Controversial Topic: Hacking

Controversial Topic: Hacking

Hacking refers to the use of computing skills to penetrate, disrupt, or interfere with a computer system by non-standard avenues. Hacking is a fertile debate topic because this skill can be used for many different purposes both lawful and unlawful; ethical and unethical. Some hackers use their skills for criminal activities while others may use their skills to create cybersecurity defenses against malicious actors. Activists may use hacking to undermine dictatorship just as dictators might use hacking to suppress individual liberties. This controversial topic is extremely relevant in our tech-driven world, which makes hacking a popular subject for a persuasive essay.

The nearly infinite range of hacking activities, and the intentions underlying them, make this a controversial topic. There are many competing views on what should or should not be considered ethical hacking. In its earliest incarnation, during the 1950s and 1960s, “hacker culture” represented playful subversiveness and technical virtuosity. For the “hacker culture,” the ability to breach classified data or tinker with a proprietary operating system was done for the sheer intellectual thrill.

In the decades that followed, hacking persisted as an activity for those with intellectual curiosity, but also increasingly became associated with ideological and activist pursuits, especially as they pertained to the ideas of informational freedom, and the development of open source, non-proprietary systems and applications. Hacking also became a prominent theme in science-fiction writing as well as in an emergent genre called cyberpunk.

By the mid-1990s, widespread internet use also produced newly widespread vulnerabilities for private citizens, commercial entities, and national governments. The consequence has been steady growth in use of the term hacking to describe cybercriminal activities as well as some of the activities aimed at preventing cybercrime.

The hacking controversy, therefore, largely centers on the different ways that hacking is used today:

  • Hackers, in the purest sense of the word, are those who practice hacking for the exhibition of computing skills, the pursuit of intellectual curiosity, and the spirit of playfulness.
  • Hacktivists view their hacking activities through the prisms of social justice, activism, freedom of information, software freedom, and other ideological frameworks.
  • Black Hat hackers, or cybercriminals, use their skills to commit financial crimes, data and identity theft, viral attacks, and other malicious computing activities;
  • White Hat hackers are cybersecurity professionals and security hackers who use hacking skills to identify weaknesses and recommend strategies for improvement in security systems for financial entities, government agencies, e-commerce merchants, and more.
  • Malicious state actors may use hacking to suppress civil liberties, violate the privacy of their citizens, steal secrets from other sovereign states, or engage in cyberwarfare.

A Brief History of the Issue

In its earliest days—the 1950s and 1960s—hacking was largely an intellectual pursuit. “Hacker culture” was the province of an insular club of programmers with a playful sense of mischief and new ways of looking at computer problems. In the early history of computing, programming was a rigid field occupied by serious-minded engineers and data scientists. But as computing evolved, it also attracted a new and more adventurous personality type. University computing labs proved particularly fertile ground for programmers who preferred to explore outside the traditional rules of computing. This was the beginning of hacker culture.

MIT and the Emergence of Hacker Culture (1950s–1960s)

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology was the most noteworthy of these early hacking hotbeds. At its heart, hacking during this time was centered on the intellectual challenge of overcoming or bypassing the limitations of existing programming systems. While the goal was ostensibly to expand the capabilities of such systems, hacking culture also embraced a sense of playful subversiveness and clever ingenuity.

Activities were centered around two MIT groups”—Tech Model Railroad Club (TMRC) and the MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. At that time, enthusiasts were most interested in demonstrating feats of skill and intelligence by penetrating computing spaces that were not otherwise open to them. At the same time, a number of like-minded computing laboratories cropped up in several academic communities, most notably the University of California, Berkeley and Carnegie Mellon University. Remarkably, these hacking subcultures evolved independently from one another, absent a connective force such as the internet.

