What Is The Difference Between A Good Hacker & A Bad Hacker? [Opinion]

Danny Stieben 16-04-2012

Every now and then, we hear something in the news about hackers taking down sites, exploit a multitude of programs, or threatening to wiggle their way into high-security areas where they shouldn’t belong. Security A Universal Guide To PC Security From trojans to worms to phishers to pharmers, the web is full of hazards. Keeping yourself safe requires not only the right software, but an understanding of what kind of threats to look out for. Read More is a top priority for a handful of individuals and companies, and its thanks to these hackers that such an emphasis may be necessary for their continuous operations. But, if you think about it, what actually constitutes being called a hacker? Are all hackers evil and out to get us?


Not necessarily! Despite the overused negative connotation that hackers are just doing their magic in cyberspace to cause trouble (or, in Hollywood movies, sometimes help the hero out in a master plan), hackers can be good! But before we can figure out what makes good hackers good, we must see what makes bad hackers bad.

Black Hats

good hackers vs bad hackers
Bad hackers are those that, in a nutshell, do what they do with malicious intent. These are the ones that start a DDoS on your site or steal confidential information from the CIA and similar organizations (whenever they’re successful, anyways). Others are simply bored for lack of a better excuse and dig their way into a site, messing up whatever they can. Even if a hacker group is fighting for something that seems right, they often use these malicious strategies and cause havoc. Basically, these hackers do their work across the Internet with brute force attacks, breaking through firewalls What Is The Definition Of A Firewall? [Technology Explained] Read More , or via hidden nasties The Complete Malware Removal Guide Malware is everywhere these days, and eradicating malware from your system is a lengthy process, requiring guidance. If you think your computer is infected, this is the guide you need. Read More like keyloggers. Most of the time their activities are criminal offenses, and as such are labeled black hats.

Grey Hats

good hackers
To make things even more confusing, there are some who fall under the “grey hat” category. These people usually carry good intentions (often aiming for better security), and are willing to commit crimes to achieve their goals. Whether these people should be supported is a decision for each person by being either pro-security or pro-law.

White Hats

good hackers
So what makes some hackers good? As one might expect, hackers in general are excellent at spotting bugs and security holes. However, hackers on the good side of the force can do this and then tell the developers about the issues that they discovered so the developers can fix them. This strategy has worked so well for many companies, they are quite literally offering them paid positions to do just that. I’m pretty positive that the US government is a strong employer of good hackers so that bad hackers won’t even have a chance to find their way into the government’s infrastructure. Open source projects ask for the same help so hackers volunteer their time to find issues in the software. These people who are more security experts rather than criminals are sometimes called white hats.

Open Source Projects

good hackers vs bad hackers


Speaking of open source projects, if you ever start getting involved in such a project, don’t be alarmed when they continuously mention hacking. In the open source world, hackers could mean what I’ve described above, but it is also sometimes used as another name for developers. You’ll often find phrases such as “Let the hacking begin!” in mailing lists, IRC chats, and more. In that context they simply mean that they’re ready to start writing code. They sometimes even identify themselves as hackers, much to the confusion of uninformed people.


I’m quite happy that not all hackers are bad, and hopefully you can now see the difference as well. Hacking has a large number of meanings, and many of them are still disputed by those affected today. At least now you don’t have to scowl every time you hear the mention of “hacker”.

What’s your opinion on this matter? Did I leave something important out? Let us know in the comments!

Image Credits: *n3wjack’s world in pixels, Katy Levinson, Boumba, slworking2,


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  11. Jonathan
    August 31, 2017 at 3:50 pm

    Maybe I'm just missing the point, but none of it seems good, really. And, if users of open source projects are getting hacked and led to believe its a hacking, shouldn't they get some form of compensation for the worry and hastle, like at least a tshirt lol. One that says, "I went through hell being hacked, and all I got is this lousy t-shirt", lol. Or, "I'm with hacker", or "My hacker caught me masturbating", Idk... just something to make light of it. I am a current hacking victim of a very malicious hacking. It's a long story, but they literally want me dead, or their goal is to have me, "put away for good", as they tell me in phone calls. They pretty much hate me because I'm gay...

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  14. karen p
    November 17, 2016 at 2:26 am

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    August 29, 2016 at 12:37 pm

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  21. Theo Reisinger
    October 10, 2012 at 1:20 am

    I think most people think "hackers" as black hats. There are plenty of hackers that are benevolent

  22. Mani Ahmed
    July 18, 2012 at 11:05 am

    an interesting read .. a term which only came to my information 2 days back when i read ur article about white hat hackers ... which then lead to this one. Keep us updated !

