The term ‘hacking’ and ‘hacker’ first originated in the 1960s at MIT. Nowadays, the word hacker is associated negatively and mostly refers to thieves and cybercriminals. There is no official definition of a hacker, rather a vague idea among the masses. Originally, society viewed hackers as a clever or expert programmer whose sole purpose was to optimize, customize and tinker; today, however, and with the advance of cybercrime, most think of hackers as individuals – or rather thieves with the intent of stealing identities and letting disruptive viruses loose into cyberspace. What most are unaware of is that there are more types of hackers even ethical hackers who protect them from attacks and other malicious activities.
The cyberworld today is filled with threats putting our security in danger. Bad actors are lurking, waiting for the right opportunity to strike; the risk of an attack happening is imminent and our personal information is at the stake of being sold on the darknet. Data shows that up to 48% of local companies do not test their online security at all. In this situation, hackers take action and help businesses and organizations with their cybersecurity using their skills, only this time to secure the network not destroying it. Hackers resemble the immune system for the advancing technological world and the backbone for cybersecurity.
The history of hacking
Everyone thought of the first hackers as practical jokers; they were teenagers and college students who used their computer talent to play pranks on connected systems, long before every system–from banks to hospitals to critical infrastructure–suddenly started digitizing. That’s when hacking became a crime and a way to make money.
World’s first hackers
One of the earliest computer viruses was written by a Cornell University graduate student. In the early 1960s, the first authentic computer hackers came to existence. MIT students created what they called “hacks” which were programming shortcuts in order to complete computing tasks more quickly.
The main types of hackers
A hacker by definition is anyone that possesses the knowledge and skills of computer software to navigate his or her way around security measures on a computer, technological device, or network. Hacking into a computer system or device is an illegal act unless done with the owner’s permission. Individuals who have permission to hack the computer systems are referred to as ‘ethical hackers.’
By definition, a cyber-specialist (hacker) can be categorized under each one of the terms as white, black, or grey hat hacker. The only thing making the difference and defying his/her place is how the hacker uses this skill; whether to be a threat to organizers and developers or to help and consult them create a safer platform. The terms derive from the color coding scheme found in 1950s westerns, where the bad guys wore black hats, and the good guys wore white or other light colors.
White hat hackers
White-hat hackers are cyber-security experts who use their expertise to detect threats and vulnerabilities in platforms and businesses to help them patch those vulnerabilities before a malicious hacker reaches them. Many of them tend to take part in the cyber-security consulting business as an employee for different businesses. The prime purpose of ethical hacking is to prevent sensitive data from falling into the wrong hands.
Black hat hackers
On the other hand, a black-hat hacker is a person or a group of hackers who use their skills in a malicious way to steal or destroy codes and information from an online business or individual. The primary approach of committing a black-hat hack includes misusing data to gain ransom or stealing information such as credit card information in order to gain money.
Black hat hackers are primarily the writers of malware software. The WannaCry ransomware released in May 2017 infected approximately 400,000 computers in 150 countries, within the first two weeks of its release.
Gray hat hackers
Grey-hat hackers, as you can guess by their name, are a combination of these two categories, walking on each side of the line at a time. After all, the line of ethics and compliance towards the law is what defines a person as a criminal or a do-good hacker.
Once a gray hat hacker finds a hole in security, they will either notify the person or company and charge a small fee to help fix or will post it online for the world to see.
Why organizations need white hat hackers
According to Statista, there are almost 4.57 billion active internet users as of April 2020. With the advance of cybercrime, there is an indisputable need for organizations to ensure their cybersecurity is infallible and their business secure. The risk that some black-hat hackers will attack your business increases every year. The consequences of a data breach include large financial losses and even worse, a damaged reputation.
For this reason, computer experts and white hat hackers are an invaluable resource in today’s digitally driven world. White hat hackers help identify the weaknesses in a company firewall or software security on a network.
“It takes a thief to catch a thief”
Regardless of how strong a cybersecurity team a company may have, bringing in someone from the outside, who isn’t intimately familiar with a company’s system, will help them look at their security from the hacker’s perspective, giving them the chance to fix any anomalies before it is detrimental to the company’s success. The person most likely to successfully catch a thief is someone who knows their every tactic, mindset, and habit. It’s interesting to note that some white hat hackers acquired their skills as previous black hat hackers.
In our comprehensive guide to Hacking Part 2, you will read about the downfall of black hats as opposed to the rising of white hat hackers and the job opportunities for a do-good hacker.
Secure Your Organization’s Mind with Securemind.se