hackers appear frequently in the news and other media as criminals who steal
vast amounts of data ranging from email passwords to Social Security numbers,
the truth is that a similar number of relatively anonymous hackers work just as
furiously to thwart those engaged in illegal activity. Large corporations and
even the U.S. government employ computer-savvy individuals to expose
vulnerabilities in their systems in an effort to protect the
A couple of years ago, my
computer science class explored ethics in computing. Hacking was a hot topic
even then, so we held a formal debate on it. Student groups researched both
sides of the issue, and each group presented their arguments.
of the students thought hackers were good guys who do companies a favor by
exposing security holes. They pointed to companies who hired known hackers for
their expertise in identifying internal network security issues. Needless to
say, there was a lot of excitement about cultivating their burgeoning hacking
skills on our district's internal network.
the most compelling argument of the day was a great analogy that one student
presented: If you leave the front door of your house unlocked, is it OK for a
stranger to come in, sit down and leave you a note on your kitchen table? No!
This student argued that the same logic applies to hacking. His group
also shared that malicious hacking is against the law. In the end, the panel of
student judges agreed that hacking is unethical and that there are better ways
to alert companies to possible security issues.
are also many other reasons hacking is a bad idea. For school districts, hacking
wastes a lot of network administrators and computer technicians' time — not to
mention taxpayer money — on investigating malicious attacks. Their time would be
better spent configuring and maintaining educational resources. Hackers also
risk exposing the confidential data about students and staff that schools store
on their servers.
a neighboring school district's website was hacked. Hackers posted obscene
photos and offensive messages in place of the district's content. No
confidential or financial data was stolen from the site, so why did the hacker
do it? I believe people who hack without financial gain do so to expose others'
faults and prove that they can outsmart others.
true that companies, school districts and individuals must set up secure
networks and use strong passwords. But as my student pointed out, it's not OK
for hackers to exploit others' mistakes or shortcomings.
Let's talk to our students about the importance of
password security so we can all protect ourselves, and let's talk to them about
. There are many more ethical ways to use their
computing expertise to help companies and districts secure their