The History of Hacking: Are all hackers out to do harm?

The History of Hacking: Are all hackers out to do harm?

The days of  home-organized hacking led by thrill-seeking teenagers are gone. Learn how hackers are changing the world.

Newspaper headlines and Hollywood movies have influenced our understanding of computer hackers, but in the real world it’s not so simple. Since the early 2000’s, cyber-attacks have become more sophisticated than ever before. This is notable particularly in the last 10 years, where high-profile attacks have violated the networks of major companies, stealing valuable data and information and releasing it to the public.

But, some hackers are making tremendous contributions to the field of cyber security. It just depends on what hat they’re wearing that day.

A complicated history

Since as far back as the 1960’s, the term “hacker” has been vaguely defined. As computers and the people who worked with them became more accessible, the word was used to describe someone who explored the details and limits of technology by testing them from a variety of angles.

But by the 1980s, hackers became associated with teenagers who were being caught breaking into government computer systems. Partially because that is what they called themselves, and partially because the word “hacker” has an inherently negative connotation.

Today, several of those pioneering hackers run multimillion-dollar cyber security consulting businesses. So what should you call someone who uses their knowledge for good?

"White hat" hackers

Sometimes referred to as ethical hackers, or plain old network security specialists, these are the good guys. Whether it’s selling what they find to hardware and software vendors in “bug bounty” programs or working as full-time technicians, white hat hackers are just interested in making an honest buck.

Linus Torvalds is a great example of a white hat hacker. After years of experimenting with the operating system on his computer, he finally released Linux, a secure open-source operating system. Perhaps you've heard of it.

“Black hat” hackers

Closer to the definition that most people outside the IT world know and use, black hat hackers create programs and campaigns solely for causing damage. This may be anything from financial harm in the form of ransomware to digital vandalism.

Albert Gonzalez is one of the many poster children for black hat hacking. In 2005, he organized a group of individuals to compromise poorly secured wireless networks and steal information. He is most famous for stealing over 90 million credit and debit card numbers from TJ Maxx over the course of two years. You’ll see him below in our hacking timeline, just around the time cyber-crime saw a serious change.

“Gray hat” hackers

Whether someone is a security specialist or a cyber criminal, the majority of their work is usually conducted over the internet. This anonymity affords them opportunities to try their hand at both white hat and black hat hacking.

Today, there are quite a few headlines making the rounds describing Marcus Hutchins as a gray hat hacker. Hutchins became an overnight superstar earlier this year when he poked and prodded the WannaCry ransomware until he found a way to stop it.

During the day, Hutchins works for the Kryptos Logic cybersecurity firm, but the US government believes he spent his free time creating the Kronos banking malware. He has been arrested and branded a “gray hat” hacker.

Hackers: friends or foes?

Below, we’ve put together a hacking history timeline of some of the most memorable hacking events in history, so you can decide. Can you guess which type of hacker was responsible for the events listed?

As a reminder, Techmedics is a cybersecurity firm and we’re here to help. Cyber security should be your most important IT initiative this year. Managed Security Services can help you manage your security posture and sleep at night.

❓ Do you remember some of these monumental hacking moments?