SAN FRANCISCO — Hackers were once considered nothing but a bane to governments and businesses — an emerging threat which defied understanding.
Today, those same governments and businesses worldwide are recognizing how critical hackers are in defending a businesses’ or nation’s cyberspace.
The public and private sector can’t hire hackers fast enough, infiltrating hacker conferences and turning to those as young as high schoolers to recruit the next generation of cyber-protectors. It points to a significant shift in the mainstream perception of hackers and how governments or businesses are willing to use them.
Why has it taken so long for these organizations to realize this untapped resource? The simple answer is a combination of negative PR and a fundamental lack of understanding about what motivates a hacker. If you can’t understand their motivation, how can you trust them?
When I started hacking almost three decades ago, the term “hacker” was already several decades old. Born within MIT’s Tech Model Railway Club in the 1960s, a hacker was a technical wizard who loved to explore electronic systems and lived by a strict ethical code to not harm the systems they explored.
However, these original hackers were slowly replaced by a younger, more reckless breed of electronic warrior. Formerly known as crackers, the “new hacker” lived to break security. Many only cared about showing they were better — and more elite — than their peers.
Unfortunately, only stories of the newer “blackhat” hackers caught people’s attention. They hit the big screen as skateboarding, bank-hacking, missile-launching delinquents who threatened the very fabric of society.
In this climate, being labelled a “hacker” made otherwise extremely bright young people almost completely unemployable.
We turned a significant corner when members of the Boston-based hacking group the “L0pht” testified in front of the U.S. Senate on May 19, 1998.
Everything began to change. Hackers found themselves in demand and started showing the world how talented they and their peers were.
Today the word “hacker” is returning to its original use; that of a technical genius who likes to explore the technical world and reshape it to his or her desires in a non-destructive way.
And just in time. The recent surveillance revelations show that the technology designed to keep the Internet private and secure is flawed. These flaws weaken security indiscriminately, and we should believe cyber-criminals are working to use this to their advantage.
Fixing this will mean rebuilding parts of the Internet from the ground up. Hackers and engineers built the Internet. I believe it is wholly appropriate that now, during one of its darkest chapters, the heroes of the Internet revolution are the ones to come to its aid.
The internet is under attack and needs to be hardened — not just against the National Security Agency, but against anyone that might seek to exploit these weaknesses for their own criminal purposes.
Marc Rogers is principal security research for Lookout and head of security for DEF CON, one of the world’s largest hacker conferences.
Courtesy of USA Today