Lately, there has been a lot of news about hacking and hacker groups including the Stock Exchange being compromised and people who think they are smart getting put in their place. I decided to write a little about who is out there and how our government reacts to hacking in general. You can also read a post about my credentials, which I will discuss further in this article.
The top division of hackers is between the designation of White Hat hackers and Black Hat hackers. In general, a White Hat is someone who considers himself an adventurer, a person who travels this vast information highway looking for fun places to visit. He/she does not vandalize these places, and is just there to have a new experience and possibly help others avoid some of the dangerous people. Basically, a White Hat thirsts for knowledge and nothing else.
A Black Hat hacker is someone who hacks because of the power of the situation. He/she has the same thirst for knowledge as White Hat has. I think all good hackers need to have this. The Black Hats take it step further though. Some are just anarchists who try and destroy things. Others use their knowledge for monetary gains, or just to show off to other peers that they're the best and can cause the most trouble.
It is difficult for the public to understand the differences between these groups. I mean, breaking into a system is bad. Period. So, all hackers are bad. However, the lines can get blurred at times, and you need to make your own judgments. . If you get an inexperienced White Hat that causes damage by accident you can say that all White Hats are bad. If Black Hats exploit systems and shut down corporations for a good cause like WikiLeaks' freedom of speech, then are they really the bad guys?
In addition to those overarching types of hackers (White Hat and Black Hat), there are also different groups.
The lowest level group is the Script Kiddies and wanna be L33T hackers. These are people who think hacking is cool and that they are awesome at it. Usually, they copy other peoples hacks and showoff to prove how good they are. They make up the vast majority of hackers and they lack the basic fundamental understanding of systems in order to be really good. That group that is most likely to accidentally shut down a power grid for a city or something stupid like that.
Another group is the Elite Hackers. The Anonymous group is an example of the type of hackers who will rape your credit score, have you arrested on kiddie porn charges, and get you fired from work -- all before they finish breakfast. You do not want to mess with those guys.
Governments employ their own hackers. Some are used to track down groups like Anonymous. Others are terrorists, like the great Red Cyber threat from China. Normally those guys are not as good as the Elite Hackers, but they have access to the latest technology and if you slip up against them, they can move real world forces against you.
I will leave you with one last thought about hackers. Our government sees hackers like people in the olden times might have seen a sorcerer or magician. The government is made up of mostly fat, old, white guys, and hardly any of them have any understanding of technology. They fear the hocus pocus of hackers as if it were a dark magic ritual. The response to this fear has been unconstitutional torture and mistreatment of anyone caught hacking or even accused of it. You should read about the case of Kevin Mitnick, but it might make you want to burn your fucking New York Times rag magazine. A citizen of the United States was imprisoned without trial and held for years in solitary confinement, until his will was finally broken and he plea bargained his way out of jail. It was not the first time that this has happened either. In a lot of ways, I think many of the more destructive hackers of this day and age were formed because of the repressive government torture and subjugation of the first generation of hackers. Righteous indignation is a powerful force.
In conclusion, I hope this helps you to understand more about the layers of society in the Hacker domain. I also hope it gives you something to think about. I tend to consider myself more of a low-level White Hat. I have some issues with Elite groups shutting down whoever they disagree with, however, the rebel side of me cheers them on and I'm amazed at the things they can accomplish. You cannot argue that Anonymous champions causes that tend to be good ones like WikiLeaks and Julian Assange. In the end, much like life, there is a lot of grey area.