Hacking And Cracking: What’s The Difference?

In the field of cyber security, there are two distinct groups of individuals, hackers and crackers. A person will ultimately be classified as either one or the other depending on their particular intentions; however there are different skill sets and subgroups typically associated with each title. To help differentiate, below is a breakdown of hackers, crackers and everything in between so you can gain a better idea of who is responsible when a cyber security breach occurs.


The term “hacker” typically refers to individuals who seek to fully understand how computers and network systems function in order to gain in-depth knowledge and perform a precise exploit of vulnerabilities.

These experts in computer security tend to have non-malicious intentions and thus have become colloquially known as “white hat” hackers. White hat hackers engage in ethical hacking, which consists of lawfully breaking into systems for the purpose of exposing security flaws. They either seek to improve the protection of their own security systems or they are hired by organizations to perform this service. In order to do this, the hackers will initiate assessments of the company’s security system by attempting to penetrate it. If the hacker is successful during penetration tests, they are generally responsible for reporting the issue and developing a solution to prevent the same kind of security breach from occurring maliciously in the future. Companies often hire individuals to test for these vulnerabilities instead of leaving possible holes in their security systems open to attack by malicious hackers, commonly referred to as “crackers.”


The title of a “cracker” has gained much controversy over the past few years in regards to its malicious connotation and the reputation these individuals have gained throughout the cyber security community.

Hackers often make the argument that crackers are less knowledgeable of computer systems and lack originality in their work, which is true to an extent. Crackers are motivated solely by personal gain and are not concerned with learning the ins and outs of computer systems as much as their counterparts. Additionally, the fact of the matter is that crackers do not need to follow ethical guidelines; they simply need to exploit the system. The primary goal of a cracker is either to obtain valuable information that will lead to personal gain or to cause mischief for organizations simply because they are capable of it. Regardless of their motives, the malicious intention of these crackers has led to them being labeled as computer criminals, or “black hat” hackers. They may choose their victims randomly or target specific organizations based on profitability and other interests, but the end goal is always for their personal gain never as an ethical profession. These crackers are often caught for their malicious acts because they are not cautious or mindful of the protections that have been put in place by a business’ white hat hackers. Businesses with secure networks will hire ethical hackers to establish a honeypot, which is essentially a trap used to detect and counteract unauthorized breaches by the black hat community.

Grey Hat Hacking:

The term “grey hat” is used as a combination of white hat and black hat because it refers to hackers that engage in both hacking and cracking. While they may break into computer systems for the purpose of making a profit, their intentions are not entirely malicious. The grey hat hacker may have to perform illegal actions in order to test a system for vulnerabilities and make the necessary improvements. A possible scenario for a grey hat hacker could be breaching the security system of a company and then notifying them of the vulnerability in hopes of receiving a payment to improve the system. These tactics are seen as questionable in the hacking community, but in the end they result in a positive outcome for the hacker and improved security measures for the involved organization.

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