Every now and then, we hear something in the news about hackers taking down sites, exploit a multitude of programs, or threatening to wiggle their way into high-security areas where they shouldn’t belong. Security is a top priority for a handful of individuals and companies, and its thanks to these hackers that such an emphasis may be necessary for their continuous operations. But, if you think about it, what actually constitutes being called a hacker? Are all hackers evil and out to get us?
Not necessarily! Despite the overused negative connotation that hackers are just doing their magic in cyberspace to cause trouble (or, in Hollywood movies, sometimes help the hero out in a master plan), hackers can be good! But before we can figure out what makes good hackers good, we must see what makes bad hackers bad.
Bad hackers are those that, in a nutshell, do what they do with malicious intent. These are the ones that start a DDoS on your site or steal confidential information from the CIA and similar organizations (whenever they’re successful, anyways). Others are simply bored for lack of a better excuse and dig their way into a site, messing up whatever they can. Even if a hacker group is fighting for something that seems right, they often use these malicious strategies and cause havoc. Basically, these hackers do their work across the Internet with brute force attacks, breaking through firewalls, or via hidden nasties like keyloggers. Most of the time their activities are criminal offenses, and as such are labeled black hats.
To make things even more confusing, there are some who fall under the “grey hat” category. These people usually carry good intentions (often aiming for better security), and are willing to commit crimes to achieve their goals. Whether these people should be supported is a decision for each person by being either pro-security or pro-law.
So what makes some hackers good? As one might expect, hackers in general are excellent at spotting bugs and security holes. However, hackers on the good side of the force can do this and then tell the developers about the issues that they discovered so the developers can fix them. This strategy has worked so well for many companies, they are quite literally offering them paid positions to do just that. I’m pretty positive that the US government is a strong employer of good hackers so that bad hackers won’t even have a chance to find their way into the government’s infrastructure. Open source projects ask for the same help so hackers volunteer their time to find issues in the software. These people who are more security experts rather than criminals are sometimes called white hats.
Open Source Projects
Speaking of open source projects, if you ever start getting involved in such a project, don’t be alarmed when they continuously mention hacking. In the open source world, hackers could mean what I’ve described above, but it is also sometimes used as another name for developers. You’ll often find phrases such as “Let the hacking begin!” in mailing lists, IRC chats, and more. In that context they simply mean that they’re ready to start writing code. They sometimes even identify themselves as hackers, much to the confusion of uninformed people.
I’m quite happy that not all hackers are bad, and hopefully you can now see the difference as well. Hacking has a large number of meanings, and many of them are still disputed by those affected today. At least now you don’t have to scowl every time you hear the mention of “hacker”.
What’s your opinion on this matter? Did I leave something important out? Let us know in the comments!