HACKERS, ARE THEY GOOD OR BAD?
It’s a great time to be a hacker. Countries, companies, and individuals are paying top-dollar for bounty jobs to protect their online assets. And though technologists hope hacking will one day be taught in schools everywhere, today, the hacking demographics look a bit more niche. The majority of hackers come from China. Due to population proportion alone, this makes sense. Still, hackers are based in all corners of the earth. Worldwide, over 90% of hackers are males under the age of 35. Most work individually, but entire countries have publicly called for cyber wars as an alternative to traditional embodied warfare. All-in-all, in the 21st century, hackers are responsible for theft, voyeurism, manipulation, but also protection. So are hackers fundamentally good or bad? We wanted to learn more…
There are three basic categories of hackers. “White Hat” and “Black Hat” are similar to old film Westerns - the colors reveal the same “good” and “bad” motives. The third category is a mix, “Gray Hat” hackers. These are people that might violate laws, or act unethically, but do it without intent of hurting other people. A good example is if someone breaks into a secure website simply to exemplify that the vulnerability exists. They aren’t hurting anyone, but the act itself is not legal.
Hackers can be categorized even more. There are Rootkits, Keyloggers, SQLs… wait, we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Rootkits take over the administration or control of your computer. They send a link, disguised as an advertisement or email, which you click on and then they have access to your device. Keyloggers track or log your keystrokes. Usually the intent is to collect bank account or credit card information. Again, these guys are often Black Hats, though law enforcement would need to counter-track keystrokes of criminals’ own computers too. Vulnerability Scanners use malware tools to scan the web for a site or computer that would be easy to target. They typically are looking for small businesses who house data, but don’t have a lot of security. An SQL Injection Attack implants unwarranted and wrong coding into websites, causing confusion. And hackers that work on DDOS or Distributed Denial-of-Service, aim to basically shut down the entire site or system provider. These can be substantial attacks. Back in 2016 a DDOS act brought down DNS, affecting Netflix, Spotify, AirBnB, CNN, and Visa. Lastly, there are Hacktivists. These guys hack to protest or bring attention to social or political causes.
A lot of these subcategories of hackers are easily understood to be “bad”. And illustrations of corruption are endless. Examples like the 2014 Target exploitation where 40 million customers had their credit card information stolen. Or Deep Root Analytics, who held almost 200 million records from The Republican National Committee, was hacked in 2017. The hackers had millions of names, snail mail addresses, birthdays, phone numbers, and political opinions. When this kind of personal information is in the wrong hands, it only amplifies annoying phone calls, or data driven phony campaigns.
These Black Hat hackers are traditionally out for their own money or power. This can be a low-level of entry through stealing an individual’s personal assets, all the way to discovering military tactics or classified information through hacking into entire government agencies. No matter what “level” of hacking, if you or your organization is a victim of the crime, you feel vulnerable and powerless when it happens.
But not all hackers are bad. In fact, a lot of Black Hat hackers switch-sides once they’re discovered. They shut down ISIS’ websites, or bring attention to social causes otherwise unforeseen. Marten Mickos, the CEO of HackerOne voices, “Every day, hackers demonstrate the power of the community by reporting thousands of vulnerabilities to companies and government agencies to make the Internet safer for us all."
Mickos’ company, HackerOne, a brokerage company for hackers, is a platform where companies big and small can hire hackers to find their own security vulnerabilities. The majority of the time, this is what White Hats do - protect the public and private sectors. Google has a team called, Project Zero. Guess what they do? Protect all of our Gmail, photos, and confidential documents from Black Hats and bugs - not insects, the digital kind. Corporations are hiring hackers by the thousands to guard and protect data, information, and the rights for unobstructed enterprise. Governments do too. No longer are young men in armor being shipped off to defend our land and rights. It’s 2021; we have an army of hackers protecting our information, commerce, and entire freedoms. Are these hackers defending our lives considered bad? I think not.
Though we hear about the susceptibilities, burden, and noxious responses to hacking, we need to be exposed to the big picture, to what the world of hacking reflects. Similar to “lay people’s” habits, they aren’t all bad. And as hackers become more diversified demographically, we believe the community will continue to emulate real-world ethics. Some bad and some good. Still, there is one thing we know for sure; good or bad, hackers are here to stay.