With the number of cyber crimes climbing every day, and the costs of each cyberattack higher than the last, the word “hacker” has come to carry a very negative connotation. Business owners who are afraid of litigation cringe when they hear the word. Private individuals who are worried their identities will be stolen—or who have already had their identities stolen before—get sick to their stomach at the thought.
While it’s true that cybercrime damages everyone involved, there are at least a few ways cybersecurity can benefit from the existence of hackers. That’s not to say that there is anything good or proper about stealing people’s data; however, there are at least a few silver linings to the cloud that is cybercrime.
Exposes vulnerabilities that need to be shored up
Let’s make one thing clear from the start: when a company is hit by a cyber attack, it’s awful for them. It throws their entire company into disarray, often corrupting entire databases or even throwing the company’s continued use of a digital business platform into question. But when a cyber attack hits, particularly when it strikes a company that’s in the public eye, the event presents cyber security professionals with a valuable opportunity.
When cyber criminals finally make a move on a company, they show their hand. The event boosts public awareness, often leading other companies to increase their own cyber security issues. Meanwhile, cyber security professionals are able to take a look at the pathways the hackers used to enter the victim’s network. With the vulnerabilities exposed, they can work to close those vulnerabilities, removing them as a potential entry point and improving security for everyone else. Much like the way the human body responds to an infection, the cyber security community produces defenses to prevent similar infections in the future.
This is one of the reasons it’s so important for businesses to keep their security software updated regularly. As security firms find ways to defend against new types of attacks, they will release patches and updates to their security products. When businesses update their security software, they benefit from the new protections.
“White hat” hackers
While most people picture all hackers as criminals in dark rooms doing whatever they can to break into company networks and steal data, not all hackers are actually criminals. Sometimes, organizations will actually hire a hacker that they have vetted ahead of time. These “white hat” hackers will attempt to break into the company’s network in order to find vulnerabilities before less scrupulous hackers find and exploit them. They point these vulnerabilities out to the companies that hired them, and the organization goes to work fixing those vulnerabilities. By having someone they trust try to break in, companies can find the gaps in their security without risking any actual data loss. While these white hat hackers use the same methods as those of the black hat variety, the motives of the two groups are very different.
Huge companies like Google, Facebook, and even Microsoft offer “bug bounties,” large rewards to be paid to hackers who find serious vulnerabilities in their software platforms. With these vulnerabilities brought to light, the companies can then focus their data loss prevention efforts into shoring up their software’s defenses before cyber criminals are able to exploit the revealed weaknesses.
To put it simply, many of those who identify themselves as “hackers” are very talented programmers. The creators of some of the most well-known software are self-proclaimed hackers. Among these hackers-turned-programmers are Mark Zuckerburg, founder of Facebook; Linus Torvalds, the creator of Linux; and Tim Berners-Lee, one of the driving forces behind the creation of the World Wide Web.
Often, these programmers will seek a solution that doesn’t involve working with one of the entrenched proprietary software companies. Instead, they will create open-source projects, where the source code is made publicly available. The programming community, including several who identify as hackers, work together to produce software solutions that is available to everyone. Even people who never use open-source software benefit from these projects, as the public community will often create new innovations that the proprietary companies either use for inspiration or simply copy outright.
While black hat hackers are typically a blight on the tech community, they’re not the only type of hackers out there. White hat hackers work hard to improve security, and there are many former black hat hackers who have reformed and now work to keep people’s data safe. At its heart, the world of hacking is much more complicated than people realize.
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