What is a hacker and how many types are there

Whenever we see or hear references to cyber attacks and cybercrime, the term hacker quickly comes to mind. We usually associate this definition with a person who performs illegal acts on the network. But this is a recurring mistake, there are no longer always dark ends behind. Throughout this article we will know what exactly a hacker is, the types that there are and their main difference from a cracker. There are too many cyber security challenges that we should take in mind.

Over time, television, news, or movies have created an idealized figure around these pirates. If you ask us, we will always link this profile to that of a cybercriminal who steals data or similar. However, if we delve into the matter we can see that this is not always the case.

There are several types of hackers, as well as different functions for each of them. And, of course, these are not always engaged in illegal activities. Another common mistake is to confuse the aforementioned term with that of the cracker. These are two different profiles with their own characteristics for each one. In all this we are going to deepen.

What is a hacker

The first of all is to know what we mean when we talk about a hacker. It is a person who has enough computer knowledge to access a certain system or device and make changes and modifications from within.

These individuals have the function to know the operation of computer systems, the software, the hardware and find the most common mistakes. This person must overcome the imposed security systems and seek an improvement in them. Therefore, as we can see, there are not always illicit purposes in this endeavor. However, there are hackers who use their techniques for some illegal purpose, although the main objective is completely the opposite.

History and origin

Hacker, cybercriminal, hacking

The origin of the figure of the hacker is associated in the 1960s. At that time, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology acquired a microcomputer that generated great interest in some students of the educational entity. Through it, the boys began to interact through programming codes.

This computer took a long time to start up and stayed on all night. Therefore, the group of MIT students had access to it all the time. In this way, they began to experiment and prank each other that they came to call hacks. Although the term began to be used more widely a few years later, it can be considered that at this time the figure was forged.

It was in 1984, through a work by Steven Levy, when the hacker ethic was considered for the first time. Through the book ‘Hackers: heroes of the computer revolution’, a philosophy of free access to information and software source code was promulgated. In the 90s, due to the media exposure generated and the voices that offered controversy, the figure was gradually distorted until it reached somewhat dark ideals.

Term and meaning

The term hack has an origin linked to the meaning of the word in English, which was used to define a person who created furniture with an ax. In computer terms, the word ‘hack’ is associated with ‘hacking’, which is the noise that company technicians made when trying to fix a defective device: hitting them.

In Spain, for its part, the Royal Academy of the Spanish Language coined two meanings for the word hacker. On the one hand, it speaks of a hacker when an individual “illegally accesses other people’s computer systems to appropriate them or obtain secret information.” But he also defines it as a “person with great skills in handling computers who investigates a computer system to warn of failures and develop improvement techniques.”

However, within the computer culture the uses are very wide. Thus, we can refer by extension to anyone who implements solutions for a certain system.

Differences between hacker and cracker

Hacking, cracking, hacker, cracker

After repairing the origin of the term, as well as its meaning, we can see that the figure of the hacker is not always related to illegal activities. The RAE itself insists that we must differentiate it from the cracker. Putting the two figures in the same bag is usually a common mistake when, in reality, there are notable differences.

Taking into account that both are inserted into a foreign computer system, the great distinction lies in the objective pursued. While the hacker makes the incursion to verify security and improve it, the cracker seeks to bypass the established measures to sneak into the system without permission and steal data. With the information you have obtained, you can later blackmail third parties, make it public or seek financial gain. In any case, you will be committing a computer crime.

Hacker types

Once the differentiation between the two figures is established, the hacker world is much broader than we can imagine. And, in turn, there are different types of profile linked to this pirate. These are organized according to their intentions, whether good or bad, as well as the specific function they perform.

Mainly, there are two large groups: the white hat ( white hat hackers) and the black hat ( black hat hackers). From here, all the others derive: gray, blue, red, hacktivists

White hat

These are those related to ethical activities and that do not pursue any illicit purpose. They work for certain companies and corporations, many of them of enormous global importance. Its ultimate objective is the protection of computer systems. They go deep inside and look for security flaws and bugs that need to be improved. Surely almost all of us are familiar with Chema Alonso. He is part of the organization chart of the multinational Telefónica and would be in this group.

Black hat

Here we already enter marshy terrain. These types of hackers are the opposite of the previous case and are known for their immoral acts. They use their skills and knowledge to break into security systems and break them. They access restricted sites, infect computer networks and devices, steal data and spoof identities, etc. They seek to profit and obtain profit, although they can also be motivated by any other criminal purpose. Contrary to the whites, these cybercriminals or crackers are not authorized to attack the system.

Gray hat

The gray hat is a mixture of the previous two. It is halfway between the moral and the illicit ends. In general, they are not malicious, although some dubious act may come from them. They can break into a system without the owner’s permission and, once they discover the fault, lend themselves to fix it. If the company in question does not agree, they may publicly share their findings online and push others to act.

Other types of hacker

As we have said, in addition to these great catalogs, there are other types of hackers with their own peculiarities

  • Red hat : they aim to chase the black hat and prevent them from doing damage. If they manage to detect them, they will try to inflict a forceful response on you through some malicious attack or access your system to destroy it.
  • Blue hat – Your goal is to act maliciously towards a specific company or person. They are driven by revenge and don’t possess too many skills, just enough to cause annoyance.
  • Gold hat : this type of hacker uses the methods to violate a computer system and, thus, notify the owner of vulnerabilities. In general, they break security to test the established measures.
  • Green hat : these people are newcomers to the sector and seek learning. They have a lot to offer and ask questions at all times, sometimes being reprimanded by the community. Although they do not have a clear understanding of their actions, they can cause problems
  • Kiddie script – Lacks too many skills, though looking to profit from hacking. They can do cybervandalism and spread malicious software without being very clear about the operation of the system


As we can imagine, the term comes from a mix between hacker and activist. For many people, they could be included in the black hat. Meanwhile, other members of the community make them part of the gray hat group. Everything can depend on the ideological conception. They carry out attacks and incursions into systems motivated by clearly political ends.

Their actions are sponsored by what they consider freedom of expression and information. At times, they are also lovers of conspiracy theories by governments and important entities. We also know of cases of hacktivists who have perpetrated attacks against the systems of terrorist groups such as the Islamic State.

It is a clearly upward movement and one that has become very fashionable in recent years, especially due to the rise of Anonymous. This group of hacktivists has become an absolute worldwide phenomenon. This movement, whose attacks were mainly focused on the network, has been growing. Currently, their actions also take place outside the computing environment.

Hacktivists like Anonymous are often exposed to censorship policies by entities and corporations. In this case, Twitter, Facebook or YouTube acted against these individuals by blocking accounts, videos and other resources on their social media platforms.

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