  23. Adrian Carvajal
    July 17, 2012 at 7:36 pm

    Hacker vs Cracker! good and bad!

  24. Marine
    July 8, 2012 at 9:52 pm

    Now... ANONYMOUS is 2 different organzations. There is the good anonymous... wich wants us to know what the government is hiding. And letting us have our freedom. But the BAD anonymous is the ones that hack to hack. Wich they should settle an agreetment!

    • Danny Stieben
      July 9, 2012 at 3:52 pm

      I think there is only one group which is officially known as Anonymous, which are the ones who hack, supposedly for good.

      Anonymous is otherwise a blanket term for people who want to remain hidden.

  25. biwas paudel
    June 18, 2012 at 1:27 am

    how can i learn about hack

    • Danny Stieben
      June 18, 2012 at 3:32 am

      Depends on your own personal definition of hacking. Whatever it may be, however, you can find information via a Google search.

    • Danny Stieben
      June 18, 2012 at 3:33 am

      You can also ask MUO Answers if you prefer.

  26. Jamiroquai
    June 8, 2012 at 9:49 pm

    Next you're tgoing to say that there are good Rock & Roll fans and bad ones!

  27. Curio
    June 4, 2012 at 8:45 pm

    It's important to bear in mind that the "bad" hackers are the only ones you hear about because the "good" ones do not get caught. That is all.

  28. Aung Htet
    April 22, 2012 at 1:33 pm

    Hacking is fun but must have privacy.

  29. Ausome1
    April 17, 2012 at 5:19 pm

    If hacking is something you have more interest in, you guys should check out they have been around since 2005 as a legal place to learn hacking.

    • Danny Stieben
      April 23, 2012 at 4:55 pm

      Thanks for the tip! Sounds interesting!

  30. Akaash Prasad
    April 17, 2012 at 9:30 am

    Hackers are extremely talented and are highly skilled in the field of technology. Obviously there are two types of hackers.One type of hackers are the bad hackers,who do hacking for bad purpose or reason and the other are good hackers which do the hacking thing for something good.

  31. H4CK3R
    April 17, 2012 at 5:26 am

    A hacker is a hacker, whether he is good or bad. :)

  32. Bret
    April 17, 2012 at 3:57 am

    Nice article Danny. If you so a web search for the Homebrew Club, you will find information on the original group of hackers and ...yes... that is where the term was coined. I was a member of the club. During the meetings we would bring in both hardware and software to "hack" apart. We were interested in how it worked and how to take advantage of it for our techie purposes. The Apple I was a direct result of these activities, with Steve Jobs and Waz being charter members of the group. The first OS we hacked was CPM, so that we could enhance it just as the OSS geeks and hackers do today.

    White hat hackers (there was not difference back then) are the very core of most of the computer industry advances that we enjoy today.

    • Danny Stieben
      April 23, 2012 at 4:59 pm

      Very interesting! Thank goodness for hackers! :)

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      May 7, 2012 at 1:54 pm

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  33. dustin
    April 17, 2012 at 2:42 am

    I am not really sure where i stand in any of those catagory's to be honest. If i get bored, i'll go on a hacking spree. Never really do anything once ive gained access to whatever it is im after, i just want to see if i can do it...then i leave it alone. On occasion i have notified the owners of these machines or websites, but that's risky. People do NOT like to be cold called about their site being hacked, and most don't respond to email.

    Recently, i have found several security holes with a fresh new cam porn site. Contacted the owners, got banned. All i had to do to find the security flaws was right click and view the source of the page. Their authentication system is a pure javascript implementation.

    It kind of makes me sad, i detailed to them the issue, now to fix it, even provided the code - for FREE - and instead they respond by banning me and disreguarding the info i have told them. I feel like they think ive insulted their work.

    Their ban's don't really work either.

    • Danny Stieben
      April 23, 2012 at 5:06 pm

      Hmm, that's strange. I assume they thought you were a bad hacker claiming there was an issue although they thought they were fine and ignored your fix.

      • Aryan
        July 17, 2012 at 4:03 pm

        I would like to go with Danny, and they might even file a case against so it would be better you stay away from such people.

    • C
      June 4, 2012 at 2:38 pm

      Reminds me of Microsoft. Any big corporation though. You're right, they don't typically like it. Hence why I never even bother a government when they get compromised and the perpetrator is scanning systems like mine.

