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Most Hackers Aren’t Criminals – Charles Henderson

Professional hackers work to keep people safe by finding security vulnerabilities before criminals do.

Mr. Henderson is a hacker at IBM.

When asked what his father did for a living, my son explained to his kindergarten teacher that “he steals things, but it’s O.K. because he gets paid to do it.”

He wasn’t wrong.

I’m a hacker, and I run a team of hackers. We spend our days discovering ways to break into anything that can connect to the internet — servers, automated teller machines, light bulbs — in an attempt to access information that was never meant to be seen. If we get to it before a criminal does, then we’ve done our job.

I’m proud of what I do for a living, just like doctors or lawyers are proud of the work they do. The Texas Department of Motor Vehicles, however, recently took a critical stance on my profession. When I purchased vanity plates for my car, the agency was quick to take them away, claiming that a license plate displaying “HACKING” endorsed illegal and criminal activity.

While this reaction really isn’t the fault of the well-intentioned municipal employee who took away my license plates, it’s a symptom of how a deeply rooted misrepresentation of my profession has created flawed perceptions and stereotypes.

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