Is Hacking Ethical?

The controversy revolving around the morality of hacking stems from the negative implication associated with the concept. Indeed, hacking has been the basis of numerous legislative policies geared towards the privacy and security of information. Despite this negative association, hacking cannot be regarded as an unethical process when done alone. The intentions behind the event of hacking determine whether the process is ethical or not. Usually, hacking is considered immoral when it is misused to cause harm to the affected parties. Nonetheless, hacking can also be used positively to gauge the security of an organization’s system and in identifying weaknesses that need immediate attention (Basta & Brown, 2016). In such cases, the use of hacking has no negative implication and is actually used in advancing a positive cause. Some scholars have also argued that the process, even when moral, may cause long term drawbacks through indirect causes.

Such was the case when ACME Security held a hacking contest to test the resilience of its system. Hackers were required to try and access the unauthorized system with the first person to succeed becoming the winner. Naturally, the contest bears no unethical implications as the hacking is warranted and permitted by the concerned party. However, there are negative indirect implications to be witnessed in the long term regarding the proliferation of hackers in the industry. Regardless, the ACME contest is testament that hacking is an unethical practice with long-term repercussions.

Basically, the morality of hacking is dependent on the type and form of hacking that is being advanced. Hackers are classified into three different types based on the intentions and implications of their hacking activities. The harmless category involves white-hat hackers. The hacking that was commissioned by ACME is a good example of this type of hacking. Usually, the hacking is done under the permission of the relevant organization and is meant to identify various weaknesses in a system. This helps the organization involved in developing a strong system that is not viable to malicious attacks (Regalado, 2015). Therefore, this type of hacking benefits both parties and is largely moral. The second category is comprised of black-hat hackers. These types of hackers have ill-intentions while they penetrate other people’s systems. On most occasions, it has resulted to theft of important information, some of which ought to have remained private. Some hackers that obtain information using such a mechanism use it as blackmail to gain financially. People have information that they are willing to pay any amount just to make sure it does not go public (Basta & Brown, 2016). There have also been scenarios in the past where nude photos of celebrities had been leaked by unknown hackers. Such aspects are likely to taint the image of these people since the society views them with high regard. Trade secrets have also been stolen through hacking. The third category comprise of grey-hat hackers that initiate hacking with no permission although their intents are not malicious (Regalado, 2015). The absence of permission in this type of hacking makes it a subject of prosecution.

The contest organized by ACME was conducted in good faith. However, it may also be argued that the event had negative implications since not every participant was interested in the positive aspects of hacking. In the midst of the hacking contest were future black-hat hackers who may not even be aware of this fact. It is no doubt that the event was meant to bolster the organization’s security by preparing it to future eventualities. Nonetheless, the event will bear long term negative implications on the industry. Some participants could benefit from the hacking skills and pose future threats to the industry (Jamil & Khan, 2011). Currently, hacking is a leading security threat with the potential of affecting large sections of the society. The knowledge and expertise imparted on the participants may be used negatively in accessing unauthorized systems in the future.  Consequently, the contest might have elicited curiosity among people that heard of it, and might prompt them to train on various hacking skills.

The contest further brings the possibility of emanation of criminals in the future thus rendering it immoral. It is highly immoral and unethical to train people on the dangerous skills of hacking. Black-hat hackers could use the skills to improve their efficiency in accessing unauthorized information from systems. However, white-hat hackers may stand to benefit from the training by improving the security of organizational security systems in their different fields of expertise. Evidently, the hacking contest has both negative and positive implications on the industry depending on the people involved. It is therefore prudent to use other theories in ascertaining the net effects of the contest on the industry as a whole.

Utilitarianism is an ideal bet in answering the question of the contest’s morality by providing a chance to gauge the alternative outcomes of the event. Clearly, the absence of the event would have had no visible change in the number of hackers in the society. Consequently, the hacking contest had negative implications as it led to the proliferation of hackers in the society (Jamil & Khan, 2011). However, looked at from another angle, the event did not innovate the concept of hacking and cannot therefore be blamed for the increase in number. Still, the event also contributed to more positive hackers that can counter the activities of black-hat hackers and therefore offsets the negative implications. Moreover, the contest is a blessing to many organizations that6 had been in the dark regarding possible eventualities of hacking. The contest thus serves to increase the level of information and knowledge on prospective loopholes in hacking of organizational security systems.

The company that organized the contest cannot be completely blamed for the proliferation of hackers. In fact, they would still have learnt the trade even without the staging of the event. The model used finds no improvement in security when the alternative is applied in theory. Indeed, the alternative only maintains a status quo thus encouraging the exploitation of organizational security systems. On the contrary, the contest benefits the industry by providing relevant information to the affected companies. In the long run, these companies benefit through improved knowledge and better awareness (Regalado, 2015). Eventually, the hackling event serves to benefit the industry through increased resilience of security systems.

In conclusion, this topic is controversial in its own way. It brings about debates that would go round and round without people having to come to an agreement. The act of hacking is not unethical in its own. However, the negative consequences that come with these actions are the subject of debate. Why do people want to learn how to hack in the first place if they do not want to cause harm? This is a question that an individual supporting the concept that hacking as being unethical would raise. However, it is quite easy to counter this question. How would the black-hat hackers be contained if white-hat hackers did not exist? Companies’ systems would be at the risk of being breached without the relevant parties knowing what to in dealing with such a situation. Simply put, hackers will always exist regardless of whether contests like the ones promulgated by AMCE exist or not. Therefore, AMCE had no wrong doing since they operated bearing in mind that their systems might be breached. This is to say that the concept of hacking is ethical; however, the intentions driving the hacker might make it unethical. It is more on the person conducting the act, than “hacking” as a concept.



Basta, A., & Brown, ‎M. (2016). Computer Security and Penetration Testing (2nd ed.). Cengage Learning: Boston.

Jamil, D., & Khan, M. N. A. (2011). Is ethical hacking ethical?. International Journal of Engineering Science and Technology.

Regalado, D. (2015). Gray Hat Hacking: The Ethical Hacker’s Handbook (4th ed.). New York: McGraw Hill Professional.

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