Terry Zink's Cyber Security Blog

Discussing Internet security in (mostly) plain English

Black Hats, White Hats, Crackers and Bots

Black Hats, White Hats, Crackers and Bots

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One of the other web sites I subscribe to is Stratfor.  It's a global intelligence website and doesn't really have much to do with spam.  But I like politics so I read it.  They have some articles which you can get for free, but the better stuff you have to pay for.

About two weeks ago, they ran a three-part series on Cyberwarfare.  The first article was the title of this post, which you can access here (requires registration... not sure if it's free).  In the article they described different types of cybercriminals and not-so-criminals which they referred to under the umbrella as "hackers."  I'm not going to reprint the entire article here but will quote some parts.

A hacker can be many things. For our purposes here, it is someone with sufficient understanding, skill and experience in the nuances and inner workings of computer systems and networks to be able to wield meaningful power and influence events in cyberspace — even if only in concert with others. Such a person must then actively choose to exercise that capability and act boldly on that stage (hacking is almost universally illegal).

This is a simplified definition but it works.

Black Hats

The most threatening hackers are known as black hats, or “dark side” hackers. These are hackers whose primary activities and intentions are malicious and often criminal. Black hats attempt to locate, identify and exploit security gaps or flaws within operating systems, computers and networks in order to gain control of them, steal information, destroy data or orchestrate other illicit activities.

White Hats

The antithesis of the black hat is the white-hat hacker, also known as an “ethical” or a “sneaker.” White hats are ethically opposed to the abuse or misuse of computer systems. Like their black-hat counterparts, white hats actively search for flaws within computer systems and networks. These efforts often occur with systems in which a white hat has a vested interest or of which they have substantial knowledge. They distinguish themselves by either repairing or patching these vulnerabilities or alerting the administrator of the system or the designer of the software. Basically, white hats attempt to maintain security within the Internet and its connected systems.

Other Hats

Other hackers “wear” colored or hybrid hats. Grey hats, for example, are a blend of the black hat and the white hat. Drawing on experience from both sides can make for a very robust skill set. Computer security professionals are often known as blue hats. Their activities are not unlike those of white hats but are more focused on the interests of paying customers. Hackers wear an assortment of other colored hats, and not all warrant definition here.

Using these basic definitions, let's attempt to classify the people in the spam industry.

  • Spam fighters (who get paid for it, like me) are blue hats. 
  • Spam fighters, who don't get paid for it (like some of the guys/girls in Spam Kings) are white hats or grey hats.
  • Phishers are black hats.
  • Spammers are tough to classify since they don't technically try to break into computer systems.  Maybe grey hats?

While these labels don't completely apply, in my next post we'll look at a few more definitions.

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