      Interestingly though, I've notified companies that they've been compromised (or a customer had been) and they were very appreciated (say, hosting companies and schools [including tech schools]). How did I know? I got caught up in a scan. The scans fail minus the part of filling up logs. But everyone is the responsibility of the internet as a whole, security wise. At least in the sense of, if you're compromised, your computer/whatever can be used to abuse others, including by spammers.

  34. saikia
    April 16, 2012 at 10:24 pm

    the never ending discussion about what a hacker is will never end =)

    • Benito
      May 7, 2012 at 10:44 pm

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  35. Khf
    April 16, 2012 at 8:17 pm

    There are two aspects you forget (1) those that leave silly bugs lying around to pester us all, and (2) those that device a "hack" to allow us to live with the "bug".

    One of the largest distributor of code use their users as unpaid testers. In old days we had long procedures that the code had to go through with testing and verification then gradual release. Considering this, we need those "hackers" - some to find and expose the problems, and well some walks through open doors and close them behind them while other pinch an item or three. But you are the one that left the door open and use untested and unverified code. If I report a burglary the insurance company will limit their liability should I leave the door unlocked, on the Internet most leave their ports LINGERING for anyone else to REUSE.

  36. Scutterman
    April 16, 2012 at 6:59 pm

    The "break into systems" definition of hacker is more accurately described by the term "cracker".

    To me, hacker means either taking something apart to see how it works and make it better, or a form of prank (as defined by MIT, I'll post a link when I'm not on my phone)

    • gt
      April 17, 2012 at 6:26 pm

      I think most adults identifying as "hacker" would agree. It's the original definition that never fell out of common use. Possibly even across the security world, newbies excluded. It's just taking a quick & dirty or unconventional yet clever approach to solving a problem; the opposite of software engineering, in a sense.

      Basically, a hacker is nothing more than a computer geek. Or similar, since the term with nearly the same meaning has been used since long before the computing revolution.

      Hence the usage like "lifefacker" or "hack your life/thing that you own". Or why movies that call breaking & entering "hacking" flop. Yet books that use "hacking" in the positive sense (even the title) tend to do well. Or CS professors.

      So, if you wonder why a professional might be taken back at your usage of the term as something bad, it's because the negative usage is very new and perhaps unconventional. In other words, you hacked the English language.

      • Scutterman
        April 18, 2012 at 12:37 pm

        Very well put.

    • Scutterman
      April 18, 2012 at 12:38 pm

      The link to the MIT hacks page:

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  37. acesrhigh
    April 16, 2012 at 6:39 pm

    An anonymous picture shouldn't be posted under black hat. The majority of anonymous members are grey hat and only commit what some might label "crime" as a way of standing up for what they believe in. Black hats have little remorse, nor do they care about who they hurt. They feed on the weak, vulnerable, and computer illiterate. There is a big difference.

  38. Mike
    April 16, 2012 at 6:37 pm

    So, Catwoman could be compared to grey hats? Maybe?

  39. darth
    April 16, 2012 at 5:38 pm

    getting caught vs not getting caught... ;-)

  40. cylus
    April 16, 2012 at 5:26 pm

    how can i hack to company website, but not with bad intension

    • Mike Merritt
      April 16, 2012 at 6:23 pm

      Guess the user name and password to FTP to their site host.

    • Prey-t00s
      April 17, 2012 at 3:50 am

      Never try hacking from a computer that is assigned with a static IP. Coz Webhosts usually show last login IP and if the company finds your (Static)IP then they would be able to track you down. That may apply to dynamic IP in rare cases.

      • Krishnapriya
        April 17, 2012 at 5:41 pm

        actually, dynamic IP can also be traced almost always. It is done simply by refering to your ISP. ISPs always log IP addresses. They just need to compare the login time with the IP address. hence by finding out to which computer the IP was assigned to at that time, the culprit is found.

        • Danny Stieben
          April 23, 2012 at 4:45 pm

          Both types of addresses can be traced. Only services like the Tor Project can protect your IP.

        • C
          June 4, 2012 at 2:32 pm

          No, tor will not protect you 100%. It only obscures it and makes it harder to find. For example, its been said that the group Anonymous uses it. However, how many of them have been found by the federal governments in various countries ? Exactly.

          Even spoofing is often filtered (depends; eg a server knows it won't send out packets by its own ip, to itself. That's what localhost is for (among other things).

          In short: while being anonymous is a nice thought, in the end, it's not really going to happen - not 100% anyway. The only ip that is anonymous is the ip that isn't an ip.

    • Danny Stieben
      April 23, 2012 at 4:46 pm

      I would highly advise not to try to hack any server, no matter what intentions you have. If you want to with good intentions, always ask the server owner for permission before doing anything.