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Are Hackers Good or Bad?
By: Brett Moneta
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I’ve always been intrigued by hackers. Maybe I’ve seen one too many movies — from Hackers and The Net to Gamer and Tron: Legacy. But what can I say? They’re fun escapism. And in virtually every one of them, a hacker plays a good guy. So naturally, I‘ve assumed most hackers have noble motives.

Let’s take a look. First, hackers can generally fit into three basic categories:

Legal (called “white hats” or “blue hats”): These are the guys that test the networks of major companies to see if they can get past their security defenses. They make sure their companies aren’t vulnerable to attacks from the bad hackers.

Illegal (“black hats”): These guys range from young ne’er do-wells looking for serial numbers to their favorite computer games to full-on international criminals who make a living by breaking in to systems without permission. They can steal money or information.

Ideological (“Hacktivists”): These guys are an interesting group. Groups like LulzSec and Anonymous claim to have specific beliefs, usually about information or privacy. You could also lump governments into this group.

While hackers can cross all of these lines, this last group gets the most attention, and probably because of the grey area they inhabit. LulzSec and Anonymous are two groups that are generally more famous.

Lulz Security is/was a hacking organization consisting of around 60 people who hacked PBS, Sony PlayStation, and the Arizona Department of Public Safety. The latter, they claim, they hit because they were against Arizona’s law targeting illegal immigrants. Sony, however, they hacked to show us not to trust our information to companies that are easily hacked. “Why do you put such faith in a company that allows itself to become open to these simple attacks?” they asked. Now we’re talking about those shades of grey.

Following in Lulz’s footsteps came “Anonymous.” This group claimed to be a protector of the Internet — in other words, anyone who tries to censor or control the Web was on their hit list. This opened up a lot of people to possible hacking. And frankly, it started to scare a lot of people.

But recently, the group has taken a completely different turn. It’s a dangerous one, but it certainly suggests they’re the good guys.

First, they created an update of a program called “Tor” that is used for anonymous web surfing. Tor was also being used by unscrupulous people like pedophiles exchanging child porn. No cool, said Anonymous. It should only be used for the war against Al-Qaeda — oh, and free speech. So they set up a sting and captured the names of almost 200 of these individuals, then published them.

Most recently, they’ve taken on a much bigger and meaner fish: the Mexican drug cartels. Groups like the Zetas are the real life incarnation of the mafia portrayed in the Godfather. Except for the rules. They kill you, your family, and your friends if you cross them.

Essentially, one of their own, a hacker named Barrett Brown, was kidnapped by the Zetas and Anonymous is striking back.

It takes hacking to a whole new level of danger — one that you have to admire. So maybe hackers aren’t so bad after all.

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About the Author
Brett Moneta has been playing in the digital world since 1996. He’s worked for companies like AOL, Avenue A | Razorfish, and Omnicom, developing content strategy and consulting on usability for companies in IT, consumer electronics, retail, healthcare, energy, and more. You can follow his tweets and read his blog too. Find him online here.
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