Recent news articles provide a constant reminder of the nation’s computer network security issues. The government and large companies are equally vulnerable to hackers seeking to obtain private data or corrupt sensitive files. The media continually condemns all hackers without recognizing the significant benefits provided by hackers. As a nation, there is little understanding of what hacking actually is and how, without hackers, many advancements would not likely have occurred. So, the question then becomes, are hackers good or bad?

That question is far too complex to have a simple answer. Hacking can be simply defined as probing software for vulnerabilities. Hackers are simply programmers who use their skills to identify weaknesses in software and explore ways to exploit those weaknesses. What typical consumers fail to understand is that hackers can use their skills to improve software as well as abuse its vulnerabilities. In fact, white hat hackers routinely work with organizations to find and close existing loopholes before less scrupulous hackers can take advantage of the weaknesses. Of course, there are times when companies and governments ignore warning signs until the damage is already done.

At that point, white hat hackers still close the loopholes and work with clients to minimize the potential for further intrusions. Because all hackers use essentially the same skill sets, it becomes a question of which ones are better able to spot potential vulnerabilities. While companies have, in the past, been loathe to spend the money necessary for top quality protection, black hat hackers often have the upper hand. With the recent highly publicized attacks on major businesses and governments, that may change.

Network security is crucial for protecting data and assets. With the increasing sophistication of less than scrupulous hackers, a corresponding effort must occur to counteract potential threats. Computer industry experts have long argued that being reactive is not sufficient, organizations must be proactive to protect networks from unauthorized intrusions at all levels. To be proactive, the best hackers should be recruited to prevent unauthorized accesses to systems. The public’s perception of hackers must change to recognize the importance of white hat hackers in protecting networks.

Of course not all hackers are altruistic.  Recent news has been rife with various stories of big-headline hacks including Sony Pictures as well as Target.  These cost both companies several millions of dollars in damages as well as dented reputations.  In some cases the loopholes were  zero-day security holes, however they were quite damaging.  This leads us to the requirements for computer security and the arrays of various security protocols that everyone should have in place, whether they are a casual user or a huge corporation responsible for tons of user data.

There are the usual blogs of course, including our favorites CNet, KrebsOnSecurity, and We Hate Malware.  These can help you to keep up with various security trends and things that you “should know”.

Java programmers should also stay up to date on security holes and flaws.  There are an array of various forums and other websites that can help you stay on top of the day to day news.