Gray Hats: Tapping Into the Dark Side to Secure Data

What do Spiderman and gray hat hackers have in common? Well, one could easily liken the superhero to the group that the IT security community views warily. Besides the fact that both parties are intriguing and shrouded in mystery, they both seemingly live on the edge and occasionally flout various legal and ethnical boundaries in the name of “the common good.”

White Hats. Gray Hats. Black Hats.

“There’s a joke that in old cowboy Westerns you could always tell who the bad guys were because they wore black hats, and the good guys wore white hats,” said Steven Mizrach, adjunct professor of anthropology at Florida International University. “Many hackers insist that they’re gray hats — they do things that society views as being bad or evil, but in fact they’re serving a higher purpose, which is for good.”

Even though there are no clear-cut boundaries, gray hats can be differentiated from white hats and black hats in their activities and intentions.

“Black hats are [into hacking] for the money, for prestige,” said W. Hord Tipton, executive director of (ISC)². “White hats, on the other end, are dedicated to doing things the right way — they follow very rigid rules and they aspire to a very tight code of ethics. The gray hats are somewhere in between — when people like to achieve good things [but] don’t necessarily want to follow the rules and generally end up saying the end justifies the means.”

Tipton recalled his days working for the…

Deanna Hartley


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