Hackers, Cybercriminals and Identity Thieves: What is the Difference?


Hackers leverage their technical computer skills to violate cybersecurity protection. Some good hackers use their skills for the betterment of online security systems. Bad hackers infiltrate online security systems for personal benefit. Cybercriminals use their computer networking skills to intrude into network systems.

They steal sensitive information for profit generation from ransoms or the sale of data. Identity thieves steal personal data and use it to perform fraud. These are terms that often confuse people but they mean entirely different things.

What do hackers do?

The focus of a hacker is to get information from computer systems without permission. They use hacking malware to gain access to systems without consent from owners. A lot of business email compromise attacks are caused by hackers. Hackers are classified into two main categories:

  • Ethical hackers: These are termed ‘good’ hackers because they intend to improve the strength of security systems. The hacker does his work with full knowledge of the system owner. They could be employed by the organization or hired as cybersecurity consultants. They perform multiple tests using different applications to test system weaknesses and vulnerabilities.
  • Unethical hackers: Unethical hackers are also known as Black Hat hackers. They infiltrate computer systems just like ethical hackers. The only difference is that they are not authorized and do so maliciously. They seek to cause disruptions in official websites and communication in organizations.

There are other sub-types of hackers classified according to their intentions:

  • White Hat Hackers: They are professional cybersecurity experts authorized to access systems and identify loopholes to seal them.
  • Black Hat Hackers: They are well-skilled in cybersecurity but access computer systems without authority. They can destroy the system or steal data.
  • Gray Hat Hackers: They have divided intentions which can either be good or bad. They fall in between White Hat and Black Hat hackers.
  • Green Hat Hackers: They hack computer systems intending to learn the skills of hacking.
  • Blue Hat Hackers: Their intention is not to learn but to seek popularity.
  • Red Hat Hackers: They are ruthless in their work and seek to ruthlessly stop Black Hats. They search for the latest online scams, get their sources and deal with the hackers.
  • Government-Sponsored Hackers: These hackers are hired by governments to hack the websites of other governments. They hack information that can be used for intelligence.

A report by WIRED shows the digital hacks by Russia against Ukraine were one of the worst hacks in 2022. The hack caused massive blackouts, and the country lost a lot of data. Ukraine mounted resistance and carried out massive hacks into Russia’s computer networks. Another major hack in 2022 was the Department of Justice in California. The most affected were accounts of people who had signed California Concealed Carry Permits.

How are cybercriminals different from hackers?

Cybercriminals differ from hackers in different ways. They are people who commit varying types of online crimes. They aim to disrupt computer systems, cause damage, or infect them with viruses. Some seek to influence the systems, steal information, and extort or steal money.

Sometimes they seek to install an application in a system so that they can keep spying on the system 24/7. Surfshark, ConnectWise, and NCSI conducted independent studies between 2020 and 2022. Their reports show these key cybercrime points. Malware attacks in 2020 rose by 358% from 2019 figures. Cyberattacks in the world in 2021 rose by 125%.

The commonest cybercrime in 2021 was phishing which affected 323,972 users. Email exposure in the same period affected 1 in every 5 internet users worldwide. The average loss per hour experienced by individuals due to data breaches in 2021 was $2,054.

73% of SMBs agree there must be quick action to prevent cybersecurity issues. Within the first quarter and second quarter of 2022, several countries have suffered serious data breaches due to cybercriminal activities.

  • China recorded a 4,852% increase in total breached accounts
  • Japan recorded a 1,423% increase in total breached accounts
  • South Korea recorded a 1,007% increase in total breached accounts

72% of case study participants confirmed they experienced at least one cyberattack in 2022 against 55% recorded at the same time in 2020. The notable ransomware attacks in the 2020 – 2022 period were:

JBS experienced a major breach by cybercriminals on May 30, 2021. Its operations in the US, Canada, and Australia were disrupted. They had to pay the cybercriminals $11 million ransom to stop further damage. On November 3, 2021, Robinhood experienced a cybercriminal attack.

The US-based company experienced a data breach of 7 million users. These are sources obtained from the BBC. Uber experienced a major attack in September 2022. The attacker stole a password from a contractor. Cybercrime costs have been steadily rising from $3 trillion in 2015 to $10.5 trillion in 2025, according to a report.

How are identity thieves different from hackers and cybercriminals?

Many people use the terms hackers, cybercriminals, and identify thieves interchangeably, but this is inaccurate. Indemnity thieves are interested in stealing personal data. They steal the names of individuals, their date of birth, SSN, or credit card information for illegal gains. An identity thief might use the information to order goods or services, file taxes, and apply for a credit card. They use three main common tactics to obtain data from people and organizations.

  • Asking for information: Identity thieves ask for information from unsuspecting people. They lure them by posting fake job advertisements, lottery winnings, and fake online security alerts. They then ask users to provide their information, such as passwords, SSNs, credit cards, and IDs.
  • Phishing: Email account users receive fake emails that look authentic and are asked to verify their account information. Sometimes they send users fake SMS in a tactic called SMiShing.
  • Wireless hacking: Identity thieves connect with user devices through WIFI networks and other unsecured networks. They install software that they use to steal information.
  • Dumpster diving: This is an old-school tactic where identity thieves get information from papers and cards dumped in garbage cans.


A report by the FTC shows Americans lost $56 billion due to identity theft in 2021. Incidences of identity fraud in 2020 increased by 45%. According to the Identity Theft Resource Center, there were 817 major data compromises in the first six months of 2022. Hackers use their computer knowledge skills to violate cybersecurity protection. Cybercriminals use their computer networking skills to intrude into network systems. Identity thieves steal personal data and use it to perform fraud.

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