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15 types of hackers + hacking protection tips for 2024

A hacker sitting in a dark room with code displayed on his computer.

Almost all hackers use some form of cyber-subterfuge to access devices or networks, but the ways they operate vary enormously. In this guide, you’ll learn about the different types of hackers you should be aware of, their motivations and goals, and how you can protect yourself, including using comprehensive security software. 

Not all hackers are nefarious actors. But as cybercrooks spend years honing their hacking methods, it's important to learn how to protect your privacy, watch out for signs of identity theft, and keep your devices, smart homes, and digital assets safe.

Here are the different types of hackers you should know about in 2024:

Black hat hacker

Black hat hackers steal personal information to use or sell.

Also known as threat actors, black hat hackers are the stereotypical cybercriminals who attempt to break into personal devices and networks using ransomware, spyware, phishing techniques, and other methods. The objective of black hat hacking is often to collect sensitive data to exploit or sell for profit.

You may recall hearing about the NBA’s Houston Rockets falling victim to a cyberattack back in 2021. Black hat hackers used ransomware to collect over 500 GB worth of contracts, non-disclosure agreements, and sensitive financial documents. The hackers then threatened to release the documents as a blackmail ploy. 

Hacker motivation + goal: Steal personal information to use or sell for profit. 

Potential targets: Everyday people and businesses.

White hat hacker

White hat hackers help companies and other organizations by identifying security flaws that cybercriminals could exploit.

White hat hackers — also known as ethical hackers — have the same skills as black hat hackers, but very different intentions. Instead of breaking into systems to exploit security flaws, white hat hackers identify them, in an effort to help governments, businesses, and everyday citizens avoid cyberattacks. 

Businesses and other organizations hire white hat hackers to test their data security protocols and online infrastructure for potential security flaws. If the white hats are able to penetrate the network, they can then advise the organization on how to fix the vulnerability before other, more nefarious hackers can take advantage.

Hacker motivation + goal: Spot security flaws that ill-intentioned hackers could use to their advantage.

Potential targets: Black hat hackers.

Red hat hackers 

Red hat hackers are like white hat hackers, but instead of being hired by businesses or governments to find and fix vulnerabilities, they take it upon themselves to stop black hat hackers. Sometimes referred to as “vigilante hackers” or “Robin Hood hackers,” these dark web wizards often use aggressive (sometimes even illegal) methods to strike back against black hat crooks.

Red hat hackers may operate as a collective, targeting large-scale scamming operations that use spear phishing, scareware, or other forms of social engineering hacks to exploit victims. Red hats hack into scammer networks and devices to disrupt their activities — sometimes even using malware to take them offline for days or weeks at a time.

Hacker motivation + goal: To stop black hat hacker cyberattacks.

Potential targets: Black hat hackers.

Gray hat hackers 

Gray hat hackers, known also as “just for fun” hackers, get enjoyment from finding gaps in security networks without exploiting them for criminal purposes. But gray hat hackers aren’t completely benign, because they hack private networks without permission and may even demand payment for revealing the details of the vulnerabilities they discover.

A recent gray hat hacking incident saw one of Germany’s main political parties hacked by gray hats. No information was leaked, and no damage caused — a classic gray hat breach — but the party pressed charges against the hacker anyway. This blurring of legal and ethical boundaries is precisely why such hackers are known as gray hats.

Hacker motivation + goal: Hack private networks to spot security flaws and protect against other cyberthreats.

Potential victims: Everyday people and businesses.

Green hat hackers 

Green hat hackers are hackers in training. Though not as experienced with online scamming as black hat hackers, green hats seek to acquire the skills to eventually become more advanced hackers. Once they find a hacker to learn from, green hat hackers spend as much time as it takes trying to become a full-fledged hacker. 

Hacker motivation + goal: Find a hacker they can learn from to one day become a black hat hacker.

Potential victims: Everyday users and businesses.

Blue hat hackers 

Blue hat hackers closely resemble white hat hackers, but instead of breaking into systems or software already in use, a business will give a blue hat hacker early access to test a new system for flaws. That way, the organization can identify potential risks or weak points before deciding to update or launch systems.

Still confused? Let’s say there's a new file-sharing system a company wants to implement. The last thing they want is for hackers to be able to easily break in and compromise their confidential data. So, they'll hire a hacker to test the system before making a final decision. If the system is sufficiently secure, the software can be rolled out. 

