How Do Hackers Impact The Online World?

Typically, computer hackers are vilified for accessing computers, damaging machines and stealing data. The overall impression is that hackers are detrimental to everyday computer users, companies, and even nations. To a certain extent, those allegations are correct. However, there are others who feel today’s hackers are an asset to all users. Why would anyone defend hackers when there is so much evidence of wrongdoing in the hacking community?

First, it’s important to define hackers and hacking. The computer industry recognizes three distinct groups of hackers, although it could easily be argued hackers fall somewhere on a continuum rather than into readily identifiable subgroups. To simplify the identification, it’s simpler to divide that continuum into three sections–white hat hackers, gray hat hackers, and black hat hackers. Each group, in their own way, contributes to bettering computer programming for everyone.

HackerShirtHacking is, in effect, simply exploring a program and identifying ways to alter the program to suit the purposes of the hacker. While black hat hackers search for vulnerabilities allowing them to take advantage of a network or information stored on a computer, for example, gray hat hackers are generally seeking some sort of recognition. White hat hackers, on the other hand, work with sites to isolate the same vulnerabilities as a black hat hacker, but they do so to close those loopholes in the programming.

Each group of hackers uses the same skill sets to locate vulnerabilities. The difference is in the way they use their knowledge to exploit or close those vulnerabilities. Hackers have, for years, served as a sort of “canary in the coal mine” for the computer industry. Without hackers, it’s unlikely programming would have advanced as much as it has. With that being said, there is no doubt black hat hackers continue to be a threat to computer users at every level of usage. Thefts of data and money are rampant, and white hat hackers struggle to keep up with their black hat brethren.

So, are hackers good or bad? There is no simple answer to that question, as without hackers pushing programmers to provide better software, advancements would almost certainly have come slower and been less effective. The negative image most consumers have of hackers is unlikely to change, but the fact is that even black hat hackers benefit computer users as their antics force improvements in software and hardware.

If you want more good information on this topic, there’s a great TED talk about how hackers can be quite helpful.  It’s very interesting and goes to show that not all hackers have roots in evil.  Some do very good public works.  They have been dubbed “civic” hackers and come in all forms.  What they really help do is to find vulnerabilities before the bad guys do.

About the Author

Roger Feinstein has grown up with computers his entire life and strives to help others understand what goes on behind the scenes in their PCs. He's been writing tech articles for websites for over 5 years.

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