This changed with the invention of the PDP-10 machine at MIT. This machine used the Incompatible Timesharing System (ITS), a cheekily-named operating system which allowed for “time-sharing.” This meant that remote “guest” access to the machine was possible through ARPAnet—one of the earliest incarnations of the internet. As a result, numerous parties from different locations could interact with, and collaborate on, operating systems and application programs. This was the beginning of an interconnected hacker culture. No longer were college computer labs pursuing innovation in isolation.

The Jargon File (1975)

As hacking became an increasingly collaborative and geographically diffuse phenomenon, hacking culture naturally developed its own insular language. This precipitated the 1975 creation of The Jargon File. This was a system directory first begun at Stanford (and credited to Raphael Finkel). The file was a usage dictionary of slang terms employed by hackers, and included the array of informal terms that had become the language of the hacking culture. The Jargon File was first published in print in 1983, and has since received several critical updates.

One of its most noteworthy contributions was to draw a conceptual distinction between “hackers” and “crackers.” Whereas hackers were, in the Jargon File’s view, consummate programmers, crackers were computer criminals. The Jargon File is inherently sympathetic to the humor and playfulness of hacker culture, and its slang dictionary reflects this humor. In spite of its playful tone, it is often cited as a reference in more serious research and literature on hacking.

GNU Manifesto (1985)

As collaboration became a more common feature of the hacker culture, so too did adherents begin to take on a more ethical disposition. Increasingly, hackers were interested in more than just clever subversiveness. Software freedom also became a critical dimension of hacking. This is perhaps best captured by the 1985 GNU Manifesto, written by activist programmer Richard Stallman, calling for programmers to protect the free and open sharing of computer operating systems.

At the time, Unix and other proprietary operating systems were leading a trend toward closed-source software. Stallman viewed this as a way of dividing users and preventing them from collaborating with, supporting, and helping one another. The primary thrust of Stallman’s manifesto is that ethical programmers should show solidarity by declining to produce programming for proprietary software. The manifesto showcases the highly philosophical impetus that permeated hacker culture, ultimately leading to the later proliferation of online open-source programming.

The Cathedral and the Bazaar (1997)

In fact, it was this very impetus toward open-source coding that eventually helped to raise the profile of hacking from an obscure subculture to a major source for popular innovation. In 1997, software developer Eric S. Raymond published an essay (and eventually a full-length book) called The Cathedral and the Bazaar: Musings on Linux and Open Source by an Accidental Revolutionary. In it, he provided a series of observations from his work on two projects—the development of the Linux kernel, and an open-source project called fetchmail.

The impact of the essay and book were profound. Raymond differentiates between two distinct modes of software development. The Cathedral Model, according to Raymond, refers to programming which is conducted by an exclusive group of developers in private, with new versions released to the public only periodically. By contrast, said Raymond, the Bazaar Model of development took place out in the open, across the Internet, in full visibility of observers, and accessible for contributions from the public.

This practical contrast between proprietary and open coding was laid bare. In particular, Raymond argued that all bugs are readily uncovered and cured when enough programmers contribute. He made the case that proprietary programming—the Cathedral Model—is inefficient.

The argument proved influential. The following year, popular web browsing pioneer Netscape Communications Corporation released the source code for its Netscape browser to the public, and followed this by initiating the Mozilla project, which would become a prominent open source browser. Netscape’s leadership would acknowledge Raymond’s work as a major influence in their evolving approach. Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales acknowledged the same influence, indicating that Raymond’s text illuminated the possibilities of collaborative coding.

These events dramatically raised the profile of hacking, demonstrating the mainstream impact of the rogue programming culture.

Black Hats, White Hats, and Hacktivists

As personal computing, web access, e-commerce, and online banking exploded into popular use during the 2000s, so too did a more nefarious type of hacking. What was once referred to as a ‘cracker’ increasingly became known as a cybercriminal. The ability of hackers to use their programming skills to defraud, disrupt and steal grew as rapidly as the technology itself. Increasingly, criminal codes came to include terms such as cyberterrorism, cyber warfare, malware, ransomware, spamming, and more. From the petty and annoying to the disruptive and downright dangerous, hacking came to encompass a wide range of illicit and illegal activities.