Hacker motivation + goal: Check software for security flaws before businesses decide to launch new or updated software.

Potential victims: Black hat hackers.

Script kiddies 

Script kiddies are beginner hackers who use existing malicious software to break into systems. 

Script kiddies are like green hat hackers, except they lack the drive to learn. Script kiddies are not interested in developing the expert skills of a black hat hacker. Instead of learning how to create their own hacking tools and techniques, they copy existing malware that more experienced hackers have already made. 

Perhaps the most famous script kiddie incident occurred in 2022, when Uber’s internal systems were breached by a teenager. Using simple social engineering tactics and 2FA spam to gain access, the fledgling hacker then copied and pasted code scripts to wreak havoc on the Uber network. The perpetrator was swiftly identified and arrested, but by then, the damage had already been done.

Hacker motivation + goal: Use existing malware to break into personal devices and make a profit off stolen information.

Potential victims: Everyday users and businesses.

Elite hackers 

Elite hackers are the champions of modern-day hacking. Their years of experience have made them highly skilled in their field, and they can choose to wear black or white hacker hats as they please. Because they can switch back and forth so easily, elite hackers are the first to identify and create the newest cyberattack methods that threaten your cybersecurity. 

A noteworthy elite-hacking example is when expert hackers tried to hack into the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2020 to gather information on Covid-19. Their attempts failed, but the cyberattack displayed the true danger of phishing emails used to try and steal passwords and other login credentials. 

Hacker motivation + goal: Steal sensitive information and compromise complex networks to make a profit or right corporate wrongs.

Potential victims: Everyday users and businesses.

Gaming hackers 

 Gaming hackers target online video game enthusiasts. 

Gaming hackers target video game enthusiasts. Gaming hackers are known for using the latest video game trends to manipulate online players into compromising login credentials, payment information, and other personal details attached to their accounts. 

One of the most notable video game hacks occurred in 2021 when Electronic Arts reported a cyberattack that compromised more than 780 GB of gaming source code. Thankfully, the private information of online players was protected. 

Hacker motivation + goal: Trick gamers into revealing sensitive information to make a profit off the stolen data. 

Potential victims: Online gamers.

Botnet hackers 

Botnet hackers use a swarm of captive botnet devices to carry out their cyberattacks. Botnet hacks are composed of pre-coded minions designed by hackers to launch malicious tasks that range from stealing sensitive files to taking complete control over your computer. 

The true danger presented by botnet attacks was revealed when Cloudflare was targeted by a DDOS attack that used botnets to spread a virus throughout the company’s private network. According to Cloudflare, hackers used around 20,000 botnets to overwhelm their systems with more than 330 million attack requests.

Hacker motivation + goal: Infect devices with botnets to steal or compromise sensitive information to use or sell on the dark web.

Potential victims: Everyday users and businesses.


Cryptojackers take advantage of cryptocurrency markets to carry out cryptocurrency scams. These are often illegal requests for crypto payments in exchange for fake goods, services, or investments. Users of the cryptocurrency Ethereum (ETH) might also run into NFT scams on top of cryptopjackers trying to mine for digital assets.

Other cryptojacking ploys involve hacking into devices in order to use them to surreptitiously mine cryptocurrency. A recent cryptojacking example used a Trojan masquerading as a (nonexistent) Google Translate desktop app to gain malicious access to the PCs of unsuspecting victims.

Hacker motivation + goal: Steal from cryptocurrency owners or compromise digital wallet credentials.

Potential victims: Cryptocurrency enthusiasts.


Whistleblowers expose corporate malfeasance. 

Whistleblowers expose or report corporate malfeasance or criminal activity, especially by the companies they work for. Whistleblowers may not have a ton of hacking experience, but they use what they do know to expose white-collar crime and corporate and governmental malpractice. 

In a 2022 bombshell revelation, Peiter Zatko, then-Chief Security Officer of Twitter, used his unmatched level of access and insider knowledge to blow the whistle on the social media giant, accusing it of multiple security-regulations violations and lax data handling.

Hacker motivation + goal: Expose or report corporate malfeasance or criminal activity. 

Potential victims: Untrustworthy businesses or individuals.

State-sponsored hackers

State-sponsored hackers are the James Bonds of the hacking community. Government agencies hire these individuals to gain confidential data on other foreign nations to help them understand and manage potential and existing threats. 

