A red hat hacker is a hacker who takes aggressive steps to stop black hat hackers. While red hat hackers are not inherently evil, they do everything they can to stop the bad guys, including taking matters into their own hands. They go to the lengths of launching full-scale attacks to take down cybercriminals’ or cyber attackers’ servers and destroy their resources.

Red hat hackers are often dubbed the “Robin Hoods of the virtual world.” Like the heroic outlaw, they are not opposed to stealing back what the cybercriminals or cyber attackers stole from their victims. And like Robin Hood and his Merry Men, they won’t keep the stolen goods for themselves. Instead, they will give them back to their owners.

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red hat hacker

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Red hat hackers comprise one of the six types of hackers based on the color of hat they wear. Apart from red hats, hackers can also be classified as black, white, grey, blue, and green hats.

Red Hat Hackers versus Black Hat Hackers

Red and black hats lie on the opposite ends of the spectrum. While they both know how to infect systems with malware, launch distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks, and gain remote access to devices, red hats don’t do these things for their gain. Red hats employ destructive means to accomplish a good end. They essentially give the bad guys a dose of their own medicine.

Red Hat Hackers versus White Hat Hackers

Among the six types of hackers, red hats have the most in common with white hats. They both use their advanced technical skills and know-how to go after black hats. Unlike white hats, who won’t resort to attacking the black hats, red hats aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty. To defend users against black hats, white hats find and fix vulnerabilities, develop tools to detect and mitigate cyber attacks, enhance the security of applications and systems, and create security software instead.

Red Hat Hackers versus Grey Hat Hackers

Grey hats typically charge users to fix bugs, strengthen their security defenses, and provide vulnerability patches. In a sense, that’s their primary difference from red hats, who don’t usually get paid for what they do. Both may be after fame, though. A lot of grey hats, for instance, release the vulnerability patches they create to the public but only if the affected vendors don’t pay them for their findings. Instead of money, therefore, they gain popularity, which helps them further their cybersecurity careers. Red hats gain fame when they’re recognized for taking down bad guys.

Red Hat Hackers versus Blue Hat Hackers

Unlike red hats, blue hats come in two kinds—revenge seekers and external security professionals. Revenge seekers, as the name suggests, want payback for a sleight their victims made. External security pros, meanwhile, are outsiders that companies invite to test their soon-to-be-released software or hardware products for bugs. Some get invited to launch attacks on the organization’s network without causing any damage. Red hats don’t need anything from the bad guys, nor do they get invited by companies to test their wares, systems, and applications against possible attacks.

Red Hat Hackers versus Green Hat Hackers

Green hats are hacking newbies. They have much to learn about hacking processes, tools, and what-not. Compared to green hats, red hats already know pretty much everything there is to know about hacking.

Tools and Tactics Red Hat Hackers Use

Since red hats often hack black hats back, they use the same tools and tactics that black hats do, including:

What Are the Characteristics of a Red Hat Hacker?

Red hat hackers have unique characteristics that set them apart from other hackers. For one, they are more aggressive. They aren’t satisfied until they hunt down malicious actors, disable their systems, disrupt their operations, and expose their identities. 

Red hat hackers are also secretive, typically operating under complete anonymity since they need to evade detection by cybercriminals and law enforcement.

Another characteristic of red hat hackers is their clear understanding of right and wrong. They are driven by a strong sense of justice and a desire to punish cybercriminals. They are also risk-takers willing to put themselves in danger to achieve their goal. To sum up, some of the unique characteristics of red hat hackers are:

  • Aggressive
  • Secretive
  • Have a strong moral compass
  • Risk-takers

What Do Red Hat Hackers Do?

Given the distinguishing characteristics of red hats as opposed to the other five types of hackers, we can sum up what they do as the following:

  • Red hats fight off attacks that black hats launch.
  • Red hats work with white hats to thwart cyber attacks.
  • Red hats don’t get paid for working against the bad guys like grey hats do but they may be in it for the fame.
  • Red hats don’t seek revenge nor rewards for what they do like blue hats do.
  • Red hats are very tech-savvy unlike green hats who are newbies.

And given the tools and tactics that red hat hackers often use, we can say that they would do anything to protect the world from threats—even fight fire with fire.

Who Is an Example of a Red Hat Hacker?

As mentioned above, red hat hackers are secretive, making their identities difficult to pinpoint. However, there are groups whose activities are associated with red hat hacking. One of them is Anonymous, a decentralized hacktivist group that often targets governments, corporations, and organizations they believe are acting unethically. They’ve exposed data leaks, launched DDoS attacks, and defaced websites in pursuit of their goals.

This post defined what red hat hackers are, compared them with the other five hacker types (i.e., black, white, grey, blue, and green hats), and identified the tools and tactics they often use to hack black hats back. Simply put, red hats are the vigilantes in cyberspace.

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