Who are the real white hat hackers?

Hackers have showed time in and time out their proven capabilities to accessing and uncovering unauthorised data. Some do this autonomously whilst others operate in networks. One of the more well-known, sophisticated hacking networks is Anonymous, a collective who consider themselves “the final boss of the Internet”. They are the digital resistance who disguise their identity with vendetta masks and have the power to broadcast messages, shutdown websites and leak details (Mitew 2014).

(Source: Thompson 2011, Guy Fawkes mask inspires Occupy protests around the world, accessed: 9/10/2014, http://edition.cnn.com/2011/11/04/world/europe/guy-fawkes-mask/)

Whilst some describe them as gray hat hacktivists, black hat hackers or even refer to them as a hacker ‘terrorist’ group, Anonymous have actually put their skills to good use to uncover vital information for the greater good of society. In 2011, Anonymous leaked emails as a way to expose corrupt practices occurring within the Bank of America and in the same year begun Operation DarkNet, which saw the group take down child pornography run by Tor software. Although in doing so, they did violate computer security by carrying out key hacker ethics (Mitew 2014) of sharing, no secrets, information freedom and no authority, would you consider these malicious attacks or hacktivism?

Malicious attacks or not, the term ‘hacker’ doesn’t have to insinuate illicit behaviour. There are hackers who operate purely to secure networks and databases of businesses and governments (Boyd 2014). These types of hackers are called white hat hackers, as they typically possess ethical traits and motives. Wenzl (2014) explains there’s a demand for these types of hackers as business and corporate increasingly go digital. However, Boulton (2014) reveals that there’s a lack of white hat’s with “cybersecurity talent that can apply the appropriate defence techniques without hampering the business’s ability to operate”. Just last year, an influential popular white hat hacker, Barnaby Jack past away. He’s remembered for his demonstration at the Black Hat awards in 2010 where he used a laptop to make money spurt out of an ATM. Whilst white hat hackers can be expensive for a business, they are nonetheless crucial to protect company and customer data (Boulton 2014).

hacker hats
(Source: ExamCollection 2013, Certified Ethical Hackers, or Welcome to the Light Side, accessed: 9/10/2014, http://www.examcollection.com/blog/tag/white-hat-hackers/)

Of course, white hat’s have a duty to warn about security vulnerabilities and engage in vigorous testing to solve system faults before black hat hackers uncover them, but what about white hat employees who may be protecting business flaws or secrets? Just how ethical are they? Are they still white hat’s and Anonymous really black hat’s, even though Anonymous were the hacktivist’s responsible for providing truth and bringing attention to those who’ve done wrong?

Learn about more hacktivist displays from Anonymous here.

Mitew, T 2014, Digital resistance: hacktivists, whistleblowers, #AfterSnowden, lecture, DIGC202, Global Networks, University of Wollongong, delivered 7 October.


13 thoughts on “Who are the real white hat hackers?

  1. Nice take on this week’s topic. Great example of grey/black/white hat hackers. I found it very interesting to read. The ethics of hacking are a hot topic in today’s digital society. Some hackers claim their role is to highlight security flaws and challenge authority. Unethical or ethical? Hero or criminal? The following articles explores the myth of the ‘ethical hacker’ –

  2. I think the white hat hackers failed to help those celebrity’s who have have their private photos leaked recently. None the less, an informative post with clear white and black hat definitions. Thanks for a good read.

  3. I think white and black hackers are good just in a different way. White hackers are known as protecting the information and secrets from business whereas the black hackers leaking and the information and secrets or bank records and so but this does not mean that the black hackers are wrong. They could be right doing for the public or society if the government is corrupted and this is when the black hackers are good for. There’s one example that the Anonymous of Pakistan hacked government records and websites for sake of human rights. The hackers actually attacked over two dozen government websites and used social media as protest and sent out message as a warning for the government. Here’s the link http://www.dawn.com/news/1129212

  4. Unique approach to this weeks topic, i’v actually never heard of these kind of hackers. I find it interesting that so many people are pro hacking if done for a positive purpose, but this is a good example to back that up.
    Just a thought, it would have been interesting if you could have used one of this weeks sources in your text. Perhaps you could have compared Wikileaks to the black hat hackers and shown how different/similar they are? Thanks for an interesting read.

  5. I like your take on this week’s topic, the world of hacking is quite elusive, really. You provide good examples to illustrate your points, and I enjoyed all the questions you pose, it’s a good way to get your audience seriously thinking about where they stand on the issues. Very well-written!

  6. The ‘hats’ idea is an interesting way of looking at hackers.

    Although there is a grey area, it’s hard to classify each group into these colours. For example, 4Chan’s Anonymous has done some terrible stuff as well as some positive stuff. To classify them as Grey may be unsuitable as the group is so large that it could be completely different people. Congruently, a the ethics or reasons as to why the hackers do things is also not a reason to class them under a hat, they may have very socially ethical ideas but very questionable means of meeting them.

  7. I agree with others that you’ve applied an interesting approach for this week’s topic. There are certainly different types of hackers which can either fall under the black or white hat category. Although they seem widely different, both of these types have potential for positive impact. It just depends on how they implement their information. Also, great use of links and source material throughout the post.

  8. While your article is well written and expands upon the questions of morality in hacktivism, a few of your facts need to be revised. The masks that anonymous use are in fact Guy Fawkes mask made famous by the graphic novel “V for Vendetta”. Also, tor isn’t a website but a specific piece of software which creates a proxy server which the user can then use to access the deep web. Apart from these, you’ve met the content of the lecture really well and I look forward to reading more from you.

  9. It seems as though these days many people are being affected by hacktivism. Recently celebrities like Kate Upton and Jennifer Lawrence have been hacked. A hacker has hacked into the celebrities iCloud accounts and released nude photos of the famous actresses. It is unfortunate that someone would do this upon their will. However, it seems as though nearly every famous celebrity these days has been hacked or will be hacked.

    I am not a hacker and have no desire to be. But I wonder how easy it would be to actually hack one’s iCloud account. Check out this website for how “easy” it is to actually hack someone’s account: http://www.theguardian.com/world/blog/2014/sep/03/after-nude-celebrity-photos-i-tried-to-hack-my-colleagues-apple-icloud-account

  10. Interesting perspective on this week’s topic. I hadn’t heard of the white hat and black hat hackers before, thanks for providing an in-depth analysis on this topic. It’s very interesting the question you pose in your conclusion regarding if it applies in the same sense to not only hackers, but employees too. It really does come down to the ethics of the hackers and should be about the freedom of information but without compromising the privacy of individuals.

  11. The imagery of the black and white hats reminded me of another example of an elite group who have the potential to use their power for good or evil. Wizards! Where evil hackers choose to abuse their powers of magic, good hackers use their power for good, often needing to hide their power from muggles, who they ultimately seek to protect. Whether all wizards are exiled in the end by muggles remains to be seen.

  12. I’m glad that i had stumbled upon your blog as i had not heard about the white and black hat connotations to the hacking. This i found very insightful. What else i enjoyed was that you bought about that there is points of good to hacking, as many of always see it as a negative connotation.

  13. Nice take on the topic, to see it narrowed down to white/black. Complete binary opposites, goodies and baddies, on an ethical issue that is so complex that it is essentially one big grey area.

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