A 2014 report sponsored by virus protection software maker McAfee estimated that the global economy lost roughly $445 billion annually to cybercrime, including such notable incidents as a 2012 credit and debit fraud scheme that netted $1.5 billion in the U.S. In 2018, a similar study found that the cost to the world economy was roughly $600 billion.

During this same time, companies, law enforcement groups, and both national and global agencies increasingly took up the work of providing cyberdefense and cybersecurity. The consequence of these changes is a constantly shifting landscape in which several different breeds of hacker are engaged in their own, sometimes competing activities. Primary among these groups are black hat hackers, those involved in criminal activities; white hat hackers, those using their hacking skills to identify and address cybersecurity vulnerabilities; and hacktivists, those using their hacking skills to support the freedom of information or the pursuit of ideological aims in areas such as commerce, policy, or environmental ethics, whether legal or illegal.

Top Ten Historical Influencers in the Hacking Debate

Using our own backstage Ranking Analytics tools, we’ve compiled a list of the most influential figures falling under the term “hacker” in between 1950 and 2020. Our rankings produced a list of influential programmers, ethical hackers, black hats, white hats, non-fiction authors, and cyberpunk fiction authors.

Top Ten Historical Influencers in the Hacking Debate
1Kevin Mitnick
2Steven Levy
3Eric S. Raymond
4Clifford Stoll
5William Gibson
6Eric Corley
7Bruce Sterling
8Kevin Poulsen
9Mark Abene
10Linus Torvalds

Top Ten Most Influential Books About Hacking

Using our own backstage Ranking Analytics tools, we’ve compiled a list of the most influential books on the topic of “hacking” in the U.S. between 1950 and 2020. This list is composed of landmark reference texts, works of nonfiction, journalistic endeavors around important computing discoveries, and a number of cyberpunk fiction texts which proved influential beyond the world of science fiction.

Top Ten Most Influential Books About Hacking
RankBook Title
1Jargon File
3GURPS Cyberpunk
4Nightwork: A History of Hacks and Pranks at MIT
5Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution
6The Cuckoo’s Egg
7Ready Player One
8The Hacker Crackdown
9The Cathedral and the Bazaar
10The Hacker’s Handbook
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The Current Controversy

Today, the debate over hacking is largely ideological. Hacking can be used for a wide range of purposes, including ethical or unethical; commercial or criminal; practical or playful. The original hacker culture ethos, which embraced a playful and clever mode of subversion, remains an undercurrent of hacking.

However, ideological aims have also taken centerstage for many who view themselves as ethical hackers. The term hacktivism covers a wide range of activities. Among the most notable contingents of the hacktivist community are groups like Anonymous—which is famous for doxxing (publicly exposing) those guilty of what it characterizes as civil rights violations, human rights abuses, and other ethical trespasses, and Wikileaks—which uses hacking to obtain and proliferate confidential or classified information about government and state actors. In both instances, the methods used are recognized as having an ideological basis, but may also sometimes run afoul of national and international laws.

The proliferation of computing technology and web access has also created widespread vulnerabilities for private citizens, companies, and governments. These vulnerabilities have attracted tremendous criminal activity to the hacking subculture. These criminal activities have made cybersecurity and cyberdefense absolute necessities for companies and countries. As governments, organizations, and agencies have increased their defense capabilities, they have often employed the skills of white hat hackers to confront the activities of their black hat counterparts.

The result is a tug of war between those charged with cybersecurity and those dedicated to violating or undermining this security. The conflict is perhaps best defined by the heightened use of hostile governments in actions against other sovereign nations. In December of 2020, U.S. intelligence revealed that hackers sponsored by the Russian government had succeeded in penetrating extremely sensitive and classified data in multiple areas of the U.S. government. The attack had gone unnoticed for months, and is regarded as one of the worst cyber-espionage incidents in U.S. history. It demonstrated the scope and danger of cyber warfare between world governments.