Cozy Bear is a state-sponsored hacking group known by many for accusations of meddling in America's 2016 presidential election. In the past, the group has been known to target organizations vital to the basic functioning of society, such as energy companies, government agencies, and other high-profile entities.

Hacker motivation + goal: Hack into private international networks under the order of government organizations.

Potential victims: International government agencies or critical companies.


Cyberterrorists are politically motivated cybercriminals. They use their hacking expertise to bring attention to their cause by disrupting information systems. These disruptions can then threaten the physical safety of people and even lead to the loss of life. 

Between 2015 and 2016, a series of hacking attacks targeting top US intelligence officials were described as “a campaign of cyberterrorism.” The hacking resulted in the theft and release of sensitive information — the cyberterrorist hacker was ultimately arrested and imprisoned.

Hacker motivation + goal: Use malicious cyberattacks to bring attention to a political cause.

Potential victims: Everyday people, society, and governments. 

Malicious insiders 

Malicious insiders aren't concerned with integrity and justice like whistleblowers. Usually driven by financial gain or retaliation for perceived grievances, they intentionally break into their own company networks to cause disruption or exploit confidential data that could put the company and its customers at risk.

This might occur when an employee receives a tempting offer to steal confidential corporate files in exchange for payment. As soon as an employee accesses the network with the intention of stealing private data, they become a malicious insider. 

Hacker motivation + goal: Expose or exploit sensitive company data to make a personal profit.

Potential victims: Businesses.

How to stay protected from different types of hacker s

10 tips to protect against online hacking.

We’ve learned that not all hackers are working against us. But when malicious hacking does occur, it’s important to know how to protect and defend against it. Here are ten hacking protection tips to help you stay safe online:

  • Keep personal information safe. Make life harder for hackers by limiting the amount of personal information you share online, like your physical address, phone number, and other sensitive data.
  • Avoid public Wi-Fi. Hackers can lurk on unprotected public Wi-Fi networks and use them as a gateway for infecting devices with different types of malware. Always be careful when using unsecured public W-Fi networks.
  • Consider using a VPN. A VPN keeps your online activity encrypted, preventing hackers from tracking your IP address and browsing history, and making it harder to use things like adware and spyware against you. 
  • Use secure passwords. Passwords are the first line of defense against hackers, so make sure your passwords are strong. You can even use password managers that will organize and create secure passwords for you. 
  • Be wary of suspicious links and attachments. Phishing emails embedded with infected links and attachments are commonly used by hackers to gain a foothold in your device. Never click suspicious links or download unknown attachments. 
  • Practice mobile device security. Make sure your mobile isn’t an easy target by setting security PINs, updating your operating system, and only downloading apps from official app stores.
  • Enable two-factor authentication. Two-factor authentication, also known as multi-factor authentication, adds an extra layer of account security to logins by verifying your identity with the help of biometric fingerprints or facial recognition technology.
  • Remember to install security updates. Keeping your operating system and other software fully patched and updated helps lessen the likelihood of hackers using zero-day exploits to catch you off guard. 
  • Download antivirus software. Using robust antivirus software from a well-known and trusted vendor is the best way to protect yourself, your devices, and your data from all the different types of hackers and emerging cyber threats out there.
An infographic all about hackers, including who they are, how they damage systems, and the impact they have on individuals, companies, and society at large.

Protect yourself against hacking

There are many different types of hackers and cybercrooks out there, all of them with specialized abilities and targets. But with the right know-how and strong tools, you can protect yourself.

Norton 360 Deluxe can encrypt the data that you send and receive online, and it will help you block hackers and avoid malicious websites that can compromise your personal data. Get Norton today and start protecting yourself — and your personal data — against hacking.

Clare Stouffer
  • Clare Stouffer
  • Gen employee
Clare Stouffer, a Gen employee, is a writer and editor for the company’s blogs. She covers various topics in cybersecurity.

Editorial note: Our articles provide educational information for you. Our offerings may not cover or protect against every type of crime, fraud, or threat we write about. Our goal is to increase awareness about Cyber Safety. Please review complete Terms during enrollment or setup. Remember that no one can prevent all identity theft or cybercrime, and that LifeLock does not monitor all transactions at all businesses. The Norton and LifeLock brands are part of Gen Digital Inc. 


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