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A gray hat hacker (also spelled grey hat hacker) is someone who may violate ethical standards or principles, but without the malicious intent ascribed to black hat hackers. Gray hat hackers may engage in practices that seem less than completely above board, but are often operating for the common good. Gray hat hackers represent the middle ground between white hat hackers, who operate on behalf of those maintaining secure systems, and black hat hackers who act maliciously to exploit vulnerabilities in systems.
Many people see the world of IT security as a black-and-white world. However, gray hat hacking does play a role in the security environment. One of the most common examples given of a gray hat hacker is someone who exploits a security vulnerability in order to spread public awareness that the vulnerability exists. In this case, experts might say that the difference between a white hat hacker and a gray hat hacker is that the gray hat hacker exploits the vulnerability publicly, which allows other black hat hackers to take advantage of it. By contrast, a white hat hacker may do it privately in order to alert the company, without making the results public.