Not all hackers are bad. Why? Simple. It’s because only a hacker can fight (and most likely correct the wrongdoings of) another hacker. But first, what exactly does a hacker do?
Hacking, Not Security Cracking
Hacking has always been associated with a far graver offense in the computer field known as security cracking—a skill, quote-unquote, wherein a programmer, specifically a cracker, easily find traces of weak spots and flaws of a system, network, or software, and eventually use them to their advantage, either for profit or for fame. However, hacking is not just about exploitation of the security failures of any virtual property. While it suffers from a negative connotation, hacking still has its positive nuances. But before going there, let’s take a trip down Information Technology’s memory lane to discover what hacking was before it became a staple in virtual criminology.
Back in the early 60’s, long before the dawn of what we now know as computers, “hack” was closely related to a simple, seemingly practical solution to a problem, regardless of its intellectual value. However, even in the olden times, it was so loosely identified that it can also be defined as any clever prank done, as compared to a reckless yet operational solution in the earlier meaning. Consequently, those doing the tricky type of hacks are called hackers.
Later on, the word “hack” found itself involved in the field of telecommunications. There, it is used to refer to unlawful methods of telecommunicating, like making long-distance calls via a local radar system or interfering with phone lines using PDP-1 computers, the ancestors of PCs which “punches” information. And along with the development of computing did hacking make its own advancements (or in contrast, ethical decline).
Basically, hacking is not just for “fooling around with” computers and amateur or unaware programmers. Its usage even spanned past computing, became a lay man’s term, and settled with being defined as simply a clever approach, like “hack your brain” and “hack your way out.”
Overall, hacking, in terms of computing and technology, is simply enthusiasm towards understanding programs, networks, and other techie stuff. It should never be confined with the negative, security cracking definition.
Donning of “Hats”
During my term as editor in our university paper back in college, I wrote an opinion article going by the same title, hoping that I can at least inform our studentry of the ambiguities in the definition of hacking. One of the most effective distinctions I used was the hackers’ donning of hats. Here’s an excerpt from my opinion article in my university’s publication, “In defense of ‘hackers’“:
Along with IT’s development is the donning of “hats.” “White hats” are, of course, the good guys. Also called “sneakers” and “ethical hackers,” they use their skills to secure computer systems, uncovering flaws through authorized hacking attacks. Even Macintosh, a computer line deemed to be virus-free, has white-hat hackers who test and fix their operating system so that it could be invulnerable to attacks.
On the other hand, “black hats” use their hacking knowledge for unlawful profit, attempting to gain unauthorized access to computer systems; they use their advanced programming skills to perpetrate crimes. Under the fame of black hats are “script kiddies,” who rely on semi-automatic software developed by others without really understanding the software’s functions. No matter what means they use, they aim for the same goal: intrusion.”
“White hats” and “black hats” seem to be the opposite ends of the morality scale. However, hacking knows more colors than just blacks and whites.
Hats of Other Colors
Gray hats, the margin that divides whites and blacks, are skilled hackers that sometimes act legally and sometimes don’t. Despite being skilled in hacking and do either good or otherwise, grey hats maintain secrecy of their identities as they may be confused by or just despise the thought of being branded as either white or black, hence the color choice. They also go by a seemingly undecided collective name-color: Brown hats.
Blue hats, on the other hand, are those who profit from hacking… legally. Like any colored hat hackers, they intrude systems and networks, too. However, they usually form a distinct group which firms and companies consult so as to check for flaws and fix errors in the latter’s virtual properties. They are good guys, in a broad sense. But the truth lies in their being run by monetary gain.
Looking closer at the good guys
Enough about the bad or money-less guys, for the angels of hacking are worth noticing. White hat hackers are the salvation of the depressing hacking culture. Although they thoroughly oppose the abuse of computer systems, they act against black hats using ways familiar to both, but they have different objectives in mind.
White hats maintain hacker culture for they still do break into systems and networks through their flaws. However, in light of making virtually unaware people cognizant, they are given permission to hacking the systems of others, making system owners and software creators aware of possible security flaws of their virtual properties. They are also known as ethical hackers, since they apparently observe a certain moral code in the field of IT, acting against the black hats.
No matter how insulting or depressing hacking culture became for us IT specialists and professionals, I still firmly believe that hacking is just half-bad, for a hack can only be countered by studying it and exposing its activities, meaning only hackers are capable of defeating other hackers. It’s just a matter of taking sides as this definition warfare ensues. So let me ask you: Which side, or color in this case, are you on?