A hacker is a person with in-depth knowledge of computer technology. Their skills enable them to understand systems and find security breaches, a process known as hacking.
When the term is used nowadays, most people understand it to be a negative thing. This is partly due to the portrayal of hackers in the media. Until the 1980s, however, hackers were viewed positively.
The term first appeared in the 1950s and described tech-savvy and skillful people. With the evolution of computers and the Internet, cybercrime became more of an issue. Hackers played a central role in many high-profile examples of cybercrime, and the negative image was born.
However, this is something of a generalization, as the exact definition of hacker varies depending on whether the person is ethically motivated or has criminal intentions. Depending on their motivation, they can either help improve the hacked systems and optimize their protection or attack them.
Depending on the context, the term hacker can be interpreted either positively or negatively. A distinction is made between four different types of hackers: black-hat, gray-hat, white-hat (also known as ethical hackers), and hacktivists.
White-Hat-Hacker (Ethical Hacker)
White-hat hackers are also known as ethical hackers; they use legal methods to identify and close security gaps. Many businesses hire white-hat hackers to test their systems. In short, their job is to improve the security of IT systems, networks and applications before potential vulnerabilities can be exploited by cyber criminals.
Their activities include security audits, penetration testing, vulnerability assessment, and the development of security measures and best practices. In addition to auditing companies’ IT systems, many white-hat hackers also provide training for employees to raise their awareness of security risks.
Through their work, they play a crucial role in ensuring cyber security. It is important to emphasize that white-hat hackers only use their skills with the consent of the parties involved and adhere strictly to ethical standards.
Black-hat hackers, also known as crackers, are individuals or groups who use their technical skills for criminal and malicious purposes. Their aims include personal benefit, financial gain, or intentional damage to the systems and data of others.
The activities of black-hat hackers can include a variety of actions. These involve hacking into computer systems to steal confidential information, identity theft, using ransomware, overloading systems through DDoS attacks as well as spreading malware and manipulating people through social engineering.
Gray-hat hackers are individual hackers or hacker groups who operate in a gray area between ethical and unethical – legal and illegal. They operate in a morally blurred zone.
Some gray-hat hackers use their skills to find security gaps and vulnerabilities in systems. They may do so without explicit authorization, but they usually inform the affected parties of the detected security gaps.
The motivation behind the actions of gray-hat hackers can vary: Some want to prove their skills, some want to help, and others are simply curious.
Because gray-hat hackers typically operate in legal gray areas, they are often seen as problematic. Even though their intentions may not be purely malicious, their actions can lead to undesirable consequences and be seen as a breach of privacy and system security.
The last group are hacktivists. The term is a portmanteau of “hacker” and “activist” and describes people who use digital means to promote political or social causes or draw attention to grievances.
Their motivation often lies in the conviction that technical skills can be used to bring positive change to society.
The lines between activism, cybercrime and government-sponsored cyberattacks can sometimes be blurred, and the perception of hacktivism often depends on the political and ethical views of the observer.
A well-known hacktivist group is Anonymous, which is active in various political and social causes.
Even if they differ in the motivations behind their actions, there are common methods that hackers use for their work, including:
With phishing, attackers try to steal sensitive information such as usernames, passwords and financial data by deception. This is often done by impersonating trusted sources or by creating fake websites and emails.
Distributed denial of service is an attack method where the main goal is to overload a system with traffic in order to make it inaccessible. The impact can be significant, especially if important online services are affected.
In this type of attack, an attacker infiltrates the connection between two communication parties unnoticed, intercepts the data traffic, and monitors or manipulates it. The attacker acts as a “middleman” and is able to control the entire flow of communication between the two legitimate parties.
Ransomware is malicious software (malware) that aims to block access to computer resources or encrypt sensitive data in order to extort a ransom from the victim.
Important measures that are often overlooked are the use of strong passwords, which you should update regularly and avoid reusing. These points are fundamental to data protection. It is also advisable to switch to two-factor authentication.
Regular software updates are helpful as well. These close security gaps and minimize the risk of being attacked. The implementation of reliable security software and firewall systems can also help to block unauthorized access.
On a wider level, companies should also make sure to raise awareness among their employees. Training on cybersecurity topics, especially phishing, helps to minimize the risk of threats.
Network security also plays a crucial role, especially monitoring for suspicious activity, restricting access to sensitive information, and implementing suitable security protocols help to minimize attack surfaces. There are special solutions that protect IT infrastructures; Link11, for example, offers precise and fast protection against DDoS attacks.
Last but not least, it is essential to regularly review and update security guidelines and develop a comprehensive emergency plan. This ensures that, in the event of an attack, responsibilities and processes are clearly defined and that action can be taken quickly.