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A hacker is a person who uses deep computer and programming knowledge to solve complex technical problems that may involve access to computer systems.

Besides solving specific problems, a hacker may also use technical knowledge to overcome a challenge, either for legal or illegal purposes. In some contexts, hackers are known for gaining and exploiting unauthorized access to computer systems.

For example, a hacker or group of hackers can gain unauthorized access to a company’s database, steal credit card data and sell the same to interested buyers on the dark web.

On the other hand, law enforcement agencies can also use hacking tools and tactics to gain access to highly sensitive computer information networks.

Interestingly, criminal hacking is what most people associate with being a hacker. But there are two sides to the coin.

Different Types of Hackers

If you observe the definition above, you should understand there are different types of hackers. Perhaps, understanding the differences might help answer some of the questions you have in mind now. Within and beyond the world of cyber security, below are the common types of hackers.

White Hat Hacker

Contrary to what most people think, all hackers are not criminals. Having said that, white hat hackers are those individuals who use their hardware and software programming knowledge to solve problems without any criminal intentions.

The people involved in this type of hacking are also called ethical hackers in some contexts. Like everyday employees of established companies, ethical hackers can be employed to work as cyber security specialists.

Within some other contexts, these types of hackers can also be contractors breaking into computer systems with the permission of the employer or client. On a high technical level, white hat hackers are employed to conduct complex penetration tests and deep vulnerability assessments.

Based on the lucrative nature of ethical hacking, it is not uncommon to find companies and specialists providing professional and legalized training within this space.

Gray Hat Hackers

Gray hat hackers stand between white and black hat hackers. While they use almost the same skill set, strategies, and tools, they are neither black nor white hat hackers. Unlike their white hat counterparts, gray hat hackers don’t need the permission of system owners and operators to exploit security vulnerabilities.

But when some security flaws are found, they bring that to the notice of the owner and then request some negotiable fees for fixing the issue.

In cases where the system owners fail to respond to ransom requests from gray hat hackers, they may bring the security flaws and accompanying data into the public domain or dark web. When some sensitive data sets are held hostage, you may not have any option but to comply with their demands.

However, grey hat hacking is still considered illegal. And this is based on the fact that hackers often leverage unauthorized access to computer systems to steal and use data. It doesn’t matter whether your intentions are good or not.

Most times, it is dependent on the parties involved to decide how to act in every unique security situation.

Black Hat Hacker

Black hat hackers are highly skilled computer experts who exploit vulnerable computer security systems and use the same to commit crimes. As you can see, they are not so different from other types of hackers.

However, their main intent is to commit crimes for personal or collective gain, such as hacking Facebook accounts.  In some cases, when the term hacker is mentioned, most people assume that these are highly skilled criminals. But that is never the truth in all cases, as you have seen from the previous definitions.

When black hat hackers gain unauthorized access, they can do the following.

  • Hold computer systems and networks hostage
  • Install malicious software and ransomware
  • Distribute malware to infect other computer systems
  • Steal credit card information
  • Leverage identity theft to steal money
  • Sell stolen information on the dark web

Just like legitimate businesses operate in the real world, black hat hackers have big and small organizations they belong.

This kind of organized system makes it easy to train new members who understand the benefit of black hat hacking.

Another thing worth mentioning is that black hackers are global in nature. And that’s what makes it possible for them to operate round the clock or 24/7. When some members are sleeping in different time zones, others in another time zone will be awake doing the work their leaders pay them to do.

Motivation For White Hat Hackers

Though there are individual differences regarding the motivation for becoming a white hacker, some similarities still abound. Regardless of how you look at it, the following are the core motivating factors in the minds of white hat hackers.

  • #1: Possession of Highly Technical Knowledge

Perhaps, you have heard the statement severally that ‘knowledge is power. From that perspective, you can look at ethical hackers as powerful individuals.

Consequently, the desire to become that powerful individual in today’s modern society is what drives some white hat hackers. But then, it is not just the possession of power that matters in this case. It is the practical application of that know-how that makes all the difference.

  • #2: Lucrative Market Demand

As black hat criminals continue to advance their games, there is a growing demand for ethical hackers who can defend companies and their assets again unexpected attacks.

Because of the technical complexities involved, the market demand for experts in this space is usually higher than the supply. And that’s why many companies are willing to pay top dollars for ethical hacking talent recruitment and retention.

