White-hat hackers use their powers for good. They help out organizations that might have security breaches before the organizations get hacked. Hacking doesn't always mean hacking into someone else's system.

"The use of 'hacker' to mean 'security breaker' is a confusion on the part of the mass media," said Richard Matthew Stallman, a well-known white-hat hacker and software developer. "We hackers refuse to recognize that meaning, and continue using the word to mean someone who loves to program, someone who enjoys playful cleverness or the combination of the two."

TUTORIAL: Investing 101

Tim Berners-Lee
Famous not for hacking but inventing the World Wide Web, Berners-Lee nevertheless is undeniably a member of the white-hat hacking camp. As a student at Oxford University, Berners-Lee was banned from using the university computers after he and a friend were caught hacking to gain access to restricted areas. He moved on and built his own computer from spare parts. After college, he hacked a few other things including HTML. Did we mention creating the World Wide Web? (For related reading, see Most Costly Computer Hacks Of All Time.)

Steve Wozniak
The "other Steve" of Apple, Steve Wozniak got started as a white-hat hacker by making something called blue boxes. Wozniak and Jobs built blue boxes, which essentially hack the phone system so users can make free long-distance calls. They then sold the blue boxes to their classmates in college. Of course, you know the rest of the story. From blue boxes they moved on to bigger and better things. Those early days of white-hat hacking are what started them off.

Kevin Mitnick
Mitnick started as a black-hat hacker, and ended up serving time after hacking into some of the biggest companies in the world. Now he has left the dark side and works as a consultant and a writer. His own hacking experience gives him hands-on expertise. An article by TakeDown.com reports that Mitnick's early hacking days were ambitious and largely successful.

"As a teenage prank in 1982, he allegedly broke into a North American Air Defense Command computer in Colorado Springs, Colo. He once altered a phone program to misdirect federal agents trying to trace his call, sending them barging into the home of a Middle Eastern immigrant watching television," states the article. We're all glad he's on the good side now.

Tsutomu Shimomura
Back in the days when Mitnick was a black-hat hacker, he hacked computer-security expert, Shimomura. This didn't go over well. Shimomura decided to take his own revenge by using his hacking skills to assist the FBI in tracking and locating Mitnick. With Shimomura's help, they were successful, and Mitnick was arrested. Now they're on the same team. (For related reading, see Identity Theft: Who To Call For Help.)

Jeff Moss
Moss is better known in the computer world as Dark Tangent, though he's now well known apart from his hacking handle. Moss founded the Black Hat security conferences, which still draw thousands of computer security experts. Moss also founded Defcon, which is a hugely popular annual hacker conference. He serves as the chief security officer for ICANN and as an adviser to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. He continues to run the Black Hat security conferences and Defcon.

Jon Lech Johansen
Even though they often help big companies protect themselves from malicious hackers, white-hat hackers are far from being passive cogs in the system. White-hat hackers often embrace the independent and the free sharing of resources such as open source, open access, and free sharing of software and protocols.

Like Wozniak building boxes to allow college peers to get free long distance phone calls, Johansen is a younger, newer hacker who has used his skills to aid others in beating a closed system. His hacking skills enabled him to hack an encryption system used on DVD movies. As a result, users of Linux or other open source operating systems are able to play DVDs encoded with Microsoft's proprietary codec, which is supposed to prevent non-Microsoft systems from running the DVDs.

TUTORIAL: Stock Basics

Richard Matthew Stallman
Stallman founded the GNU Project. The GNU project is both an open source operating system and a mass collaborative project. According to Stallman, GNU includes programs that are not GNU software but rather programs that were developed by other people for their own purposes. Stallman continues to work on the GNU Project and is an advocate for free and open software.

The Bottom Line
White-hat hacking has become more and more important as businesses and individuals depend on computers and the internet. Since computer security isn't something all of us understand, it's vital to have those who do share their expertise. (For related reading, see Cybercrime The Newest National Threat.)

Related Articles
  1. Retirement

    Why Some Celebs Say 'No Inheritance for My Kids'

    To some of the super rich, inherited wealth is not the ultimate gift, it's a burden. Here's how their children—as well as charities—stand to benefit.
  2. Investing

    Kevin O'Leary Biography

    Kevin O'Leary is a television personality, businessman and investor from Canada. A brash public personality with a net worth of roughly $300 million, he is considered to be the Canada’s answer ...
  3. Entrepreneurship

    7 Top-Earning Child Stars

    These seven top-earning child stars earned millions through different parts of the entertainment industry, including television, film and music.
  4. Entrepreneurship

    8 Top-Earning Country Singers

    These eight country singers have built careers singing about men and women who’ve done them wrong, and they’ve shared their heartache to the tune of millions of dollars.
  5. Entrepreneurship

    Elon Musk Success Story: Net Worth, Education & Top Quotes

    Read more about Elon Musk, the South African immigrant turned technology and engineering entrepreneur and inventor worth $13.6 billion.
  6. Investing News

    How 'Honesty' Could Pay off for Jessica Alba

    Is it possible that Jessica Alba is one of the savviest businesswomen on the planet?
  7. Investing News

    Famous Celebrities Who Love Investing

    Celebrities have a bit of a bad reputation these days. These five celebrities, though, have used their fame and their money to invest successfully instead of spending it on looking good.
  8. Professionals

    The Top 5 Richest Restaurateurs

    The top five richest restaurateurs have proven that it is possible to not only turn a profit in the restaurant business but to become multi-millionaires!
  9. Professionals

    The Top Six Richest Supermodels

    Through excellent investing, brand management and high earnings, these six supermodels have cultivated multi-million dollar net worths.
  10. Investing Basics

    10 Reasons Google Is One Of The Best Employers

    Find out more about Google Incorporated and reasons why Google was named to Fortune magazine's list of the best companies to work for.
  1. What is the relationship between research and development and innovation?

    Although it's possible to achieve innovation without research and development and it's possible to conduct research and development ... Read Full Answer >>
  2. What are some common functions of business intelligence technologies?

    Although business intelligence technologies have some common functions, their main function is to support a company's decision-making ... Read Full Answer >>
  3. What is the difference between an MIS (Management Information System) and Information ...

    Management information system (MIS) refers to a larger infrastructure, whereas information technology (IT) is one component ... Read Full Answer >>

You May Also Like

Hot Definitions
  1. Real Estate Investment Trust - REIT

    A REIT is a type of security that invests in real estate through property or mortgages and often trades on major exchanges ...
  2. Section 1231 Property

    A tax term relating to depreciable business property that has been held for over a year. Section 1231 property includes buildings, ...
  3. Term Deposit

    A deposit held at a financial institution that has a fixed term, and guarantees return of principal.
  4. Zero-Sum Game

    A situation in which one person’s gain is equivalent to another’s loss, so that the net change in wealth or benefit is zero. ...
  5. Capitalization Rate

    The rate of return on a real estate investment property based on the income that the property is expected to generate.
  6. Gross Profit

    A company's total revenue (equivalent to total sales) minus the cost of goods sold. Gross profit is the profit a company ...
Trading Center
You are using adblocking software

Want access to all of Investopedia? Add us to your “whitelist”
so you'll never miss a feature!