Professional skills & ethics

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This house believes hacking should be considered a crime only if the hacker actually causes tangible harm

This essay doesn't reflect the personal opinion of the candidates

Nowadays, hacking is dominantly misunderstood either as a performance of illegal action in cybernet or as a very good and special knowledge in personal computers or networks. Terms as black hacking, white hacking, backdoor, denial-of-service, malware, exploit seem to be unknown or confusing for the majority of people. This matter is much more complex than we think, considering that common people don't have the knowledge to judge whether hacking is benefiting them or harming them and by which methods it is done. Before getting down to the point, let's see the three main social views about hacking and legality, in order to set a background to the conversation:

  • ”Hacking is/must be illegal”: this is a very simplistic view of the subject, but it is widely supported by people that aren't keen with technology or they are in a very primary level. The mass media as well as the anti-computer crime European policy put the matter in this way, without justifying how and in which ways hacking is harming the society. They influence the opinion of the public and in combination with the lack of knowledge in what is hacking and how it is used, it makes sense why this view happens to be major but unrealistic (hackers that are working in companies, organizations, even at the government are legal).
  • Many ways of hacking are now illegal, but hacking should be legal at all or most terms”: this opinion is supported by many hacking communities, primary malicious and secondary ethical hackers (not all). They have a social viewpoint, consisted of ideas as share of knowledge, free access to information, privacy protection, harmless hacking. Although that they have perfect knowledge of what is legal and what is not, they are unable to set a realistic and effective point on which terms hacking should be legalized, so that only a harmful hacker could be punished.
  • Hacking is/can be used in legal or illegal terms”: this is the most realistic viewpoint of the current state of things and it is accepted by almost all computer professionals - scientists. Hackers have the knowledge to make harm but they can also prevent from harm or use their skills to make security better. The legalization of hacking has to do with the authority a hacker has to intrude to a system as well as with their intentions and the outcome of their hacks.

According to the last viewpoint, hackers are categorized in three categories:

  • White Hats: They specialize in identifying security weaknesses in computer networks or software and exposing them to the owner, or finding a way to protect the system. A white hat may be authorized to hack the system for the owner. He may be working as a security specialist to the owner, as well. As an internal to the company/organization he uses all types of hacking methods (which are legal), while as an external he uses mostly legal methods for his work. In both ways, they don't intent to harm their target and try to stick to the rules. We'll later return to this category.
  • Black Hats: They are the bad guys” of the story. They permanently work unauthorized, attacking systems in order to modify, delete or steal data. They are illegal, while their motivation differs from fun, profit to politics. A famous black hat hacker is Vladimir Levin, who  used the dial-up transfer service of Citibank (back in 1994) to access plenty of large accounts and transfer their money to bank accounts owned by his partners in several different countries (stole almost 11 million $).
  • Grey Hats: They're somewhere between the two first category. Usually, even if they don't work for profit and have ethic motions they commit some crimes during their hacks. They seldom use their knowledge in black hacking methods without authorization, so they are illegal.

The authorized white hats are also known as security specialists/researchers. They work on payroll or as associates and consultants for companies and organizations. Their usual job is to take tests at the security levels of networks or to check the integrity of computerized systems by using several hacking and social engineering methods, in order to access an area of a secured system or find holes” in a network. They even use black hat techniques and try to find new hacking methods, but the outcome of their work is done for a good cause. Companies hire them to guarantee their reliability and safeguard their data but these people also build and optimize most of the commercial security programs, such as firewalls, antivirus, anti-spam tools, software-database security etc.

White hackers are also used to track the malicious ones. FBI recruits white hackers and along with agents and computer forensics compile the so called Cyber Action Teams (CATs). These teams use hacking techniques to track down and gather evidence of emerging threats that helps FBI to identify the cyber crimes that are most hazardous to America's security and economy. In a case of a worm that stealing credit card numbers, CATs analyzed the code, and gathered information as IP addresses, mail addresses, names and info linked to these mails etc. More, the American National Security Agency (NSA) offers degrees & certifications such as the CNS 4011, which covers professional and principled hacking techniques and team management. These certifications are supported by security companies, as Cisco Networks.

So, grey hats and black hats commit crimes and indeed they are illegal. White hats which are authorized are 100% legal. But what happens with the ethic/white hackers that work on their own as free spirits”? An recent example of unauthorized white hacking is that more than 200 Facebook groups were hijacked in one day, by a team of white hats called Control Your Info”. They found a hole in the administration of dumped community groups and but themselves in control. They didn't access any confidential information and made this action to signify the lack of security to the company. In addition, companies and security communities organize contests for hacking/cracking/de-bugging specific products, such as phones, programs, networks, browsers. These contests are open mainly to white hat hackers and security specialists. So, in one or another way companies recognize the free spirit's” role as beneficial to them.

In conclusion, hacking is considered a crime as long as it causes harm, to companies to the state, even to individual persons. On the other hand, hacking can have a positive role, when it's used for safety, de-bugging or optimization so it must be considered legal, even if the methods and tactics of hacking frequently are the same in both occasions.

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