But beyond the basic skills, there is the potentially tricky topic of what “hacking for the greater good” really means. “Greater good” could mean vastly different things depending on who gets to define it in a politically and morally contentious time.
For example, is “hacktivism” part of the greater good, depending on the cause? Not in the view of these experts.
“Those who seek flaws in systems in pursuit of a political agenda are not ethical hackers,” Harrington said. “Make no doubt about it: Even in the name of a cause with which you might agree, hacktivists are not the good guys.”
“Hacktivism never pays off,” Hadnagy said. “You always have to hurt someone to make your point. I steer clear of certain topics and the politics of it all. Take the high road, work at what is passionate for you. To me, doing good means when I leave I hope you felt better for having met me.”
He said that motivation led him to start the ILF (Innocent Lives Foundation), a nonprofit that uses “ethical white hat hackers to track and unmask those who create and trade in child abuse material.” It also led him to create the SE (social engineering) Code of Ethics, to establish best practices and standards for white hat hacking.
Richards offers the same advice. “The ‘greater good’ to me is helping humanity for nonfinancial motivation,” he said. “I have spoken with individuals who have used technical skills to identify and track criminals successfully. Recently, at DEF CON, there was an open source intelligence (OSINT) challenge to find missing persons. Both of these are worthy pursuits.”