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What is Black Hat?

Mary Elizabeth
Updated May 16, 2024
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White symbolizes goodness and purity in some cultures, while its opposite, black, stands for evil. In the United States, this symbolism was taken up in the genre of television and movies called the Western. In these shows, the costuming may often help viewers readily identify the hero and the villain by giving the former a white hat and the latter a black hat. From this association came the terms “white hat” for orthodox, respectable, and legitimate practice, or practice in the service or good and “black hat” for practices that violate norms and guidelines or that are exercised maliciously.

Being a reference to the good guys, white hat had a lot more currency for a long time. Recently, however, black hat has seen a rise in usage as it has come to refer to two types of people: one in the realm of search engine optimization (SEO); the other in the area of computer security. In the world of SEO, there are certain practices that were devised to purposely interfere with and subvert a search engine’s ability to rate articles as they were designed to. Such practices include title tag stuffing and stacking, cloaking, spamdexing, link farms, free for alls (FFAs), and link schemes—in short, any practice or technique aimed not at addressing the viewer, but at affecting the search engines’ evaluation of the page’s value and manipulating the page’s search engine ranking.

In the realm of computer security, black hat hackers or crackers penetrate computer systems and networks without authorization to do so. Although the motivation differs—black hat hackers may break into systems with the intent to inflict damage, just because they can, or on behalf of some cause, whether political or social—the end result is usually something destructive. Black hat hackers may steal data, destroy files, publish the vulnerability publicly or to other hackers without warning the system administrator. They may also unleash various computer plagues, including spam, viruses, and worms or remove copy protection.

Black hat operations are contrasted not only with white hat, but also with grey hat. Grey hat refers to a hacker who does not fall cleanly into the black hat or white hat categories. A grey hat may, for example, violate a system without permission or knowledge of the owner—a black hat practice—but either do no damage or actually patch the security breach—more in the white hat realm. Because their operations are not sanctioned, though, they don’t really fit the white hat moniker.

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Mary Elizabeth
By Mary Elizabeth , Writer
Passionate about reading, writing, and research, Mary Elizabeth is dedicated to correcting misinformation on the Internet. In addition to writing articles on art, literature, and music for EasyTechJunkie, Mary works as a teacher, composer, and author who has written books, study guides, and teaching materials. Mary has also created music composition content for Sibelius Software. She earned her B.A. from University of Chicago's writing program and an M.A. from the University of Vermont.

Discussion Comments

By indigomoth — On Jun 25, 2013

A really interesting example of a gray hat hacker happened fairly recently when someone made a trap for people who were downloading pornographic pictures of children onto their computer. They would download what they thought was a file containing that kind of picture and that would allow the hacker into their computer. If he found illegal materials he would alert the police about it.

Unfortunately, after many cases of helping the police, he broke into the computer of someone in a political office, who was arrested, but after that the hacker was suddenly discouraged from using his program again.

By lluviaporos — On Jun 24, 2013

@pastanaga - It's not so bad. I think most of the time if you write good content then the search engines will recognize that. There's more of a problem in that there are just so very many websites out there, good and bad, that even the best ones find it difficult to compete.

And in some ways there are no real "white hats" when it comes to SEO because almost everyone is trying to sell you something and it's just a matter of how far they are willing to go in order to do it. Every website is going to use key words and other practices similar to black hat techniques, it's just that they also offer decent content to go along with it.

By pastanaga — On Jun 23, 2013

I actually find it kind of annoying that bad SEO practices get the somewhat glamorous name of "black hat" as though they are the bad guys in a spaghetti western and deserve some kind of admiration.

They are really the lowest of the low when it comes to the internet. Black hat SEO is one of the reasons it's so difficult to find decent small or new sites now, because they filled the backwaters of the internet with websites that are nothing more than search engine traps, filled with key words so they can lure you in and either try to sell you something or simply give you a virus.

In response search engines keep having to make it more and more difficult for genuine websites to rise to the top, particularly when they are new and don't have much of a reputation.

It just really annoys me and I wish this wasn't so much of a problem.

Mary Elizabeth

Mary Elizabeth


Passionate about reading, writing, and research, Mary Elizabeth is dedicated to correcting misinformation on the...
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