Who’s Hacking You? More People Than You Think!
Andy Greenberg had just pushed his Jeep Cherokee to 70 mph on the highway when hackers took control of it. First, they cranked his cold air. Then, they turned on his radio and blasted music at full volume (with no way to turn it off). Finally, they hit the brakes and killed the car’s engine [*].
Luckily for Andy, he wasn’t the victim of some cyber-thriller supervillain. He was part of a demonstration by infamous “white hat” hacker Charlie Miller.
White hat, black hat, green hat, blue hat — these are just a few types of hackers lurking online and putting your personal data and devices at risk.
Today, everything from your phone to your crypto wallet to your smart fridge can be hacked. But are all hackers dangerous?
There’s a wide spectrum of hackers — from those who help pinpoint network vulnerabilities to criminals who steal confidential data.
So which hackers should you be most worried about? And how can you keep yourself and your accounts safe? In this guide, we'll explain the many different types of hackers to be aware of — along with strategies to protect yourself.
The 15 Types of Hackers You Need To Know in 2023
- Black Hat hackers
- White Hat hackers
- Gray Hat hackers
- Blue Hat hackers
- Red Hat hackers
- Elite hackers
- Green Hat hackers
- Script kiddies
- Whistleblowers and malicious insiders
- State or nation-sponsored hackers
- Gaming hackers
- Botmasters/Bot herders
1. Black Hat hackers: The obvious “bad guys”
Black hat hackers are what most people think of when they hear the word “hacker” or “cybercriminal.”
Black hat hackers are dangerous, highly skilled, and motivated by personal and financial gain. They hack with malicious intent, and they leverage their knowledge of programming languages, network architecture, and networking protocols.
Black hats illegally break into networks to compromise or halt entire operations. They hack accounts to swipe, modify, or destroy sensitive data. And they orchestrate small and large-scale phishing attacks and other cybercrimes.
For cybersecurity experts, black hat hackers are enemy #1.
2. White Hat hackers: The “good guys”
White hat hackers are what’s known as “ethical hackers.” They have all the expertise of black hat hackers, but organizations legally authorize them to “hack” their systems. Their motto? Protect and prevent.
White hats test for security weaknesses and vulnerabilities in IT systems before nefarious black hats have a chance to exploit them. White hats then patch all the loopholes they’ve identified. So their proactive hacking keeps black hats out, or lessens the damage black hats may cause.
Government agencies, information security teams, and companies like Google, Facebook, and Uber hire white hats to use the force for good. They even reward them with “bug bounties” when they find critical bugs in the system.
3. Gray Hat hackers: Mostly good, but technically still illegal
Gray hat hackers are a hybrid — falling between the dark side of black hats and well-intentioned white hats. Although their motives are usually good, they still engage in technically illegal hacks like black hats do.
For some, gray hat hacking is an enjoyable experience, like a treasure hunt or a test of one’s skills.
For example, let’s say a gray hat sees that their bank has just updated its app. They may intentionally (yet illegally) hack into the system to find potential vulnerabilities.
Rather than cause destruction, gray hat hackers notify system administrators about these weaknesses so that they can be patched and improved before a black hat takes advantage.
📚 Related: Have I Been Hacked? How to Recognize & Recover From a Hack →
4. Blue Hat hackers: Pre-launch penetration testers
Blue hat hackers often work for computer security or IT consulting firms. Companies like Microsoft hire them to test software, apps, security updates, and other releases before they go live to the public.
Blue hats aim to detect security vulnerabilities during penetration testing assessments so that organizations can patch and confidently launch their new releases.
5. Red Hat hackers: Aggressive black hat slayers
If white hats strive to combat black hat hackers, red hats aim to destroy them. They ruthlessly seek out black hat hackers and launch extreme attacks on them using equally aggressive tools and illegal techniques.
Red hats may infect a black hat’s system with malware or viruses. They also launch Distributed Denial-Of-Service (DDoS) attacks. Some may even gain remote access to the black hat’s system to destroy their machines, computer networks, and more — from the inside out.
Many red hats operate as solo vigilantes. Others are hired by government agencies, high-profile companies, social media platforms, and other organizations that have black hats on their backs.
📚 Related: The 21 Latest Emerging Cyber Threats to Avoid →
6. Elite hackers: Infamous innovators and influencers
Extremely skilled elite hackers sit at the top of the cybercriminal pyramid. They create new hacking techniques to skirt stronger security systems. And they’re often responsible for the latest malware and advanced types of cyber attacks.
Worse? Elite hackers sell their hacking packages on the Dark Web so that others can deploy their malicious creations with little to no effort.
7. Green Hat hackers: Focused newbies who are hungry to learn
What green hat hackers lack in skill, they more than make up for in determination and desire to learn. Their goal? To become full-fledged black hats.
Green hats take proper certification courses and follow online tutorials. They read the latest cybersecurity news and eat up advice offered in hacker forums to advance their skills.
Eager to test their capabilities, their initial hacking attempts may seem clumsy. But each successful hack boosts their confidence to try more challenging missions.
📚 Related: What Can Scammers Do With Your SIM Card? →
8. Script kiddies: Wannabes looking for attention
Unlike green hats, script kiddies have no intention of learning how to be real hackers. Lacking the skills to hack systems themselves, they buy existing malware kits and predefined scripts created by real hackers on the Dark Web.
Their favorite methods? Denial-of-Service (DoS attacks) and DDoS attacks. These make a splash in media outlets and online forums, grabbing all the attention and notoriety these script kiddies seek.
📚 Related: How Hackers Get Into Your Computer (And How To Stop Them) →
9. Hacktivists: Activists who hack
Hacktivists consider their “ethical hacking” a form of protest.