Based on the data from Payscale and Glassdoor, an average mid-level ethical hacker job in the United States pays around $100,00 and above.

Within this context, you can say that the perceived market demand and high salary levels are the real motivation for what hat hackers do. Being aware that companies are willing to spend big on experienced cybersecurity professionals is a driving factor for aspiring, and existing white hats.

Common Hacking Techniques

It doesn’t matter whether you are an individual, household, small business, or a big corporation. You are probably prone to hacking attacks at every moment in time. Interestingly, educating yourself in this regard will always prove beneficial.

To put you in the right direction, here are the most common hacking techniques that have victimized thousands of people like you.

  • #1: Phishing

Phishing is a hacking technique that deceives the recipient of an email or WhatsApp hack message into revealing a certain type of personal information.

Such a message may come from a friend you trust or a company whose services you are probably using at the moment. In most cases, phishing messages will contain an unusual link that you have to click or an attachment requiring a download.

The sole intent behind phishing is to steal your identity or personal information and use same to commit a crime.

That is the playground of average black hat hackers. To be on the safe side, watch out for unusual messages containing things like the following.

  1. Urgent court summons regarding an unpaid bill
  2. Too-good-to-be-true financial deal that needs an urgent response
  3. A notice that someone is trying to gain access to your account
  4. Outdated utility service account information (Netflix, Amazon Prime, etc)
  5. An expired password that needs an urgent update
  6. The fake invoice you can’t trace the origin or your request for it
  7. Invitation to register for something you are eligible to receive (federal refund)
  • #2: Man In The Middle (MITM) Attacks

This hacking technique is about intercepting the communication going on between a sender and recipient in a computer network.

Man in the middle often happens within corporate network communication systems. When unsecured communication is going on, a black hat hacker can establish new connections in the middle, alter the content of messages in transit, change the identity of the send/receiver and install malicious software.

Here is the reason why it is important to use advanced virtual private network software to secure the communication happening between you and your employees or colleagues.

For this purpose, you may want to consider subscribing to NordVPN or CyberGhost.

  • #3: Keylogging

Keylogging is the process of using sophisticated software to record and store into a log file, the keystrokes you are making on a computer keyboard. Some advanced keylogging software can also record mouse movements and clicks. Through keylogging, some sensitive information and other personal data can be compromised.

For example, when keylogging is used to steal the password to your banking website or app, you might be at the risk of a financial loss.

  • #4: Malware Distribution

Another hacking technique used by black hat criminals is malware distribution. Just as there are different types of malware you’ll find in the market (dark web), there are many ways of distributing them.

Irrespective of the type or method of distribution, the core function is to break down computer security protocols and steal sensitive data.

From email to mobile apps and internet browsers, malware can infect your systems from any source.

For example, using your mobile devices in an unsecured Wi-fi can also expose you to dangerous malware.

Assuming some of your devices are already infected, these are the malware symptoms to keep in mind.

  • Unauthorized desktop icons
  • Fake security issues
  • Repetitive crashes
  • Repetitive disabling of your security settings
  • Unusual pop-ups clouding your system
  • Scaring warnings from unknown apps
  • Inability to access your control panel

Your friends complain of receiving suspicious messages from you

  • #5: Cookie Theft

Cookie theft is another hacking technique that many victims have experienced without noticing where it all started. But what then are cookies?

These are the little snippets of information or text files stored in your system as you continue to move from one website to the other. Most times, the websites you visit frequently use these cookies to optimize your internet user experience (UX).

However, the sensitive nature of information gathered through well-intentioned cookies had become a potent playground for criminals.

Assuming your internet connections are net secured both on desktop and mobile devices, the stolen cookie data could be used to commit impersonation. As we have found in the recent past, some people who experienced cookie theft can use VPN software to protect themselves.

  • #6: Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) Attacks

This is a process of overloading computer network systems with login attempts, data requests, and other repetitive tasks.

Consequently, such an overload caused the security protocol and entire system to break down, thereby giving the hackers a chance to perpetuate their acts. On an advanced level, buffer overflow attacks can cause an entire computer system to freeze. Most times, this happens as a result of unmanageable traffic.

To be on the safe side, consider investing in a cloud-hosted security system that uses unified threat management technology to defend the attacks.

