Wannabe Wired: It Takes a Hacker to Defeat a Hacker | Columnists


A hooded figure sits in a dark room, the face is illuminated by the chromatic glow of several computer monitors. Your fingers move across the keyboard in rhythmic, hypnotic movements. A series of incomprehensible numbers and symbols cross the screen faster and faster, until they finally disappear and are replaced by a single phrase “access granted”.

“I’m with you,” the character says to no one.

This is the hacker. The faceless, untraceable archetype that has been immortalized in movies, video games, and television shows for decades. Sure, the archetype has slowly evolved over the years. Instead of the prototypical “nerds with glasses” that you might have seen in a movie about hackers in the 80s, these days they are mostly young, hip and suffer from a really sexy-sounding neurosis that somehow gives them superhuman hacking abilities.

Real hacks happen in much less cinematic ways. Sometimes they come from something as simple as clicking the wrong email or someone who doesn’t change a default password. The kind of sophisticated cyberattacks you might see on NCIS happen, but usually it’s a collective of hackers working behind the scenes rather than a single lone wolf.

But despite the media coverage, hacking does not always have a negative connotation. In the late 1950s, hacking was a term developed at MIT to refer to an extraordinary method of solving a technological problem.

Like so many practices, hacking is a neutral act that can be used for good or bad. And there are a lot of good hackers out there. Ethical hackers, also known as “white hats,” are cybersecurity experts who use their skills to search for holes or flaws in the security system of a company or government agency.

White hats launch cyberattacks to uncover these bugs and then develop solutions to fix them, essentially using their knowledge of hacking to prevent potential malicious hackers, also known as black hats, from trying to find these bugs to take advantage of.

Black hats are the “bad guys” of the hacking world. These are the ones who use their knowledge to exploit mistakes for nefarious purposes, often to make money.

Ethical hacking is even taught in many universities and the demand for these cybersecurity guards is increasing. Hacking is one of those situations where fighting fire with fire actually works.

Of course, there are always those who want to complicate any kind of binary system. In this case, it’s the Gray Hats. Gray Hat hackers are the antiheroes of the hacking world, not tied to any company or government agency, they often work outside of the law to bring down white collar criminals. They will also work to uncover vulnerabilities in corporate security systems and offer to fix them for a fee.

While the world of hacking may not be as fancy or glamorous as it’s portrayed in the media, that doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. Fortunately, we have white hats out there trying to make the internet a safer place for everyone.


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