We recently attended the South by Southwest (SXSW) Conference in Austin, Texas and were pleased to discover cybersecurity and privacy were popular topics this year. One session in particular given by a panel including the Secret Service caught our attention, and focused on why hackers hack and what we, as a society, can do about it.
A key to this is understanding hackers themselves. The typical, criminal hacker is young, intelligent and extremely tech savvy. They are normally bored, and looking for challenges. With on overall feeling of powerlessness, the Internet provides an avenue for “expression.” The act of hacking is perceived as a game and outcomes, victimless. They are often driven by financial gain, and an attempt at global notoriety.
Interestingly, many hackers don’t act with malicious intent initially. They are exploring, experimenting with, and perfecting, their skills as a game or hobby. At this early stage (sometimes as early as middle school), the fact they’re breaking laws is overlooked and the consequences of actions aren’t fully grasped.
This initial phase is where opportunities lie for a positive influence. If we can reach these highly talented individuals at the beginning stages of experimentation, we can hone these skills for good. Eyes could potentially be opened to the other side of hacking—becoming a “white hat.”
Eventually, their technology acumen could be cultivated towards becoming an information security analyst, security engineer, penetration tester or security consultant, just to name a few options. We can educate them about the excellent salaries these positions offer and how there is a pressing, ongoing need. We can empower them with the knowledge that their skills can help save companies and customers money and resources by identifying and repairing vulnerabilities before they’re exploited maliciously.
This may require a few changes. For example, what if schools were to install a special education track for these students that recognizes their passion and talents, and works to encourage their development? What if more companies decided to accommodate these professionals’ typical preference for flexible working hours and dressing casually, and accepted this as a norm? What if more news stories focused on the victims and damage of hacking, as opposed to the genius of the hacker?
Historic battles have always been fought on land, sea and air. Today’s battles are fought in a fourth medium—cyberspace. It should be a priority to recruit the best and brightest to stand on the right side of history as soon as possible. With our society permeated in technology and connectivity, the future could depend on it!