This underscores a debate which is less about whether hacking is acceptable—it is an inextricable reality in modern computing—and more directly about what ends hacking can and should be used to achieve.

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A Quick Overview of Our Method

Our goal in presenting subjects that generate controversy is to provide you with a sense of some of the figures both past and present who have driven debate, produced widely-recognized works of research, literature or art, proliferated their ideas widely, or who are identified directly and publicly with some aspect of this debate. By identifying the researchers, activists, journalists, educators, academics, and other individuals connected with this debate—and by taking a closer look at their work and contributions—we can get a clear but nuanced look at the subject matter. Rather than framing the issue as one side versus the other, we bring various dimensions of the issue into discussion with one another. This will likely include dimensions of the debate that resonate with you, some dimensions that you find repulsive, and some dimensions that might simply reveal a perspective you hadn’t previously considered.

On the subject of hacking, this requires us to consider the key term, “hacker,” as well as terms describing specific types of hacker such as “black hat,” “white hat,” “ethical hacker,” and “hacktivists.” The subject also invokes key terminology around both criminal and security activities, including “cybercrime,” “cybersecurity,” and “cyberattack.”

Our InfluenceRanking engine gives us the power to scan the academic and public landscape surrounding the hacking issue using key terminology to identify consequential influencers. As with any topic that generates public debate and disagreement, this is a subject of great depth and breadth. We do not claim to probe either the bottom of this depth or the borders of this breadth. Instead, we offer you one way to enter into this debate, to identify key players, and through their contributions to the debate, to develop a fuller understanding of the issue and perhaps even a better sense of where you stand.

For a closer look at how our InfluenceRankings work, check out our methodology.

Otherwise get started with a look at the key words we used to explore this subject:

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Key Terms


The key terminology relating to the present debate, “hacker” refers to programming activities which seek to bypass traditional rules in order to penetrate or disrupt computing systems. In its earliest incarnations, hacking was an intellectual pursuit reserved to a few top programmers, but increasingly came to encompass a range of activities including criminal, law enforcement, and activist undertakings. The influencers yielded by this search term include a combination of these practitioners.


  • Eric Gordon Corley, also frequently referred to by his pen name of Emmanuel Goldstein, is a figure in the hacker community. He directs the non-profit organization 2600 Enterprises, Inc., publishes a magazine called 2600: The Hacker Quarterly, and hosts the hacker convention Hackers on Planet Earth. His pseudonym is derived from the fictional opposition leader in George Orwell’s dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four.
  • Stephen Gold was a skilled hacker and journalist who in the mid-1980s was charged with, convicted, and later acquitted of, ‘uttering a forgery’ in what became known to the popular press of the time as “The Great Prestel Hack”. Gold, and fellow hacker Robert Schifreen, were said to have accessed, inter alia, the personal message account of Prince Philip. The facts as outlined in The Hacker’s Handbook are that he was ‘fitted’ up, having tried, repeatedly and unsuccessfully, to warn BT’s Prestel via Micronet of the security holes. Gold later became a “respected information security journalist”.
  • Paul Graham is an English-born American computer scientist, essayist, entrepreneur, venture capitalist, and author. He is best known for his work on the programming language Lisp, his former startup Viaweb, cofounding the influential startup accelerator and seed capital firm Y Combinator, his blog, and Hacker News. He is the author of several computer programming books, including: On Lisp, ANSI Common Lisp, and Hackers & Painters. Technology journalist Steven Levy has described Graham as a “hacker philosopher”.


Specifically referring to those who use hacking for ideological activities which may or may not be legal, the search term yielded influencers from prominent groups such as Anonymous as well as those who have been influential in the emergence of open-source programming.


