Can Hackers Be a Force For Good?

Can Hackers Be a Force For Good?

The way in which we think of hackers is usually shaped by the immediate effects we see after a data breach, an act of sabotage, or a massive DDoS attack. All of these things depict hackers as people who are disruptive to the Internet and everything we are trying to create on it. If you think this way, you are right, for the most part. There are, however, hackers out there who actually do good. And I’m not talking about “hacktivists” like Anonymous and other groups that usually destroy things for causes they perceive as positive. I am talking about hackers that have a net positive effect on the Internet’s ecosystem as a whole. Do they exist? And if so, what motivates them?

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The oldest definition we have of the word “hacker” comes from the 1960s in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It describes a person who is an enthusiast at programming or systems engineering. The negative connotation came with the dawn of the Internet era, when circumventing computer security became something profitable and somewhat easy. Today, this connotation still exists, but we now split hackers into three categories: White hat (doesn’t destroy anything, but rather fixes it), grey hat (does things outside the confines of the law), and black hat (disrupts things for profit or fun). For all intents and purposes, I will be using the modern definition of the word “hacker” and use each category to describe what type of hacker I’m referring to.

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In the middle of July in 2015, United Airlines awarded a million flight miles to two hackers who discovered security flaws in its web system and disclosed them privately to the company. There are many companies that provide rewards to people who, instead of destroying their infrastructures, reveal the problems to the company staff so that they may repair it. The profit motive is perhaps the most powerful one white hat hackers have to do some good and inform private sector and public sector entities of their security flaws. This scheme is known as a “bug bounty” scheme, which is practiced by several entities around the world and provides a strong incentive for hackers to inform them of their security flaws which sometimes is more profitable than selling a hacked database or attempting to profit off of it yourself.

Good hackers aren’t always motivated by money, though. There are people who sometimes spot security flaws and provide a tip to the company owning the database without expecting anything in return. This sort of altruistic white hat hacker does what they do because they are enthusiastic about information security and may want to get on people’s good side so that they may eventually use their recommendation as leverage for employment in information security-related fields.

Until recently, the act of hacking was looked down upon for the destruction it caused. Slowly, many companies are starting to realize that hackers can actually be an asset driven by profit. The market itself is, in its own way, creating its own way of dealing with hackers that does not involve jail sentences or heavy fines in a way in which the hackers, customers, and the corporate world they both participate in all stand to benefit. This doesn’t mean that hackers are suddenly going to be driven to more positive and productive pursuits. Black hat hacking will always exist. However, it appears that we are starting to enter an era in which we can all cooperate towards a common goal, which is the hardening of security in both the corporate and government spaces.

What do you think? Can the battle against hackers be won by hackers themselves with the bug bounty scheme? Tell us in a comment!

2 comments

  1. Sadly, I believe that some of the things in this article are untrue. If it wasn’t for computer hackers, we wouldn’t have a lot of the computer things that we have today. To me, the definition of a hacker is someone who hacks at something and makes it do things that it was not intended to do. We have been doing this with lots of things, not just computers, forever. Hackers should be called inventors, because they often times invent new things, based upon the shoulders of something that was built before.

    There was and probably still is a computer term called “crackers.” Crackers are the ones who break into software, originally to break copy protection, often due to the high cost of software. Many of us would not be in the IT profession if it wasn’t for these software pirates. Now a days crackers not only crack commercial software, but they crack wide open the cracks in security in the Internet. This used to be for bragging rights within the hacker/cracker community, but today it is mostly for money. It seems that capitalism has taken over in every aspect of our lives worldwide, and the greediest of us are making a killing on the backs of everyone who is foolish enough to fall for their schemes.

    We need these hackers, and crackers, both good and bad, for they create much innovation in the world, not just in computers, but lots of other things as well.

    • RocRizzo is right, hacking is the way to improve and invent things.

      I’m more frightened to some government agencies and corporations for the use and abuse they give of our personal information, than to hackers. They are disclosing it to 3rd parties, spying us, and making social profiles about us, and yes, for money, what else?

      Most of we permit this situation clicking on the accept button without even reading the privacy policy, have we another option if we want/need to use that hotspot software/service that is used by all the people? We mustn’t use it, we should look for an open source alternative, commonly more efficient and better.

      Most of we never look if the web-form that we are filling with our personal information is encrypted, or ever look if the certificate is valid. We shouldn’t fill it and claim to the agency or company to solve this HUGE error asap.

      Some of the real bad guys use social sites for identity steal, kidnap kids and who knows what else, but take it easy, there’s no need to be so extreme, in websites, smart phone applications and multimedia sites our childs are exposed to an invasive scheme of advertisment, many times even not adequate for the age they have, and other cheating websites that offer services they never going to serve are luring the innocents gathering personal information to sell it to the best bidder, just with this we should think better what we “need”.

      Maybe there are bad Hackers as in any profession, there’s no doubt, but commonly they expose things that the government and corporations needs to keep hidden in order to continue increasing its profits or mass control, that’s is… and they are whom fill it’s mouth saying hacking is bad. this turn me sick.

      Who’s the real offender?
      Who’s taking care of you?
      Can we be so blind?

      be smart! see you.

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