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A black hat hacker is a person who attempts to find computer security vulnerabilities and exploit them for personal financial gain or other malicious reasons. This differs from white hat hackers, which are security specialists employed to use hacking methods to find security flaws that black hat hackers may exploit.
Black hat hackers can inflict major damage on both individual computer users and large organizations by stealing personal financial information, compromising the security of major systems, or shutting down or altering the function of websites and networks.
The term "black hat hacker" is derived from old Western movies, in which the good guys wore white hats and the bad guys wore black hats.
Black hat hackers can range from teenage amateurs who spread computer viruses to networks of criminals who steal credit card numbers and other financial information. Black hat hacker activities include planting keystroke-monitoring programs to steal data and launching attacks to disable access to websites. Malicious hackers sometimes employ non-computer methods to obtain data, for example, calling and assuming an identity in order to get a user's password.
Black hat hackers have their own conventions, of which two of the more prominent are DEFCON and BlackHat. Black hat conventions are often attended by security professionals and academics who want to learn from black hat hackers. Law enforcement officials also attend these conventions, sometimes even making use of them to apprehend a black hat hacker, as occurred in 2001 when a Russian programmer was arrested the day after DEFCON for writing software that decrypted an Adobe e-book format.