  • Aaron Hillel Swartz was an American computer programmer, entrepreneur, writer, political organizer, and Internet hacktivist. He was involved in the development of the web feed format RSS, the Markdown publishing format, the organization Creative Commons, and the website framework, and was a co-founder of the social news site Reddit. He was given the title of co-founder of Reddit by Y Combinator owner Paul Graham after the formation of Not a Bug, Inc.
  • Natalie Bookchin is an artist based in Brooklyn, New York. She is well known for her work in media. She was a 2001-2002 Guggenheim Fellow. Her work is exhibited at institutions including PS1, Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Barcelona, KunstWerke, Berlin, the Generali Foundation, Vienna, the Walker Art Center, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Shedhale in Zurich. Her works are in a variety of forms—from online computer games, collaborative performances and “hacktivist” interventions, to interactive websites and widely distributed texts and manifestos. In her work, she explores some of the far-reaching consequences of Internet and digital technologies on a range of spheres, including aesthetics, labor, leisure, and politics. Much of Bookchin’s later works amass excerpts from video blogs or YouTube found online. From 1998 to 2000 she was a member of the collective RTMark, and was involved in the prank they organized spoofing the 1999 General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade talk.
  • Topiary, real name Jake Leslie Davis, is a hacker. He has worked with Anonymous, LulzSec, and similar hacktivist groups. He was an associate of the Internet group Anonymous, which has publicly claimed various online attacks, including hacking HBGary, Westboro Baptist Church, and Gawker. They have also claimed responsibility for the defacing of government websites in countries such as Zimbabwe, Syria, Tunisia, Ireland, and Egypt.
  • Anne-Marie Schleiner is a theorist, an educator, a new media and performance artist, a hacktivist, a scholar, a gamer, and a curator. Her work is focused on gender construction, ludic activism, situationist theory, political power struggles, experimental gaming design theory, urban play, the United States Military, avatar gender reification, the global south, and feminist film theory.

Ethical Hacker

Those who refer to themselves as ethical hackers will typically use their programming skills to combat those who would use programming to engage in criminal activities. The influencers returned by this search terminology are generally experts in cybersecurity.


  • Rafay Baloch is a Pakistani ethical hacker and security researcher known for his discovery of vulnerabilities on the Android operating system. He has been featured and known by both national and international media and publications like Forbes, BBC, The Wall Street Journal, and The Express Tribune. He has been listed among the “Top 5 Ethical Hackers of 2014” by CheckMarx. Subsequently he was listed as one of “The 15 Most Successful Ethical Hackers WorldWide” and among “Top 25 Threat Seekers” by SCmagazine. Baloch has also been added in TechJuice 25 under 25 list for the year 2016 and got 13th rank in the list of high achievers.
  • Remesh Ramachandran is an Indian ethical hacker. Working on numerous cyber crimes, Ramachandran has engaged with Indian Government and International agencies. Ramachandran is also a part of Google Hall of Fame. Ramachandran has also worked with finance companies, conducting security audits. Ramachandran is the founder of OpenPenTest. He has developed an OpenPenTest platform which is freely available for security researchers, analysts, penetration testers, and ethical hackers for performing vulnerability assessment and penetration testing.
  • Jennifer Marie Arcuri is an American technology entrepreneur. She lived in London from 2011 to 2018, before moving back to California. Self-described as an “ethical hacker”, she founded the white hat consultancy Hacker House in 2016 and organised the Innotech Network from 2012. Her friendship with the then Mayor of London Boris Johnson from 2012 came to national attention in the UK in September 2019 when he became Prime Minister, triggering investigations into alleged conflicts of interest.
  • Ralph Echemendia is a cyber security specialist, who is known as “The Ethical Hacker.” He specialises in protecting intellectual property in the entertainment industry and educating on security.
  • MLT, real name Matthew Telfer, is a current cybersecurity researcher, former black hat computer hacker, and former member of TeaMp0isoN. MLT was arrested in May 2012 in relation to his activities within TeaMp0isoN, a computer-hacking group which claimed responsibility for many high-profile attacks, including website vandalism of the United Nations, Facebook, NATO, BlackBerry, T-Mobile USA, and several other large sites in addition to high-profile denial-of-service attacks and leaks of confidential data. Another reason for MLT’s arrest was due to his role in operating bitst0rm, a malicious hacking group with a particular emphasis on targeting known figures within the Computer Security Industry. Currently, MLT is an Ethical Hacker, appearing to have changed his ways. MLT now responsibly discloses security flaws to affected companies, and he has publicly documented and helped remediate security flaws in over two thousand separate websites within recent years. MLT now works in the Computer Security Industry and also runs his own Cyber-Security firm named Project Insecurity LTD.


