The evolution of computer technology brought abundant benefits to humanity, but it has also its shortcomings—mainly hacking.
Hacking is the unauthorized manipulation of a computer system or network, thus making it divert from its intended purpose.
This is done to serve either a beneficial purpose or an illegal intention.
Hackers are therefore tech-savvy individuals who carry out hacking activities. There are, however, different types of hackers.
They’re grouped into three major categories: white hat hackers, black hat hackers and grey hat hackers. They are categorized based on the intentions of their actions, whether good, bad or both.
Terms of Trade
Like in any other field, there are standard terms used by hackers in the area of digital security which is relevant to their craft. These terms can be general, used in malware or networking.
Examples of general terms are dumpster diving, which involves going through the trash of an individual or organization to find useful information that can be helpful in stealing personal data among other things; or doxing, which is the act of finding and publishing the identity of an otherwise anonymous internet user.
In malware, one is likely to come across terms like Trojan horse, which is malicious software used to hack into computers by hiding its true intentions; and time bomb, malicious software designed to execute a certain command at a predetermined date or time, among others.
In networking, several terms are commonly used in discussion such as cookies, which are small packets of data stored in your browser history after visiting a website to customize future visits; and daisy-chaining, which is a process where hackers acquire entry to a computer and use it to gain access to other networks.
Tools of Trade
There are many tools used by hackers in their activities. Some examples are Metasploit, a framework used for hacking various applications and operating system; and Wireshark, which is a network protocol analyzer.
Operating systems are also an essential tool of the trade. Hackers have a variety of operating systems to choose from depending on the tasks one wishes to accomplish. An example is Kali Linux, which is the most popular operating system due to its features and compatibility with a variety of devices.
White Hat Hackers
White hat hackers, also known as ethical hackers, are cybersecurity specialists who hack into computer networks and systems to test their vulnerability to cyber threats to improve their security features and offer better protection.
They usually employ their skills to benefit society. Some may be reformed black hat hackers out to make amends for their previous mistakes, while others are mercenaries driven by honorable motivations.
Sandeep Singh aka “Geekboy” is one of the best professional white hat hackers.
He says his passion made him get into the world of hacking rather than financial gain like most hackers.
Singh hacks companies trying to find vulnerabilities in their network security, then he reports to them whenever he identifies such weaknesses. The list of companies he has worked with is quite impressive; they include Facebook, Uber, Twitter, Microsoft, Airbnb and Blackberry.
His exceptional skills led him to participate in HackerOne, a competition for hackers. Though he did not win, he still said he was grateful for the opportunity.
He further added that it is more beneficial to hack things legally than illegally—he earns more money in one day than his friends do in one year, though most people in his neighborhood don’t know what he does for money.
His remarkable talent landed him a job with HackerOne as a security researcher in the U.S.
Hector Monsegur aka “Sabu,” founder of LulzSec, is a prominent white hat hacker with a black hat hacker background. LulzSec was a black hat hacking group which managed to hack the Central Intelligence Agency and Sony Pictures.
Monsegur was later arrested on hacking charges. He decided to change hats from black to white after his arresting officer, Christopher Tarbell, managed to convince him that it would be more beneficial to use his skills to serve his country rather than commit crimes.
Monsegur admitted that different people get into hacking for various reasons, and it’s quite hard to point out a specific reason for a hacker to join in, but for him, it was a form of escape.
Though white hat hackers offer an opportunity for companies to better their security systems, Tarbell warns to be cautiously optimistic about their services because hackers can cause a significant amount of damage.
White hat hackers like Singh and Monsegur protect the various organizations from black hat hackers who steal information from companies and sell it on the dark web. It is somewhat ethical as they help protect organizations and make an honest living.
In Tel Aviv, Israel a four-year-old company of white hat hackers comprising of 34 employees, trawl the dark web in search of criminals.
They know the dangers that lurk in the dark web and are well equipped to handle them. They go undercover on the darknet and set up false virtual identities which help them infiltrate numerous hacker groups, thereby learning about various planned cyberattacks and putting measures in place to prevent them.
Their CEO, Sharon Nimirovski, said that the company deals with private cyber intelligence, and using hackers in the fight against cybercrime is quite useful. Since cybercrime is on the rise, they are looking to expand and set up shop in different parts of the world.
Their dedication to their work is impressive, and as a result, they have had a lot of success in the past.
Their product is intelligence; hence they ensure their clients get the best quality. Though they seem to be profit-driven, they do offer a service that is becoming increasingly necessary in the corporate universe.
Black Hat Hackers
Black hat hackers are computer users who break into computer networks to serve malicious personal agendas, such as destroying, modifying or stealing data.
Recently, two Russian dark web users were jailed in the U.S. after pleading guilty to pulling off the biggest credit card theft in history.
Vladimir Drinkman, 37, and Dmitriy Smilianets, 34, were sentenced to twelve and four and a half years respectively.
The two individuals, for months, operated a criminal enterprise that hacked unsuspecting companies and stole credit and debit card information which they would then sell on the dark web.
The information sold would be used to rob companies and individuals. It is estimated that they stole 160 million credit cards.
They were arrested by Dutch authorities in Amsterdam, where they had gone for a trip in 2012. A year later, they were charged alongside three of their associates who remain at large.
The two came to the attention of U.S. authorities when they were found to be working with Albert Gonzales, an American hacker who was serving a 20-year sentence.
Many companies suffered significant financial losses due to their actions, which posed a threat to the U.S. economy. However, the capture of the two individuals showed that U.S. law enforcement could see through a case on cybercrime and make an arrest.
Black hat hacking poses a constant threat to society, which is why the presence of white hat hackers is significant because they are a proven solution to identifying and helping prevent illegal activities on the dark web and beyond.
Grey Hat Hackers
These are computer users whose actions at times are contrary to the law or general ethical standards, but they do not have malicious intentions similar to black hat hackers.
The hackers reportedly informed the FBI of at least one security flaw, and this was used to develop a device that helped crack the device password without setting off the security feature that would have erased all the data.
Grey hat hackers can be useful but are often not reliable. The threat to cybersecurity will continue to grow if nothing is done immediately.
This is why it is fundamental that young individuals are educated on the importance of ethics and its role in civilized societies.
Other than that, it is important to encourage white hat hacking and identify talented individuals in technology to put their skills to good use.
These are some of the steps that can be taken to improve the future of cybersecurity, to encourage healthy technological growth.