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What is a Red Hat Hacker? Top Things to Know

Cyber attackers shouldn’t all be painted with the same brush. There are many different types, all with separate motivations and tactics for launching their attacks.

While white and black hat hackers are the most common type, a red hat hacker’s approach is interesting and unique. Let’s take a look at red hat hacking and what makes it different.


What Is a Red Hat Hacker?

White and black hat types of hacking are somewhat self-explanatory, based on the common associations of those colors, but red hat hacking is not. 

Often viewing themselves as “vigilantes,” these hackers have unique goals. They may be seen as a cross between white and black hackers — they aren’t quite ethical but they also aren’t completely “bad actors.”

The desire to chase and bring down cybersecurity attackers is a shared goal of both; however, red hackers take matters into their own hands rather than rely on the authorities. Once these heroic outlaws track down those seeking to steal or destroy data, halt operations, or other malicious activities, they gain access to and dismantle their computer systems, sometimes in collaboration directly with other groups and federal or other governmental agencies.


Red vs White Hat Hacking 

Both types of hackers use their advanced technical skills and knowledge to go after bad actors, but there are key differences between the two:


Consent From System Owners

Ethical white hat hackers are trained IT professionals who use their knowledge and skills to help businesses discover their cyber security vulnerabilities. After receiving written permission to perform penetration testing, these unsung heroes plan and execute a hack, then create a prioritized response to build strong cybersecurity defense.  

Red hat hackers, on the other hand, aren’t bad actors, but they also aren’t necessarily ethical. They plan and execute their attacks without permission from or notification to the system owner. 

One term to keep in mind is “Red Team” pentesting, which refers to a tactic used by ethical cyber security professionals that is NOT the same as red hat hacking. Just as military teams invest many hours planning an attack against a single target, Red Teams spend just as many hours researching and planning an “attack” against a client’s network, looking for a single entry point that can be exploited over time.


Red Hat Hackers Are More Aggressive 

Both types of hackers want to defend network systems, but only one uses aggressive actions. Whereas a white hat hacker doesn’t create damage, red hats not only defend network systems but actively hunt attackers. They then use their skills to launch full-scale attacks against them to destroy their systems. 


Profiting From Actions

The outcomes are very different between the two types. One is paid for their professional cybersecurity services. However, red hat hackers only want to catch the attacker. They aren’t seeking profit, they live for the thrill. 


Red Hat Hacker vs Black Hat Hacker 

There are both similarities and differences between red and black hat hacking. Both types of hackers know how to infect systems with malware and have the skill sets that allow them to gain remote access to devices or launch an attack. 

Despite their similar abilities, red and black hat hackers have very different goals. Black hats steal data or bring down systems for their own benefit, but red hats use their knowledge and skills to accomplish good and give attackers a taste of their own medicine.


What Makes a Red Hat Hacker Unique?

Here are four characteristics that make these vigilantes unique. 


They Mainly Target Linux Systems

Linux is a flexible, open-source, community-developed system used for computers, mobile devices, servers, mainframes, and other embedded devices. It is the most commonly supported operating system (OS), offering hardware resource management, application launch and administration, and user interfaces.

Red hat hackers typically target Linux systems because of its open-source nature which provides easy access to both command-line interfaces and popular hacking tools. 


Their Goal Is to Disarm Black Hats

This unique type of hacker simply does not have any intention of harming the innocent. Their goal is to stop the bad guys, and they are willing to breach the systems of cybersecurity attackers using any means necessary. 


They Are Masters of Social Engineering 

A common means of gaining access to and dismantling network systems is social engineering. Using clever and manipulative tactics, victims are deceived into revealing private or sensitive information, allowing hackers to access and attack network systems.

The black hat victims of red hats are skilled cyber attackers who also use social engineering tactics. The thrill of outwitting bad actors — using their own methods —  provides the satisfaction these vigilantes seek. 


They Live by Their Own Rules 

These hero outlaws often don’t follow rules, regulations, or laws in their pursuit of justice. They are willing to do whatever it takes to hunt down attackers and destroy their systems.


Know Your Attacker, and Protect Your System!

According to Sun Tzu in the Art of War, “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

To protect your valuable data and business network systems you must know yourself and your enemy. 

Mitigating the risks of cyber threats requires that you understand the types of hackers threatening your business, analyze your systems and processes through comprehensive pentesting services, and implement prioritized security action steps. 

Are you ready to drastically mitigate your cyber security risks? 

Download this checklist to learn how to protect your organization and avoid cyber threats in 5 ½ easy steps. 

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Topics: hacking techniques

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