesses to gain unauthorized access to systems or devices. Such attacks can affect both private individuals and entire organizations. Hackers usually take advantage of the following network weaknesses: 

  • Technical vulnerabilities: If there are technical weaknesses, hackers can use their know-how to gain unauthorized access to networks or systems. In addition to stealing data, they can also inject malware and paralyze entire systems. 
  • Social vulnerabilities: Often, it’s not the technology that’s the weak point — it’s people. Using social engineering techniques, hackers trick people into clicking on malicious links, downloading infected files, or revealing personal information. 

If you log into a free Wi-Fi hotspot, you’re also putting yourself at risk of a hacker attack. Among other things, that’s because hackers can create a pseudo hotspot. To you it looks like you’re connecting to the free Wi-Fi network because the pseudo network is creating an actual internet connection. But what’s really happening is that this connection gives cybercriminals the opportunity to read and manipulate your data. 

What are the different types of hackers? 

There are three types of hackers: 

  • Black hat hackers 
  • White hat hackers 
  • Gray hat hackers 

They each have different goals with their attacks. Let’s take a look at what they are and how they differ. 

Black hat hackers are the bad guys, with criminal intentions 

Cybercriminals who gain access to systems illegally and with malicious intent are called black hat hackers. This type of hacker exploits security vulnerabilities to steal personal information, either for criminal purposes, for financial gain, or to sell to third parties. Black hat hackers often also inject viruses or other malware into systems to damage or disable them. Both private individuals and companies can be affected by this type of hacker attack. 

White hat hackers break into systems with permission 

White hat hackers are the complete opposite of black hat cybercriminals. With the permission of organizations, they uncover security holes in their systems. These hacker attacks serve to fix any vulnerabilities that are uncovered and improve system security in the long term. Because of their good intentions, white hat hackers count as the good guys. 

By the way: Elite hackers are highly qualified masters in their field. They can be both black and white hat hackers — and often switch sides. This gives them deep insights and the ability to detect or develop the latest hacker attack techniques. 

Gray hat hackers break into systems for fun, bypassing security systems 

Put simply, gray hat hackers are a mix of white and black hat hackers. Often, this type of hacker doesn’t have malicious intent like cybercriminals and just uncovers security holes for fun. However, unlike white hat hackers, gray hat hackers don’t have permission from organizations to check their security systems for vulnerabilities. As a rule, they report the defects they uncover, but often demand payment afterwards for the work they weren’t hired to do. This puts them in a sort of gray area between ethical and criminal hacking. 

Other types of hacker groups 

Most hackers fall into the above-mentioned three categories. However, there are other types of hacker hats. 

  • Green hat hackers: Inexperienced hackers are called green hat hackers. They don’t yet have the technical skills of black hat hackers, so they resort to phishing and other social-engineering techniques. They usually seek contact with experienced cybercriminals to learn from them. 
  • Script kiddies: Like green hat hackers, script kiddies are inexperienced hackers. However, their aim isn’t to learn from cybercriminals and develop their own techniques, but to use existing malware developed by experienced hackers.
  • Blue hat hackers: While white hat hackers are hired to infiltrate live systems, this type of ethical hacker exposes security holes in systems that are not yet in use. This allows organizations to address vulnerabilities before introducing a new system. 
  • Red hat hackers: They’re also considered ethical hackers. Red hat hackers’ driving goal is to stop cybercriminals. To do this, they sometimes infiltrate scammer networks to put them out of action. However, the techniques used by these vigilante hackers are often illegal as they operate on the darknet. 
  • Whistleblowers: Insiders who carry out hacking attacks from the organization they work for are called whistleblowers. They often aim to uncover grievances or illegal activities within their company. However, they may also try to harm the company just out of spite. 

Another type of hacker attack is perpetrated by gaming hackers, who target private individuals in particular. They are known for taking advantage of the latest video game trends to manipulate online gamers. This allows them to break into gamers’ user accounts and gain access to log-in details, payment information, and other confidential data. 

How to shield yourself from different types of hackers 

Despite the efforts of ethical hackers like white hat hackers, cybercriminals are always finding new vulnerabilities to exploit. As such, you should use the latest solutions to protect your devices. In addition to tools, you can also do a lot yourself. The following tips will help you stay alert. 

Avoid public Wi-Fi hotspots or use a VPN 

If you surf on a public network, you’re easy prey for hacker attacks. That’s because free Wi-Fi is usually unsecured, giving cybercriminals the opportunity to infect connected devices with malware. If you can’t avoid surfing on the go via a public hotspot, a VPN is a practical solution. It encrypts everything you do on the internet and shields you against hackers who track your IP address and browsing history. Additionally, a VPN makes it more difficult for adware and spyware to be used against you. 


Use strong passwords 

One critical line of defense to protect yourself from hacker attacks is secure passwords. They make it much more difficult for hackers to access your data and break into your user accounts. And always be sure to use a different password for each account, so if one gets cracked in a hacker attack, your other data will still be safe. Wondering how you’re supposed to remember all those different passwords and keep coming up with new ones? With tools like Avira Password Manager, it’s a breeze to create secure passwords and keep them organized. 

Be watchful of suspicious emails 

Phishing emails are a common type of hacker attack. These contain infected links or attachments that allow hackers to access your devices. As such, stay alert and never click suspicious links. Likewise, never download unknown attachments. 

Also, share as little personal information as possible online — and if you do, only do so on secure sites. This makes the work of different types of hackers more difficult. Such personal information can include your telephone number or address. 

Install security updates and antivirus software 

As technology continues to develop, hacker groups are finding new ways to exploit security holes. This makes it all the more important to keep your devices up to date and install security updates as soon as they’re released. An antivirus solution is equally important. Among them, Avira Free Security recognizes viruses and other malware in real time, rendering them harmless in no time at all thanks to its quarantine. Your data is still protected from threats such as phishing or other malware, so you can shop and bank online without worry. 


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Avira, a company with over 100 million customers and more than 500 employees, is a worldwide leading supplier of self-developed security solutions for professional and private use. With more than 25 years of experience, the company is a pioneer in its field.
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