How To Protect Yourself from Black Hat Hackers

Now you know what is a hacker is and the most common hacking techniques. The next logical question to ask is this. How do I protect myself against hackers and cybercriminals? With the cybersecurity tips shared below, you can start raising the bar against the criminals in whose reach you are right now.

  • Do Not Use Unknown Public Wi-fi

According to one IT security expert with over 24-years of experience, using a public Wi-fi that doesn’t ask you for your registered credential or consent is a risk. The reason is that it is very easy to create Wi-fi server names even with the existing corporate names you already trust.

Even when the public Wi-fi network access is freely available, you should consider it as a trap, especially in a context where your credentials are not requested at all.

  • Update Your Operating System Very Often

Outdated software systems are potent grounds for hackers. Both on your mobile and desktop devices, make sure that your operating systems are updated very often.

Assuming you don’t know, one of the reasons that the owners of these systems and platforms update them is because of newfound security flaws.

Consequently, if you ignore updating your system, you’ll remain prone to unexpected attacks from hackers.

In addition to updating old apps, don’t forget to delete the old ones you are not using. As long as you ignore them, it will be hard for you to notice when hackers gain access through these unused applications on your desktop and mobile.

  • Download And Install Security Applications

Some of these programs serve millions of people who find great value in them. Do not discount them as being useless. In other words, throw away the belief that you are 100% safe without using any of these anti-virus applications. Even if you are safe now, you can never predict what will happen in the next minute or how soon.

For maximum protection, consider some of those applications you can use both on your desktop and mobile devices. Again, don’t forget to update your security apps very often.

  • Change Your Important Passwords Very Often

It is easy to assume that using the same passwords for a long period will save you some little stress. Yes, it is true. But you never know when some interconnected systems could get compromised, and you’ll become prone to the risk of black hat attacks. By changing your passwords very often, you’ll be on the safer side when some things beyond your control are compromised.

Another useful tip is to implement 2-factor authentication. With that, you’ll always get a prompt notice whenever someone tries to gain access to your data. Finally, do not use the same or similar passwords for all your private systems that require a login.

  • Use A Premium VPN Software

Contrary to the free versions, the premium VPN software will give you maximum protection when accessing the internet.

Assuming you are the type of person that loves a higher level of privacy, either for personal or businesses reasons, using a virtual private network should be a no-brainer.

Below are some other benefits of using premium VPN software.

  • Avoid data and bandwidth throttling
  • Enjoy a higher level of anonymity
  • Gain access to geo-blocked websites and apps
  • Overcome censorship when traveling into different regions
  • Get a secure connection for remote work
  • Experience a high level of internet security

Famous Hackers And Hacker Groups

George Hotz – George Francis Hotz is an American software who made a name for himself in the world of security hacking. Back in 2007, when George was just about seventeen years old, he was reported as the first person to remove the official Sim Lock in the iPhone. At that time, iOS jailbreaks became so popular.

And that led to the development of similar software tools. In January 2011, George Hotz became even more popular when Sony Electronic Entertainment of America sued him for computer fraud and copyright infringement.

Kevin Mitnick – Starting from 1981, Kevin was charged for stealing computer manuals from Pacific Bell. Still a teen by then, Kevin’s hack into the North American Defense Command (NORAD) got him into the limelight. And that inspired the film War Games.

After fleeing and living in hiding for two years, he was caught and imprisoned for wire fraud and computer fraud committed with the access he gained through Pacific Bell.

Marcus Hutchins – When the WanaCry Ransomware was first released, Marcu gained popularity as one of the security nerds that stopped it. Born to a British parent in 1994, Marcus started projecting himself as a computer security researcher and the brain behind this popular website called malwaretech.com.

Through the feat he achieved with the WannaCry Kill Switch, he earned a distinct position in the industry as a white-hat hacker, even after a brief stint with the FBI.

Chaos Computer Club – With over 7,000 registered members, the Chaos Computer Club is the largest group of highly skilled European hackers. Based on the information found on their website, the club originated from Western Germany back in 1981.

Most of the founding members have achieved an influential feat in the hacking world. The club’s core mission is to defend the freedom of information. With a firm look at its stance, the club members are recognized contributors to cybersecurity discussions and policies in the public domain, especially in Europe.