Get Inside the Hacker’s Mind: Why They Do What They Do

If you’ve ever watched a Hollywood movie about cybercriminals, you know they possess a certain cool.

Smart, slick, and anti-establishment is how hackers are portrayed. It might be the reason why visits to hacker websites and forums rose by 66% in March 2020. As the world locked down for the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of wannabe cybercriminals were polishing their trade.

The problem is, these nefarious black hat hackers are often successful, and that means huge losses for businesses. In fact, the state of California is the hottest target for cybercriminals. In 2019, California suffered losses of $573 million due to hacking, almost double the losses of the second most hacked state, Florida.

It seems that California is not just the capital of cinema. It’s also the capital of cybercrime.

Like any good superhero film, there are the villains on the one side (black hats), and the heroes on the other. In the case of cybersecurity, the heroes are the white hat hackers. And the only way they can win the battle against the black hats is by understanding how they think and operate.

Let’s look at the typical attributes of a black hat hacker, and how to turn from villain to good guy.

Understanding a Black Hat Hacker

Any black hat hacker starts with a passion and talent for IT (information technology), including programming, networking, visualization, and scripting.

Beyond the technical skills, specific and notable character traits and personality types draw people to hacking and help them succeed.


There’s a general impression that black hat hackers are in it for the money. However, in many cases, that’s not true. More than the financial gain, black hat hackers live for the adrenaline rush of the challenge.

According to a reformed black hat hacker, the most tedious part of hacking is the repetitive work, such as selling credit card numbers for a profit. The satisfaction of a successful hack is what keeps cybercriminals focused on the next challenge (and the next). The thrill of the chase to crack the walls of cybersecurity defense is their ultimate reward.

A Creative Streak

Hacking is a technical game, and it requires a methodical, mathematical mind. At the same time, successful black hat hackers are incredibly creative, with the ability to think outside of the box. 

The process of identifying system vulnerabilities is full of endless opportunities. There is no way to quantify the different ways a cyber attack can occur. It comes down to the hacker’s capability to imagine novel ideas to break through cyber defenses, and more importantly, to enact those ideas in 3D reality on networking systems. This demands a voracious creative streak, and you’ll find it in the best black hat hackers.

The Ability to Systemize

Now, back to science.

In a study of the personalities of hackers, researchers found that the most important trait was the ability to break codes, known as “systemizing.” Systemizing is the ability to understand how systems work, and the aptitude to build systems. In essence, systemizing dictates the rules that drive behavior, as well as computer systems.

It’s true that a hacker must possess a knack for fine details. However, they also need an innate ability to comprehend the bigger picture of complete systems. This explains why hackers often have a broad interest in how things work, beyond a stereotypical obsession with the minutiae of technology.


The bottom line is that—unlike grey hat hacking, where the lines are somewhat blurred—black hat hacking is illegal. A lot of the activities that hackers do, day in and day out, are crimes. These include identity theft, accessing a network without authorization, and robbery. This is no laughing matter; crimes of this severity come with serious prison terms, even 20 years.

In spite of this, black hat hackers continue to chase the thrill, even at the risk of jail time. At a certain level, a black hat hacker has accepted the fact that they are a lawbreaker.

Turning to the Good Side: How to Be a White Hat Hacker

How’s this for irony?

White hat hackers have just about all the traits and skills of black hat hackers. In fact, some of the most successful white hat hackers have been black hat hackers in the past.

But there are differences too. Besides the common traits shared with black hat hackers, white hat hackers have several quirks.

Let’s check out a few of them.

Not Willing to be a Lawbreaker

This is the most important difference between white hat hackers. Despite the fact that they have the skills and ability, they don’t want to turn to the “dark side.” They enjoy the thrill of the chase just like black hat hackers, but they never cross the line.

White hat hackers want to put their talent to honorable use.

Highly Competitive

White hat hackers have an incredibly competitive drive, and that is what makes them so motivated to win against black hat hackers. 

Black hat hackers use their sense of competition in an unhealthy way, hunkering down to beat the system without giving a second thought to anything beyond their own goals. White hat hackers harness their competitive streak in a positive way, and their mission to be smarter, better, and faster than the black hats comes with ample financial reward.


A successful white hat hacker needs much more than programming talent or aptitude for scripting languages. They need the ability to empathize with the way that black hat hackers, developers, and Security Operations teams think. This also means they can step outside themselves and take on the perspective of their opponents.

In this way, they can envision the next steps of a black hat hacker, and stay a step ahead.

The White Hat Awaits

Like every person, black hat and white hat hackers are individuals with their own unique traits. However, in the broader scheme—and beyond Hollywood stereotypes—both types of hackers have some characteristics that may seem unexpected.

Black hat hacking is a crime, but the skills that make a cybercriminal can also make a modern-day hero. The cybersecurity industry is crying out for people who have the talent and ability to become white hat hackers and protect the sensitive data that keeps our world turning— safely and efficiently.

Do you identify with the characteristics described here? Do you want to become the next 

Rami Malek? If the answer is “yes,” then a certification in ethical hacking might be the right path for you.

Find out how you can get in the game with the California State University Long Beach Cybersecurity Professional Certificate Program. CLICK HERE to connect with our advisors.


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