In the computer security context, a hacker is someone who seeks and exploits weaknesses in a computer system or computer network. Hackers may be motivated by a multitude of reasons, such as profit, protest, challenge or enjoyment. The subculture that has evolved around hackers is often referred to as the computer underground and is now a known community. While other uses of the word hacker exist that are related to computer security, such as referring to someone with an advanced understanding of computers and computer networks, they are rarely used in mainstream context. They are subject to the longstanding hacker definition controversy about the term’s true meaning. In this controversy, the term hacker is reclaimed by computer programmers who argue that someone who breaks into computers, whether computer criminal (black hats) or computer security expert (white hats), is more appropriately called a cracker instead. Some white hat hackers claim that they also deserve the title hacker, and that only black hats should be called “crackers”.
Bruce Sterling traces part of the roots of the computer underground to the Yippies, a 1960s counterculture movement that published the Technological Assistance Program (TAP) newsletter.TAP was a phone phreaking newsletter that taught techniques for unauthorized exploration of the telephone network. Many people from the phreaking community are also active in the hacking community even today, and vice versa.
Several subgroups of the computer underground with different attitudes use different terms to demarcate themselves from each other, or try to exclude some specific group with whom they do not agree.
Eric S. Raymond, author of The New Hacker’s Dictionary, advocates that members of the computer underground should be called crackers. Yet, those people see themselves as hackers and even try to include the views of Raymond in what they see as a wider hacker culture, a view that Raymond has harshly rejected. Instead of a hacker/cracker dichotomy, they emphasize a spectrum of different categories, such as white hat, grey hat, black hat and script kiddie. In contrast to Raymond, they usually reserve the term cracker for more malicious activity.
According to Ralph D. Clifford, a cracker or cracking is to “gain unauthorized access to a computer in order to commit another crime such as destroying information contained in that system”. These subgroups may also be defined by the legal status of their activities.
A white hat hacker breaks security for non-malicious reasons, perhaps to test their own security system or while working for a security company which makes security software. The term “white hat” in Internet slang refers to an ethical hacker. This classification also includes individuals who perform penetration tests and vulnerability assessments within a contractual agreement. The EC-Council, also known as the International Council of Electronic Commerce Consultants, is one of those organizations that have developed certifications, courseware, classes, and online training covering the diverse arena of ethical hacking.
A “black hat” hacker is a hacker who “violates computer security for little reason beyond maliciousness or for personal gain” (Moore, 2005).Black hat hackers form the stereotypical, illegal hacking groups often portrayed in popular culture, and are “the epitome of all that the public fears in a computer criminal”. Black hat hackers break into secure networks to destroy, modify, or steal data; or to make the network unusable for those who are authorized to use the network. Black hat hackers are also referred to as the “crackers” within the security industry and by modern programmers. Crackers keep the awareness of the vulnerabilities to themselves and do not notify the general public or the manufacturer for patches to be applied. Individual freedom and accessibility is promoted over privacy and security. Once they have gained control over a system, they may apply patches or fixes to the system only to keep their reigning control. Richard Stallman invented the definition to express the maliciousness of a criminal hacker versus a white hat hacker who performs hacking duties to identify places to repair
A grey hat hacker is a combination of a black hat and a white hat hacker. A grey hat hacker may surf the Internet and hack into a computer system for the sole purpose of notifying the administrator that their system has a security defect, for example. They may then offer to correct the defect for a fee.
A social status among hackers, elite is used to describe the most skilled. Newly discovered exploits circulate among these hackers. Elite groups such as Masters of Deception conferred a kind of credibility on their members.
A script kiddie (also known as a skid or skiddie) is an unskilled hacker who breaks into computer systems by using automated tools written by others (usually by other black hat hackers), hence the term script (i.e. a prearranged plan or set of activities) kiddie (i.e. kid, child—an individual lacking knowledge and experience, immature),usually with little understanding of the underlying concept.
A neophyte (“newbie”, or “noob”) is someone who is new to hacking or phreaking and has almost no knowledge or experience of the workings of technology and hacking.
A blue hat hacker is someone outside computer security consulting firms who is used to bug-test a system prior to its launch, looking for exploits so they can be closed. Microsoft also uses the term BlueHat to represent a series of security briefing events.