Hacking for Good: The Not-So-Scary Side of the Hacking World

When you think of hacking, maybe you envision someone malicious in a dark room, breaking into government or corporate websites to expose private information to the world. You might think of common code-focused hacks, hacktivist groups like Anonymous (NSFW), or maybe even the 414s from back in the 1980s. These images aren’t incorrect; however, they are just one side of the hacking world.

The unknown hacking worldTo quote Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, “the word ‘hacker’ has an unfairly negative connotation from being portrayed in the media as people who break into computers. In reality, hacking just means building something quickly or testing the boundaries of what can be done.”

Hacking is neither malevolent nor mischievous at its core. You could argue any creative-type thinking on his or her feet is a hacker. We hear about “life hacks” all of the time. It’s even been argued that Ben Franklin was one of the greatest hackers in American history. These aren’t scary ideas. Hacking computer code doesn’t have to be either.

How familiar are you with these lesser-known spheres of hacking?

Ethical Hacking

What better way is there to combat the bad guys than by beating them at their own game? Now as a college degree and a career path, Ethical Hacking addresses the vulnerabilities present in the online world. Yes, you heard that correctly. Ethical Hacking.

Finding susceptible points of online infrastructures and alerting a company or government agency about these weaknesses is essential in keeping information secure. It makes sense doesn’t it? Someone has to try to test a system for everything it’s worth to protect it from unauthorized access. Being proactive has never been so complex, but these “white hat” professionals are up to the task. System defense fundamentals and hacking practices from footprinting and reconnaissance to Trojans, worms and viruses, cryptography, social engineering, firewalls and honeypots, and so much more are up the sleeves of ethical hackers—which can make the rest of us feel better, even if we don’t all understand the details. Mr. Robot gets it.

Civic Hacking

Capturing the power of more minds, more hands-on-deck, and more passion for the places we live, Civic Hacking is becoming an awesome trend to be aware of—taking the idea of “government for the people by the people” to a new level.

Code-for-AmericaAs an example, Code for America builds open-source software for local governments, building armies of largely citizen volunteers. Their projects have included working with the Richmond City Health Department to improve healthcare access and utilization, the City of Indianapolis to improve data analysis and highlight public engagement to improve safety for its residents, the City of West Sacramento to advance the regional food system, and so many more.

Civic hackers are taking charge, bettering government systems, and not letting inferior processes linger. This movement could be leading to some very big things.

The Hacker Way

Tech companies can be on the cutting-edge of innovation, and this couldn’t be truer than for Facebook. Their core internal mantra embodies the hacker spirit and is dubbed, “The Hacker Way.”

“The Hacker Way is an approach to building that involves continuous improvement and iteration,” wrote Zuckerberg in his S-1 filing prior to Facebook’s IPO. “Hackers believe that something can always be better, and that nothing is ever complete. They just have to go fix it—often in the face of people who say it’s impossible or are content with the status quo.”

And Facebook is hardly the only cutting-edge company with this spirit.


So the next time you hear the word “hacker,” there’s really no reason to squirm. Yes, you need to be thoughtful about secure checkouts and where you share your private information online—just as you should be anywhere else. Yes, there are “black hat” hackers out there doing things we don’t even want to think about. However, not all hackers are the evil-intentioned kind.

Some hackers might just be out to save the world—or at least their tiny slice of it.