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The Role Of "White Hat" Hackers In Information Security

2076 words - 9 pages

I. Introduction

"Hacking" is defined as making a modification to something to improve it or to make it do something it was not originally intended to do. A hacker is someone who will seek out security flaws or holes in a computer or telephone system. Media coverage has given the term "hacker" a negative connotation. However, the original usage was complimentary, indicating someone with a high level of technical sophistication, or someone who enjoyed the intellectual challenge of overcoming or circumventing limitations.

"White hat" hackers are individuals who endeavor to identify security weaknesses, and point these weaknesses out to the companies whose systems they have penetrated. This allows the company to patch the holes identified, before "black hat" hackers can find and exploit the same flaws with malicious intent.

There are two types of "white hat" hackers. One group includes individuals who are hired by a company to test their security systems. The other group pursues hacking as an avocation – they are uninvited guests who penetrate security systems for the enjoyment of being able to do it. These uninvited "white hat" hackers will, by definition, leave a message for the system administrator to advise them of the flaws discovered during their visit.

II. Free Spirits

The unpaid "white hat" hackers have a very romantic vision of their role in cyberspace. Hackurity is a web page devoted to "white hat" hacking. Their home page states that, "Hacking is about pushing the envelope, using technology to its full potential, understanding technology rather than simply relying on it. These days, it’s easier than ever to use a computer without being computer literate. Just point and click. Hacking is about going beyond that, about doing things that are not supposed to be possible, about finding new things and exploring. The land is settled from one coast to the next. This is the new frontier. Hackers are the people who do this, who settle the frontiers on the edge of cyberspace."

Hackers with this philosophy adhere to a code of ethics. This code is repeated in a number of places in very similar forms, including the following version, from Steven Levy’s 1984 book, Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution:

Access to computers should be unlimited and total.
All information should be free.
Mistrust authority – promote decentralization.
Hackers should be judged by their hacking, not bogus criteria such as degrees, age, race, or position.
You create art and beauty on a computer.
Computers can change your life for the better.
Other versions of this code of ethics expand on the individual points. They admonish hackers not to damage any system intentionally, to seek knowledge, not malice or revenge. They believe computers promote empowerment, giving freedom to the many, rather than power to the few. Hackers are supposed to share knowledge and be creative.

These self-proclaimed "white hat" hackers are not above acts of mischief, and might well be...

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