The big bad evil hacker has been the general perception of all hackers over the past few years.
They are the people who will steal your information, share stolen intimate photos of celebrities or deliberately break your site for a slight against them. Each hides behind a screen name, pasty from a lack of sunlight and always hunched over a keyboard frantically typing in their parent’s basement.
This is what the media would want you to think, but we have seen this this is not always the case, in fact some hackers have been hacking for good.
Take anonymous, the hacking group that has polarized opinion through their actions over the last 5 years, but seem to have conducted attacks based on moral conscience rather than personal profit.
For example, they have been against homophobia across the world and some of their attacks have targeted groups who have been preaching hate towards homosexuals. This includes a denial of service attack on the Westboro Baptist Church who were planning on picketing victims of the Sandy Hook shooting massacre with anti-gay slogans and taking over the Ugandan Prime Minister’s site after he was considering making homosexuality a crime punishable by death.
They were also responsible for helping citizens during the Arab Spring protests, by attacking certain government websites and helping to share ways for people to use their web browsers without governments being able to track their actions. In March 2015 they even declared war on ISIS, by publishing the Twitter accounts of 9,200 supporters, hacking and taking down their sites and attempting to disrupt the popularity they seem to have gained through social media.
However, away from the work they have done to attempt to rid the world of hate, they have also been doing things closer to home that have helped companies to increase their security.
A prime example of this is United Airlines, who are now offering air miles as a reward for hackers who find faults within their systems. It is presently limited to their non-aeronautical systems though and the company has said that anybody who is found to be scanning any equipment or systems used on their planes or servers will be reported to the police.
They are not the first company to do this though, with several examples of hackers who have been brought into a company based on their illegal exploits.
- Chris Putman, who used an XSS based worm programme to change Facebook profiles to look like Myspace pages, before dropping out of college and getting a job at Facebook.
- Kevin Poulsen, who was jailed for 5 years after hacking FBI computers only to come out and is now a senior editor at Wired.
- Johnny Chung, who hacked a Nintendo Wilmote in 2008 only to be hired by Microsoft in helping to develop the Kinect.
- Peter Hajas, who created the infamous Jailbreak iPhone app MobileNotifier only to be hired by Apple on the back of its success.
- Jeff Moss, who ran several hacker conferences and message boards before becoming Chief Security Officer at ICANN.
In fact according to the Guardian, 1 in 4 hackers is now employed by the US government either in an official or informer role, which shows the kind of use that their skill set has.
Although many of the companies who are affected by hacks will certainly not agree and are almost certainly against bringing hackers in-house, the truth is that it has a significant benefit.
One of the main positives that this will have is that whilst still gainfully employed, hackers will generally still have an interest in the world they previously inhabited. It means that they will be staying up-to-date with new techniques, how other company’s have had their systems breached and why specific companies are being targeted.
Through this information, the safety and security of these systems becomes greater as potential threats can be fixed and it will become clear if the company could potentially become a target for hacks in the future.
It is certainly a controversial move, but one that could have significant benefits to the companies who are willing to take the risk. It is often the people who start off on the wrong side who can bring the most information about your weaknesses. It is the reason why so many security alarm consultants were at one time burglars. They know the techniques used to get through security systems and are therefore best placed to know how to stop these breaches occurring in future.