Can Hacking Be Ethical? More Often Than You Think

There are often situations in which unethical hacking activity leads to an unexpected positive outcome for society. For example, computer security hackers test the vulnerability of system architecture by attempting unauthorized access into a company’s data network to fortify its security.

Hacking can be ethical, and ethical hacking typically occurs in one of three ways. The first is in bug bounty programs, which reward hackers for discovering flaws in untested software. The second is through government-sponsored investigative work. The third is by working as a security officer.

The business then sees the hacker’s success or failure and applies what is learned to the network’s security system for it to not be compromised again. Another example is computer software piracy. According to Dr. Thad Kousser, Professor of Political Science at UCSD, “A study by Carnegie Mellon found that there are more industries and economic activities that benefit from copyright piracy than suffer.”

For example, if there were no software piracy, the computer industry would not have had the large influx of customers it needed to mass-produce personal computers and stimulate a variety of programs for them. Another example is when cell phones are hacked to be able to access the Internet. The hackers are not doing it for their gain; they are simply trying to help out those who cannot afford expensive cell phone contracts.

The term “hacker” is generally defined as a computer programmer or other type of technical expert that uses his/her knowledge to gain unauthorized access to another’s system to alter it in some way or just to find a flaw. Since there are many types of hacking, such as black hat (illegal) and white hat (legal), the morality of every type of hacking varies.

The question of whether or not hacking can be considered ethical is primarily based on perspective: an individual’s values, their beliefs about what is right or wrong, and their perception of what is ethical. Kousser’s study in “A Systematic Examination of Ethics and Information Technology” reveals five overarching ethics domains that tend to hold regardless of culture or environment: justice, human dignity, respect for property, nonmaleficence (primarily do not harm), and beneficence (do good).

Hacking & Cybersecurity

Inside the field of computer security, hacking is thought to be unethical because it breaks into a system that is not authorized by the owner and can cause damage. The hackers’ main goal, however, is not to break in; rather, they are attempting to find any loopholes in their opponent’s system or just for fun. There has been an increase in hacking activities in the past few years due to the popularity and accessibility of computer software. A recent example is the “Super Mario Bros.” clones or hacks that have been posted on YouTube, which are simply games that were modified from their original code, using programs such as flash or GameMaker.

Hacking has become so popular all over the world and in every field, but what makes a hacker? For the most part, hackers are people who have an innate curiosity and interest in computers. Although not all hackers possess this characteristic, it is one of the main ones that separates a hacker from other types of computer experts. The beginning stages vary dramatically for everyone; some start with merely modifying games such as Super Mario Bros, examples can be found on YouTube, and some start with programming computers.

Another characteristic that separates a hacker from other computer programmers or enthusiasts is the motivation behind the hacking, whether it be just for knowledge or to break into a system without authorization. In most cases, curiosity tends to be the main reason for learning how to hack. The individual also gets a sense of accomplishment and pride when they successfully understand how to hack into a system, or learn something new.

There are a few different types of hackers based on their motivations. Some might just be interested in learning as much about hacking as possible without actually using it for anything illegal. This is the type of hacker that you are most likely to encounter in your everyday life.

Some hackers might use their skills for malicious purposes. They find a system or program that they enjoy and want to gain access to because they think it will give them an upper hand. There are many people out there who create “Super Mario Brothers” clones because the game is so fun to play and they want to prove that they can do something better than Nintendo. Those are not the type of people who would hack into a system without authorization for malicious purposes.

The Controversial Side of Ethical Hacking

The majority of hackers are driven by the quest for knowledge, but there are a few who take it too far. For example, the Hollywood hacker group Anonymous hacked into two Fox News websites and altered content to protest against previous week’s verdicts acquitting George Zimmerman of second-degree murder or manslaughter. They threatened to release personal information about others involved with the case, including judge Debra Nelson and prosecutor Angela Corey. They claimed that they did this “in support of the victims” to stand up for minorities, with one hacker claiming it is a way for them to express their freedom of speech and opinion. However, hacking Fox News to protest against the court’s decision does not seem ethical or free of consequences.

Another example can be found on the website 4chan, where computer programmers would show each other their programs and get feedback. One programmer was asked what his program did to which he replied “It takes control of the Apple Store account with an IP address that is based in India.” This means that a hacker had complete access to any Apple Store account that was based in India.

It is easy to be lured into the black hat culture of hacking simply because you are interested in computers, with some people believing it is not considered “real hacking” unless there is a computer involved. A Google security hacker who worked on the core infrastructure of the internet was accused of breaking into an email account on a rival company’s server. He did this by “exploiting an extremely rare software bug that he discovered while working at Google.” It was considered unethical because this type of hacking is illegal in most jurisdictions.

The Worst Side of Hackers

The last category of hackers is the worst and most damaging to everyone, whether it be business or personal. Many computer hackers gain access to a personal account or website to steal personal information. Some might not even realize what they are doing is wrong; they might think that it is okay to break into a system for any reason because there are no repercussions or consequences. They do not realize that this type of thing could ruin their lives.

Breaking into someone’s computer can lead to serious legal repercussions and might be considered a federal offense. Since hacking is usually done over the internet it can be accessed by many different governments and traced to its origin. If the hacker is not careful they will end up being caught very quickly, causing them to lose all credibility in the hacking world.

Repercussions of Hacking

Even if a hacker believes that they are doing no wrong because they are not using the information for anything bad, they should still be cautious because their actions can single-handedly destroy everything that person has worked hard towards. One of the most famous examples was when Anonymous attacked a bank in December 2011. They posted videos on YouTube and Twitter of them speaking about how they were going to take down major banks, but it turned out that the whole thing was staged and there was no real hack involved.

The hacker group Anonymous had a video of them talking about how they were going to take down major banks using the DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attack, but what it turned out to be was an elaborate hoax. Although they did not gain access to the bank’s system, there are a number of people who believed that they did and acted on what was stated in the video.

Stock Markets around the world were affected by this hoax, losing nearly five hundred billion dollars worth of shares. Even though Anonymous knew that it was not true, they let everyone think that it was for their entertainment and to gain more popularity and notoriety. This shows just how dangerous a hacker can be, even without specifically trying to cause harm.

Overall it is important to consider the consequences before doing something that might not seem right at first glance but could have devastating effects on others. People should be careful about what they do online because there are always repercussions and consequences.


With the increasing use of computers to access private accounts, there is always a risk for someone to try and take advantage of people’s personal information. The government should do more to prevent situations like this from happening in the future. As long as hackers are breaking into systems with malicious intent they will continue doing so unless authorities can find a way to stop the practice.

Gene Botkin

Gene is a graduate student in cybersecurity and AI at the Missouri University of Science and Technology. Ongoing philosophy and theology student.

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