With the proliferation of computing technology and web use, hacking increasingly became the province of cybercriminals. Cybercrime refers to the activities of those who use hacking strategies to engage in financial crimes, fraud, data theft, and more. The influencers yielded by this term are generally the cybersecurity and legal experts who have worked to uncover, classify, and combat cybercrime.


  • Art Bowker, is an author and cybercrime specialist in corrections. His first book, The Cybercrime Handbook for Community Corrections: Managing Risk in the 21st Century, describes the process of supervising cyber-offenders. Bowker cowrote his second book, Investigating Internet Crimes, 1st Edition: An Introduction to Solving Crimes in Cyberspace, with Todd G. Shipley. His second book provides step-by-step instructions for investigating Internet crimes, including locating, interpreting, understanding, collecting, and documenting online electronic evidence to benefit investigations.
  • Andrew S. Boutros is an American lawyer, law professor, and former federal prosecutor best known for prosecuting corporate fraud and cybercrime cases. In 2015, the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association honored him with the National Prosecutorial Award, and he was also elected to the American Law Institute the same year. He is the Regional Chair of Dechert LLP’s White Collar practice, where he is resident in the firm’s Chicago and DC offices.
  • Mark Gazit is an expert on cyber security, business executive and serial entrepreneur. Gazit is a President and CEO of ThetaRay. He is one of the world’s top financial crime and cyber security experts, and advises banks and other financial institutions and enterprise organizations in areas of cybercrime. Before joining ThetaRay, he served as Managing Director of Nice Cyber Intelligence Solutions, providing his expertise to homeland security and classified sectors. Between 2002 and 2010, Mr. Gazit was CEO and co-founder of SkyVision, a global company providing secure telecommunications to financial institutions and other organizations in more than 50 countries around the world. 25 years ago, he conducted the first security assessment and testing for a leading Israel Bank’s digital service. For many years, Mr. Gazit has been a trusted advisor to the largest enterprises, financial institutions, and security agencies all around the world. He also serves on the Monetary Authority of Singapore’s International Technology Advisory Panel, as well as the boards of several commercial enterprises and non-profit organizations.
  • Douglas Thomas is an American scholar, researcher, and journalist. He is Associate Professor at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California where he studies technology, communication, and culture. He is author or editor of numerous books including Reading Nietzsche Rhetorically, Cybercrime: Security and Surveillance in the Information Age, Hacker Culture, and Technological Visions: The Hopes and Fears that Shape New Technologies. He has published numerous articles in academic journals and is the founding editor of Games & Culture: A Journal of Interactive Media.


The concept of cybersecurity emerged in tandem with the growing threat of cybercrime. As the challenge of security private citizens, government agencies, and financial entities against online crimes has grown, so too has the industry dedicated to this security. The influencers here are technologists who have worked directly with governments, agencies, and commercial entities to produce the technical and policy imperatives around cybersecurity.


