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Not so long ago, a breach that has put the data of a few million people in jeopardy would make all the headlines. Now, cyberattacks like that happen too often.
Every 39 seconds, there is a new attack somewhere on the internet. That’s about 2,244 breaches every day. Hackers target individuals, companies, and governments, meaning that not anyone among us is entirely safe. Quite often, there’s a black hat hacker responsible for the chaos.
But what is a black hat hacker? Let’s slow down a bit and start with the basics.
Hacking is the activity of exploiting a computer system or network. Most of the time, the action is performed to gain access to personal or business data. A random example of computer hacking can be breaching into a system using a password-cracking algorithm.
Breaking into a computer security system actually requires more expertise than creating one. That’s why all hackers have to be highly skilled in their trade.
The way technology has been evolving went in cybercriminals’ favor. Nowadays, computers are mandatory for running a successful business or organization. Also, networked computer systems have replaced isolated ones. This has left them exposed to hackers. Not to mention that we all use personal information on the internet and thus create more opportunities for internet wrongdoers to strike.
There are numerous types of hacking and each of them focuses on something else. In addition, most of them have different drivers.
Some hackers steal money, some access information from national intelligence, while some aid in corporate espionage. Moreover, some types are designed just to give cybercriminals a chance to showcase their hacking talents. In the past few decades, we also got to see politically motivated groups like Anonymous and WikiLeaks emerge and engage in hacktivism.
So, what different types of hacking are there?
Let’s start with one of the most common ways to spy on a computer user - keystroke logging. A keylogger is hidden software that records what someone is typing on their keyboard. Everything the program records is put into a log file, allowing hackers to see your personal information - think IDs and passwords.
You probably already know how fishing works - you attach the hook to a fishing pole and throw it into water. Well, that’s what phishers do, except they use a fake website instead of the hook and they send it to you via email. Their goal is also to steal your personal information. Sometimes, they try to trick you into downloading malware on your computer instead of asking for your personal information.
We cannot discuss techniques hackers and hacking organizations use without mentioning brute force. It is an exhaustive search method that involves trying all possible password combinations using a calculation algorithm. Depending on how strong the password is, the process may in some situations take millions of years to complete.
Imagine being forced to pay to access the files on your own device. That’s what ransomware attacks are all about. Hackers send a form of malware to encrypt your files and then demand a ransom to restore access to your data. They give you instructions on how to make the payment to get the decryption key for getting your files back.
This hacking strategy is aimed at taking down entire websites and preventing owners from delivering their service. Hence the name denial-of-service or DoS. Large businesses often get hit by distributed denial-of-service or DDoS attacks. These are synchronized attempts to disrupt more than one site, potentially crashing all of their online assets.
So, we finally get to the big question: - what is a black hat hacker?
To better understand what these people do, you first have to know that there are different hacker categories. They are generally categorized by a metaphorical hat they don. Based on their intentions and the situation, there are three major groups: white, black, and grey hats. The lingo comes from old spaghetti westerns in which the good guy always wore a white hat and the bad guy wore a black one.
Well, we’re here to talk about the bad guys. Not the old spaghetti western ones, but those who fight in the cyberspace battleground.
Black hat hackers are criminals who bypass security protocols and break into computer networks. Their primary goal is to make money, but sometimes, they’re involved in corporate espionage or activism. Not only do they look to steal data, but they often seek to modify or destroy it, depending on their motivations. People belonging to this category can be any age, gender, or ethnicity.
They can be computer geniuses but many cybercriminals are beginners. Of course, not everyone can write complex exploit chains, but some attacks don’t require an extremely high level of coding.
Those people are also good at social engineering. While they may seem like hoodie-clad loners who spend their entire days in front of the screen, they can be quite good at persuading victims to click on their links or download their files.
The methods cybercriminals use are ever-evolving. Most of the time, they set their targets at personal information such as email accounts, credit card details, and user credentials.
When going after bigger fish, such as companies and organizations, black hat hacking is aimed at stealing business data or taking down websites.
Most popular methods include:
Now that you know what is a black hat hacker, let’s talk about the good guys a.k.a. white hats. While they operate the same to an extent, they don’t have the same motives.
So the main white hat vs black hat difference is that the former perform ethical hacking.
Their job is to identify vulnerabilities in a security system and come up with ways to deal with them. This means they have the owner’s permission. Since they’re hired by businesses and organizations, all aspects of their operations are within the legal framework.
These hackers stop black hats before they get a chance to commit a crime. Whether we’re talking about stealing data or taking a website down, white hats have to figure out a way to stop the attack.
In a way, white hat hackers use the same resources and hacking tools as their counterparts. As you’ll see in the next section, some of these people even change camps.
As with everything, hacking also has a gray area. Gray hats look for vulnerabilities in systems without any permissions. If they identify an issue, they report it to the owner or request a small fee to fix it.
There are so many black hat hacking experts out there. Some of them have managed to make large amounts of money doing their dirty work while some are in it just for the thrill of cyber crime. While there’s an entire list of hackers we can talk about, we singled out some of the most famous:
Kevin Mitnick was the FBI’s most wanted hacker in the 1990s. He gained unauthorized access to a computer network for the first time at the age of 16. Later, as a fugitive, he hacked into dozens of other networks, stole passwords, and read private emails.
After a well-publicized pursuit, the FBI caught and arrested Mitnick in 1995. While he served some time in prison, he later became a paid security consultant for the FBI and Fortune 500 companies.
Today, Mitnick runs his own security consulting company.
Next on the list, we have one of the most famous black hat hackers - Gary McKinnon. In 2002, McKinnon was accused of being behind the biggest military computer hack of all time.
He hacked into 97 computers owned by NASA and the U.S. armed forces. Within a period of one day, he managed to delete all of their critical files including weapon logs.
It’s estimated that the damage McKinnon had made totaled $700,000. He was never imprisoned as the U.K. blocked his extradition.
In 2004, the world witnessed the first hacker attack in history in which an individual had control over a group of hijacked computers. Jeanson James Ancheta from California used a worm called “rxbot” to take over 500,000 computers, some of which even belonged to the U.S. military.
With an entire botnet army at his disposal, he posted an ad for his service, claiming that he can take down any site for money. He also sold access to botnets in clusters, usually up to 10,000 at once. In 2005, an FBI agent caught Ancheta and he was sentenced to five years in prison.
There, now you know what is a black hat hacker and what kind of attacks you can expect. Such people don’t care about the moral side of things and are really only after your money.
While there is no fool-proof way to protect yourself, a good antivirus is definitely a must.
Safe scrolling and be careful who you trust on the internet!
If I was asked to describe myself using just a few words, I’d go with digital marketing expert, ex-cook, tech nerd, and dog lover. I’m fascinated by video and board games, art and nature. I love to travel and I’m always ready to go on the next adventure to discover the hidden beauty of our world.
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