Ethics of Hacking Contests

Normally, hacking has been associated with negativity both in literature and application. However, the concept of hacking is in itself not unethical. Nonetheless, the misuse of hacking in inflicting harm on others instead of helping them is a concern in today’s society. The negative reputation associated with hacking cannot be a yardstick to ascertain the morality of the concept. Indeed, hacking is neither illegal nor immoral when used in the right way to help others and not cause harm to human wellbeing. It is only immoral when the act is committed with an intention of causing harm to others while accruing benefits to the perpetrator (Radziwill et al, 2015). In the example given, ACME Security challenges hackers to hack its system. The first person to hack the system is going to be declared the winner of the contest. On face value, the contest bears no wrongdoing because the company allows for the hacking to take place and even has prior information regarding the hacking attempts. In addition, the company allows and even encourages people to hack its system as a test of its security. In view of this event, the repercussions of the hacking contest may render the event ethical in the long run. Ultimately, the hacking contest, although beneficial to both hackers and the company, is largely unethical as it invokes weaknesses across different technological platforms.

There are three different types of hackers based on their intentions and implications. The black-hat hacker is one that is malicious in intent and hacks to attain personal gratification. Normally, these types of hackers do so to disrupt the normal operations with intended benefits for self. Black-hat hacking is out rightly immoral for the ill intent it assumes. On the other extreme is a white-hat hacker whose intent of hacking is usually good. A very good example of this type of hacker is the one that wins in the ACME contest. Normally, they operate under the permission of the host company, attempting to test the company’s resilience to security threats. The fact that this type of hacking is beneficial to the two parties renders it moral. In the third category is the gray-hat hacker that lies between the two extremes. These types of hackers have no malicious intent but their initiation of hacking is not permitted. Although these hackers can be prosecuted for the actions, they do not have a malicious intent.

While the AMCE hacking event is in good faith, not every participant is interested in the positive ideals of the company. In truth, the event is intended to bolster the company’s security by testing its resilience to such threats as hacking. The impacts of the hacking event on the hacking world are sure to be enormous and negative in the long run. A good percentage of the participants can harness their hacking abilities posing an imminent threat to the already threatened industry (Jamil & Khan, 2011). Today, hacking is one of the leading security threats to both small and large companies in this age of technology. Although the company’s contest may be in good faith, it has no control on the future intentions of the participants. In addition, the information and expertise shared with the expertise may be used in future hacking attempts that are malicious. As a result of the event, there will be an increase in the number of hackers in the market as more people learn the trade.

The possibility of training future criminals in a largely positive event makes it potentially immoral and unethical. It is potentially immoral to train people on how to use highly sensitive tools to access restricted information. On one hand, however, hackers of good intentions may use the information gained in improving the security systems of other entities. On the other extreme, black-hat hackers may use the set of skills gained to improve their efficiency in exploiting faults within security systems and then stealing sensitive information. Clearly, the repercussions of the hacking event are two-fold with one set being beneficial and the other harmful. How then can one strike a balance and ascertain the event’s net impact on the society.

The question of ethics in this contest can be solved through the use of the utilitarianism theory. This theory provides an opportunity to view the outcomes in the alternative where the action was not performed. In this case, there would be no influx of hackers had the contest not been staged. In this sense, therefore, the hacking contest is at fault for increasing the number of hackers in the market. Nonetheless, the process of hacking is not an invention of this contest and would have existed even without the existence of the event. There is also the benefit that the training of more hackers may provide more white-hat hackers to counter the influx of malicious hackers (Pike, 2013). Eventually, the training benefits the industry as more people are now available to prevent malicious hacking. In addition, most organizations would have stayed in the dark with regard to hacking techniques as they did not even know they existed. In this regard, the contest serves to improve the existing information thus improving the industry’s overall preparedness.

The determination of where the hacking training falls cannot be done at the discretion of ACME. However, hackers would still have proliferated even without the event as the techniques used are not new inventions. The determination of the contest’s morality is therefore not a straightforward task. Also, the alternative does not provide for improved security but rather maintains a status quo in which the industry is exploited by the existing black-hat hackers. The benefit of this contest is that it avails information to both parties thereby improving their knowledge of such practices. The net effect is that companies improve their security as they are more aware of the exploits in the market. Ultimately, therefore, the AMCE contest benefits the companies by improving their awareness.

The effects of the contest, although two-fold, are more beneficial to the industry in the long run. It is obvious that some malicious hackers will gain from the training and therefore improve their ability in hacking. Nonetheless, the benefits accrued from new information from the contest outweigh the negative impacts. The utilitarianism theory portrays an even worse scenario had the event not been staged. Considering the outcomes of the alternative, it is evident that the industry would have suffered more from the hacking than it benefits from the contest. Although the negative effects of hacking come to light in the contest, so do positive effects. In the end, the staging of contests such as the one done by AMCE improves the security of the industry.

Whether the ACME contest existed or not, there would still be hackers. People tend to view a single element from different perspectives. This is showcased by the different types of hackers that exist. They use their skills in different ways. There are those that cause harm, others works to bolster the security of their respective companies, while others just hack for fun without causing any harm. This makes it difficult to rule out whether hacking is ethical or not. It is more of what the people with the hacking skills use them for. Just like the debate on gun violence that has persisted for a long time. Even with the implementation of different policies, aspects of gun violence are still prevalent. This gives the notion that it is not all about the guns, but also the people using these guns. There are people that buy guns for protection purposes, and there others who purchase them for malicious activities. This is the same thing with hacking. It is not only legal but morally beneficial when conducted with just motives and specified positive intentions. It only becomes unethical and illegal when people use it to conduct malicious activities.



Radziwill, N., Romano, J., Shorter, D., & Benton, M. (2015). The Ethics of Hacking: Should It Be Taught?. arXiv preprint arXiv:1512.02707.

JAMIL, D., & KHAN, M. N. A. (2011). Is ethical hacking ethical?. International Journal of Engineering Science and Technology (IJEST), ISSN, 0975-5462.

Pike, R. E. (2013). The “Ethics” of Teaching Ethical Hacking. Journal of International Technology and Information Management, 22(4), 4.



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