  • Tarah Marie Wheeler is an American technology and cybersecurity author, public speaker, entrepreneur and former executive. She is currently a Cybersecurity Policy Fellow at D.C. policy think-tank New America. She is the former Website Cybersecurity Czar at Symantec, author of Women in Tech, and founder of Infosec Unlocked.
  • Anupam Joshi is the Oros Family Professor and Chair of CSEE Department in the University of Maryland Baltimore County, Baltimore, MD. He is also the Director of the UMBC Center for Cybersecurity and heads the Accelerated Cognitive Cybersecurity Lab. He is regarded as a leading expert in cybersecurity.
  • Ari M. Schwartz is an American cybersecurity and technology policy expert. He is the former Special Assistant to the President and senior director for cybersecurity on the United States National Security Council Staff at the White House, having left the role in October 2015. Previously, Schwartz worked in both the Executive Branch and civil society as on cybersecurity, privacy, civil liberties, and policy. He is an advocate for vulnerability disclosure programs.
  • Jonathan Katz is a professor in the Department of Computer Science at the University of Maryland who conducts research on cryptography and cybersecurity. In 2019-2020 he was a faculty member in the Volgenau School of Engineering at George Mason University, where he held the title of Eminent Scholar in Cybersecurity. In 2013-2019 he was director of the Maryland Cybersecurity Center at the University of Maryland.


While the reasons behind a cyberattack may be varied—including personal, political, and philosophical imperatives—the act itself is typically illegal. A cyberattack may be carried out on a company, country, or a private citizen, and may include disruption of service, public exposure, data breach, and more. The influencers here include those who have worked to provide security against such attacks and those who have been found guilty of committing such attacks.


  • Chris Kubecka is an American computer security researcher and cyberwarfare specialist. In 2012, Kubecka was responsible for getting the Saudi Aramco network back up and running after it was hit by one of the world’s most devastating Shamoon cyberattacks. Kubecka also helped halt a second wave of July 2009 cyberattacks against South Korea. Kubecka has worked for the US Air Force as a Loadmaster, the United States Space Command and is now CEO of HypaSec, a security firm she founded in 2015. She lives and works in the Netherlands.
  • Livia Acosta Noguera was a Venezuelan diplomat to the United States in Miami and is a lead member of SEBIN. She was declared persona non grata by the United States Department of State following an inquiry by the FBI of allegations of planning cyberattacks on government facilities and nuclear power plants in the United States.
  • Christopher Weatherhead, also known by his alias “Nerdo”, is a Northampton University student who was jailed for his involvement in several cyberattacks by Anonymous.
  • Robert J. Shapiro is the cofounder and chairman of Sonecon, LLC, a United States private consultancy for economic and security-related issues that has built a reputation on a range of policy matters, including climate change, intellectual property, securities fraud, healthcare reform, demographics, the resilience of the electric grid to cyberattacks, and blockchain technologies. He is known for advising public officials, including President Bill Clinton, UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, senior members of the Obama cabinet and administration, numerous US senators and representatives, and the Director of the International Monetary Fund. He also has advised senior executives of numerous Fortune 100 companies.

White Hat

White hat hackers are those who use their computing skills to strengthen security systems. Typically, a white hat hacker will use hacking skills on behalf of an entity to identify that entity’s security vulnerabilities so that they can be remedied. As the list of influencers falling under this classification demonstrates, it is not uncommon for “black hat hackers”—those engaged in illegal hacking activities—to become white hat hackers.


  • Sven Jaschan is a former black-hat hacker turned white-hat and a security expert/consultant and creator of the NetSky worms, and Sasser computer worms.
  • Ian Beer is a British computer security expert and white hat hacker, currently residing in Switzerland and working for Google as part of its Project Zero. There are those who consider him as one of the best iOS hackers. Beer was the first security expert to publish his findings under the “Project Zero” name in the spring of 2014; at this time, the project was not yet revealed and crediting the newly discovered vulnerabilities to it led to some speculation.
  • Przemysław Frasunek is a “white hat” hacker from Poland. He has been a frequent Bugtraq poster since late in the 1990s, noted for one of the first published successful software exploits for the format string bug class of attacks, just after the first exploit of the person using nickname tf8. Until that time the vulnerability was thought harmless.
  • Ben Hawkes is a computer security expert and white hat hacker from New Zealand, currently employed by Google as manager of their Project Zero.
  • Cris Thomas is an American Cyber Security Researcher and White Hat hacker. A founding member and researcher at the high-profile hacker security think tank L0pht Heavy Industries, Thomas was one of seven L0pht members who testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs on the topic of government and homeland computer security, specifically warning of internet vulnerabilities and claiming that the group could “take down the internet within 30 minutes”.
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Black Hat

