How to Properly Define a Hacker
When you think of a hacker, the stereotypical image is often a male operating mysteriously in a darkened room.
Technically, a hacker is a skilled computer expert who leverages their technical knowledge to overcome a problem. But, the more common definition is actually about a security hacker, or when someone uses their technical knowledge to deploy bugs or exploit vulnerabilities to break into computer systems.
Demographic studies on hackers reveal that our stereotypes are mostly askew. Yes, hackers predominantly are male and white. However, the age range can be rather wide, 28 years old to 61 years old in one recent study. That same study also showed that hackers are not limited to one socio-economic class, although most had some level of higher education. Similarly, the study revealed that hackers are not without mates. Nearly as many were married as were single.
So, rather than lumping all hackers together, let’s clarify the types of hackers out there and define their role and their impact on your cybersecurity.
WHAT OTHER TYPES OF HACKERS EXIST?
Psychologists have been intrigued enough by hacker culture and hacker mentality to conduct studies on the matter. A peer-reviewed scientific study in 2016 found that hackers show a tendency to exhibit a particular personality trait specific to the type of hacker they are.
It’s important to note that the personality traits the study used were: Extraversion, Neuroticism, Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, and Openness to Experience. They are known as the “big five” in the world of psychology and each has several other indicator traits that serve as measurement benchmarks. Everyone has a little bit of each of the big five, but each of us will typically lean more heavily toward one.
Black Hat Hackers
These are the folks who violate computer security for criminal and personal gain; they are the “bad guys” in popular culture on the topic. Their dominant personality trait is openness to experience, which combines intellect and creativity with adventurousness and even an ability to understand and express their emotions.
In other words, just because these hackers are in the dark world of the internet doesn’t mean they are emotionally unavailable or maladjusted to society. Black hats are adrenaline seekers, but instead of jumping out of airplanes they are jumping into computer code.
Cyber impact: Hacking for you?
Some hackers, including the black hats, are hacking for you, and an honest paycheck. Banks, large corporations and government agencies sometimes need to hire professional hackers to see if their firewalls can actually prevent their digital data from exploding over the internet. This type of hacker may also be working toward protective and retaliatory measures within cyber warfare. There’s not a lot made public about the topic for understandable reasons.
White Hat Hackers
While still acting illegally, these hackers are ethical in their intentions, using hacking in a constructive, positive way. They focus on the security mechanisms of computer systems and networks and have become an important part of the security field. They operate under a code, which acknowledges that breaking into other people’s computers is a clandestine, invasive and illegal.
According to the study, a white hat hacker’s dominant personality trait is agreeableness. That means they exhibit high levels of trust, politeness and morality, specifically the altruistic kind. They aren’t judging you, they are helping you—at least in theory.
Cyber impact: Hacking for a cause
Every good conspiracy needs a whistleblower, and in the Digital Age that whistleblower often either is or knows a hacker. If a skilled hacker sees something that they must hack to expose, they will do it.
Grey Hat Hackers
Grey hat hackers do not, generally, hack for personal gain or have malicious intentions. But they may be ready to break a few rules of exploitation of their technology to achieve better security outcomes. Their big-five dominant trait is neuroticism, thanks to high levels of sensitivity to what others think about them and a tendency toward anxiety when dealing with stress.
In a nutshell, grey hat hackers have the personalities we associate with the stereotyped hacker character in a movie—introverted and maladjusted to some degree. However, the actual hacks they do don’t quite fit that bill.
Cyber impact: Hacking for a hobby
For a grey hat hacker, the fun is in figuring out how to hack. Hacking into the National Security Administration’s website—that actually happened—is like an Olympic gold medal. Meanwhile, it’s not unheard of that when you can prove you masterminded an impressive hack, you can get offered a job protecting a government agency or a large corporation from other hackers.
Every type of hacker has the same weakness: strong passwords
Regardless of personality or purpose, hackers only get stopped from hacking when they are caught or when passwords are more powerful than their hacking chops.
Randomization and automatic generation are what makes a password the most powerful it can be. EZPD’s proprietary technology generates and regenerates complex passwords to ensure maximum cybersecurity.