Nortel Webinar Sept 20
Stay Current


Why Black-Hat Hackers Become White-Hat Heroes

More than a few break-in specialists have switched sides to use their skills for the good of the IT community.

John Edwards on September 11, 2007

Hackers are often painted negatively with a single, broad brushstroke. But there are bad hackers, "black hats" who write malware and do other evil things, and kinder, gentler "white hats" who work hard to prevent or undo damage caused by their dark hacker counterparts.

           Related Articles:

Not all white-hat hackers are former black hatters, since many good hackers have never dabbled in the evil arts. Yet more than a few black hats have switched over to the other side and are now using their skills for the good of the IT community and people worldwide.

So what motivates a black hatter to swap his or her headgear for a style in a lighter hue? Conscience? Glory? A steady paycheck? Actually, it's all of these things and more. Here's a rundown of the prime motivations:

Money. Truth be told, there's just not that much money in being a black-hat hacker. Everybody has heard stories about the guy who has figured out a way to secretly drain enterprise coffers into his offshore bank account or who was hired at a princely sum to supply code to an international crime syndicate. But that's mostly movie stuff; the majority of black hats operate at a financial loss since they spend tons of money on advanced hardware while their hacking efforts yield no appreciable income. Over the long run, it's far better to work as a white-hat hacker or a security consultant for a business and get a paycheck every week.

Exhaustion. Life as a black-hat hacker is kind of like working as a dogfight organizer or a drug dealer — your low-life peers might think you're pretty cool, but most people feel you're pretty disgusting. Then there's the threat of fines and prison sentences if you get caught at your dirty work. Black-hat hacking has a way of wearing people down.

Glory. There's a lot to be said for receiving praise. It's kind of like finding and returning a lost wallet. Many hackers discover that they would rather be lauded for alerting the IT community to a software or system vulnerability rather than exploit the weakness. If you publicly brag about playing with a newly discovered soft spot, you're likely to receive a visit from people with badges and guns. Over the long run, a pat on the head is always more fun than a kick in the pants.

Conscience. Anyone with even a shred of morality will eventually turn away from black-hat hacking. After all, it takes a pretty sick individual to get a constant thrill out of wrecking other people's work, stealing money and causing various types of digital mayhem.

Age. Are there any 50-year-old black-hat hackers? Maybe, but it seems like most of the people who get caught at doing things like creating malware, infiltrating networks and blowing up servers are far younger. It's similar to the way that most violent criminals are younger than 30. Perhaps being good has something to do with dwindling testosterone levels.

Intelligence. It's not that black-hat hackers are stupid, it's that white hatters are usually smarter than their evil counterparts. After all, anyone can throw a rock through a window, but it takes a skilled expert to craft a repair. Maybe, after learning all they can as black hats, many hackers find they are ready to move into the major leagues — designing sophisticated systems that can foil and repair black-hat attacks.

Related Articles:

Can the Government Really Be Trusted With Your Data

The Definitive Guide to Network Security

Top 5 Internal Security Threats

What Email Hackers Know That You Don’t


All fields are required. Your E-mail will not be published.

IDS RC 160x600 v2