KNOW YOUR HACKERS PT.2 - THE WHITE HATS
Hackers are cyberpunk Jedi. Good or bad is defined by intent, and it is frighteningly easy to get locked into one specific path.
This is why there are now three clear labels for hackers: Black Hats, Grey Hats and White Hats. Each one is defined by specific actions and intents...
It is important to know which hacker falls into which category to know the good, the bad and the ugly...
THE WHITE HATS
Ethical hackers. Narcs. Rent-a-hackers. Sneakers. Cybercops. In the information age, White Hat hackers are the people who call themselves the good guys.
White Hats often start out poking around supposedly secure systems, exploring how they work. Many times, this results in the discovery of a security flaw that allows a system to be exploited. Once discovered, a White Hat will then make every effort to notify those responsible for fixing that flaw.
Many White Hats are legitimately employed by security companies, but often (as in the case of Kevin Mitnick and many others) hackers often have run-ins with the law before being offered the opportunity to get paid for their favorite hobby. This can be political revenge (no security company wants to be revealed as inadequate) or misunderstanding of the hacker's intent.
An amazing White Hat story can be found in Joshua Davis' article on Wired.com called Secret Geek A-Team Hacks Back, Defends Worldwide Web (or on Joshua Davis' site called more simply The Hole in the Internet).
In it, Dan Kaminksy, a security consultant, discovers a massive security flaw in the basic structure of the Internet leaving every website in the world vulnerable to security hacks. The story follows how Dan contacts a group of fellow White Hats and work together to protect the worldwide web from misuse.
Sometimes White Hats create amazing technology because of their drive to explore and create. Steve Wozniak helped create Apple Computers by hacking hardware and software together to create his own computer when he didn't have the money to buy one off the shelf. Napster was created by a hacker, and became the model for all peer-to-peer file sharing. The entire basis of the Internet is built on White Hats who create, explore and share their knowledge.
A good example of fictional White Hats include Robert Redford's crew of security experts from 1992's Sneakers.
Like real-life police, White Hats have the potential to abuse their power. The Digital Frontier is a cyberspace wild west, after all. But White Hats prefer to be known as the new sherriffs in town.