Usually when the term hacker is thrown around it denotes an image of a dark room lit only by the hazy glow of a computer screen. The only sound besides the computer’s fan is the furious click and clack of a keyboard as a lone teenager types his way into infamy.
However, that image is cracking as these hackers are being brought into light, more specifically the corporate light.
Many companies including Google are now holding competitions called “bug bounties” to see if hackers can find any security issues within their online infrastructure and if/when they find a bug, they are rewarded with a cash prize and, in some cases, a career.
According to an article on CNN.com by Julianne Pepitone, Pinkie Pie, a teenage male, won the top prize of $60,000 for discovering an issue with Chrome. However, not all competitions are supported by the tech industry. Microsoft (according to a PC World article) feels that these “bounties” paid to hackers catching bugs should in fact be used to lure out the hackers themselves. While there are fears of hackers stealing secrets and “double-dipping” meaning that they find a bug and sell that information to other hackers or malcontents, thus winning both the bounty and some extra cash on the side, these hacking competitions provoke an inherent need in the hacker community to strut their stuff and maintain their programming prowess pride and power.
Take for instance the hacker group Hack Anonymous, which was credited with hacking into Sony’s Playstation and the Playstation network last year. As a member of the PSN, my credit card info was stolen prompting a phone call to the credit card company and a mild panic attack. The reason for the hack attack? Retaliation for Sony’s attack on George Hotz, a hacker who published his method for jailbreaking the Playstation 3. The hackers did not attack Sony for the credit card information, albeit there’s bound to be a bad apple in the bunch, but they were doing it to show Sony that they could and should have the rights to modify their personal Playstations however way they want. Though their methods were extreme they wanted to showcase their power and take it back. And they got it.
These bug bounties are the best solution to the hacker problem. Instead of putting a bounty on each hackers head, give them a job and make their skills constructive instead of destructive like Twitter did with Charles Miller (the infamous Apple hacker). Hackers will never go away but by bringing in outside help and creativity it only ignites innovation in these tech conglomerates and provides hackers with a positive outlet to display their abilities.
It is really no different from a mass collaboration technique often used by businesses to catch issues with a product or service before it spirals out of control. Through these bug bounty competitions, hackers are not only improving their reputation but are saving companies and global Internet users time and effort trying to fix a bug that just can’t be squashed without some hired hackers to help.