They gain unauthorized access and expose intel organizations or governments that are hiding from the public. Or they wreak havoc on those who oppose their political, social, religious, environmental, and ideological values.
Anonymous, the most famous hacktivist group, recently declared a “cyber war” on Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.
10. Whistleblowers and malicious insiders
Whistleblowers and malicious insiders all work from inside organizations. But their hacking motivations are wildly different.
Whistleblowers seek to expose an organization’s illegal, abusive, or immoral activity. Malicious insiders use hacking to pursue personal vendettas.
Malicious insiders may attack their own companies to "prove" they were right about security vulnerabilities. Or, if they don’t get a raise, they might hack their bosses and reveal sensitive information.
Malicious insiders sometimes also reroute payments and install malware to spy on other employees.
📚 Related: Here's What To Do After a Data Breach →
11. State or nation-sponsored hackers
State and nation-sponsored hackers work for government agencies. They gain access to other nations’ systems to monitor for cyber threats or steal confidential information.
Though illegal, their actions are sanctioned by governments.
12. Cyberterrorists: Hacker terrorists
Cyberterrorism is any personally- or politically-motivated attack that threatens or harms a country’s networks and infrastructure. These hackers seek to create panic, disrupt operations, or extort large sums of money — usually in cryptocurrency.
Cyberterrorists favor malware (especially ransomware), but they also deploy viruses, worms, and phishing attacks.
In 2021, the hacker collective known as DarkSide attacked the Colonial Pipeline, which controls 45% of the oil on the East Coast of the United States. The company had to turn off the pipeline (a first), which caused Americans to panic. Overseen by the FBI, the company then paid the hackers nearly $5 million in cryptocurrency.
📚 Related: Digital Security: Your Personal Protection Guide for 2022 →
13. Gaming hackers: Unsportsmanlike hacking
Pro gamers accumulate online credits (which operate like cash) and invest thousands of dollars into their gear and equipment. Gaming hackers break into these accounts to steal those credits (or linked debit/credit cards on file).
Gaming hackers also deploy DDoS attacks to shut down other gamers’ accounts when they lose to them, effectively taking them out of play. With eSports winners amassing millions in prize money, these hacks are now serious business.
💡 Related: Online Gaming Safety For Kids: What Parents Need To Know →
14. Cryptojackers: Cryptomining in the shadows
Mining cryptocurrency is a lucrative yet time-consuming and process-heavy endeavor. Cryptojackers bypass the hard work and cost of mining — by infecting devices with malware that mines crypto for them.
Their scripts perform the complex mining processes, then send the results back to the hacker’s server. This way, the hacker receives the credit (cryptocurrency) without the cost of mining.
You may never realize your device has been taken over unless you notice slower processing speeds, lags and delays, or quick battery drains. Fortunately, these scripts don’t usually steal or harm your data. The bad news? Most go completely undetected and are difficult to remove.
📚 Related: How To Know if Your Phone Is Hacked (and What To Do) →
15. Botmaster/Bot herder: Bot army leaders
Botnet hackers create armies of malware-laden bots, and then launch high-volume attacks.
They typically target routers, cameras, and other Internet of Things (IoT) devices with weak security systems. Think about unsecured devices on your network (like your smart washing machine or refrigerator). These make perfect entry points for bots, especially if you never change the factory-set passwords.
📚 Related: How To Tell If Your Wi-Fi Is Hacked (And How To Fix It) →
How To Protect Yourself Against Hackers
What do all hackers have in common? They exploit vulnerabilities in both your digital security setup and your personal defense.
Hackers use malware, code, and cyber attacks. But they also use psychology and manipulation to gain access to accounts and get personal information. To stay safe, follow these steps:
- Install antivirus software on all your devices: Antivirus software protects your devices against the malware, worms, and trojans that hackers use. Some digital safety services — like Aura — can even warn you of phishing attacks and potentially dangerous websites.
- Use a virtual private network (VPN): A VPN encrypts your data so that hackers can’t intercept it. Without a VPN, hackers can hack your Wi-Fi and steal your passwords, banking information, and more — without your knowing.
- Update your passwords and enable two-factor authentication (2FA): Passwords are often your first (and only) line of defense against hackers. Use unique passwords that are at least eight characters long and include a combination of letters, numbers, and special characters. For added protection, enable 2FA using an authenticator app like Authy or Google Authenticator.
- Don’t ignore software and OS updates: Hackers take advantage of outdated software to infect or break into your devices. Keep software up-to-date, or better yet, enable auto-updates.
- Keep regular backups of your files: Keeping regular backups minimizes the damage that hackers can do. If someone encrypts your device with ransomware, you’ll be safe knowing you have a backup.
- Learn to recognize the signs of a phishing email or website: Phishing is how most hackers trick you into giving up your credentials. Learn how to tell if an email is from a scammer.
- Never click on links or download attachments in suspicious messages: These are among the most common ways that hackers infect your device with malware. Always scan attachments with antivirus software, and inspect links before clicking on them. If you do click on a link and it takes you to a website, make sure it’s “secure.”
- Lock your SIM card: Scammers use a scheme called SIM swapping to take control of your phone number. Call your phone provider and ask them to lock your SIM so that hackers can’t access it.
- Consider signing up for identity theft protection: Aura includes powerful digital security features such as antivirus, VPN, a password manager, credit monitoring, and identity theft protection. And if the worst should happen, you’re covered by a $1,000,000 insurance policy for eligible losses due to identity theft.
The Bottom Line: Get Help Fighting Against Hackers
As more of our lives take place online, the risk of hacking becomes worse every single day. And even though all hackers aren’t necessarily “bad” (or specifically targeting you), it pays to protect yourself from their attacks.
Learn to identify the different types of hackers, what they’re after, and how you can protect your devices against them. And for added security, consider signing up for Aura’s all-in-one digital security solution.