Black hat hacking generally refers to illegal hacking activities, including both criminal activities and hacktivist activities that violate the law. The list of influencers produced here includes both those who are known to engage in black hat hacking activities and the cybersecurity experts who have worked to identify and prevent their activities.


  • Simon Carless is an English video game industry businessperson, publisher, editor, and former game designer. He was born in London, England, and presently resides in Alameda, California. Simon works in San Francisco for UBM Tech as Group EVP across the Game Network & Black Hat, including overseeing the worldwide Game Developers Conference & also the Black Hat information security events./li>
  • Jeff Moss, also known as Dark Tangent, is an American hacker, computer and internet security expert who founded the Black Hat and DEF CON computer security conferences.
  • Barnaby Michael Douglas Jack was a New Zealand hacker, programmer, and computer security expert. He was known for his presentation at the Black Hat computer security conference in 2010, during which he exploited two ATMs and made them dispense fake paper currency on the stage. Among his other most notable works were the exploitation of various medical devices, including pacemakers and insulin pumps.
  • Dan Kaminsky is an American security researcher. He is the Chief Scientist of White Ops, a firm specializing in detecting malware activity via JavaScript. He has worked for Cisco, Avaya, and IOActive, where he was the Director of Penetration Testing. He is known among computer security experts for his work on DNS cache poisoning, and for showing that the Sony Rootkit had infected at least 568,200 computers and for his talks at the Black Hat Briefings.
  • Ryan Ackroyd, Kayla and lolspoon, is a former black hat hacker who was one of the six core members of the hacking group “LulzSec” during its 50-day spree of attacks from 6 May 2011 until 26 June 2011. At the time, Ackroyd posed as a hacker named “Kayla” and was responsible for the penetration of multiple military and government domains and many high profile intrusions into the networks of Gawker in December 2010, HBGaryFederal in 2011, PBS, Sony, Infragard Atlanta, Fox Entertainment, and others. He eventually served 30 months in prison for his hacking activities.

Security Hacker

Security hacker is a term largely synonymous with white hat hacker, and refers to those who use their computing skills to identify vulnerabilities in, and ultimately strengthen, computer security systems. Influencers here include a number of prominent cybersecurity experts.


  • Ian Beer is a British computer security expert and white hat hacker, currently residing in Switzerland and working for Google as part of its Project Zero. There are those who consider him as one of the best iOS hackers. Beer was the first security expert to publish his findings under the “Project Zero” name in the spring of 2014; at this time, the project was not yet revealed and crediting the newly discovered vulnerabilities to it led to some speculation.
  • Mustafa Al-Bassam is a British computer security researcher and hacker. He co-founded the hacker group LulzSec in 2011, which was responsible for several high profile breaches. He later went on to co-found Chainspace, a company implementing a smart contract platform, which was acquired by Facebook in 2019. He is currently a PhD student in the Information Security Research Group at University College London working on peer-to-peer systems. Forbes listed Al-Bassam as one of the 30 Under 30 entrepreneurs in technology in 2016.
  • Nick Levay, also known as Rattle, is an American computer security expert and hacker. He is the President of the NGO-ISAC and former Chief Security Officer at the Council on Foreign Relations and Carbon Black, a computer security company in the Boston area. From 2008 to 2013 he was Director of Technical Operations and Information Security at the Center for American Progress, a public policy research organization.
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Influential Organizations Involved in the Hacking Controversy

If you would like to study this topic in more depth, check out these key organizations...

Groups That Use White Hat Hacking

Black Hat Hacking Groups/Hacktivists

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