A couple of years ago, my computer science class explored ethics in computing. Hacking was a hot topic even then, so we held a formal debate on it. Student groups researched both sides of the issue, and each group presented their arguments.
Many of the students thought hackers were good guys who do companies a favor by exposing security holes. They pointed to companies who hired known hackers for their expertise in identifying internal network security issues. Needless to say, there was a lot of excitement about cultivating their burgeoning hacking skills on our district's internal network.
But the most compelling argument of the day was a great analogy that one student presented: If you leave the front door of your house unlocked, is it OK for a stranger to come in, sit down and leave you a note on your kitchen table? No! This student argued that the same logic applies to hacking. His group also shared that malicious hacking is against the law. In the end, the panel of student judges agreed that hacking is unethical and that there are better ways to alert companies to possible security issues.
There are also many other reasons hacking is a bad idea. For school districts, hacking wastes a lot of network administrators and computer technicians' time — not to mention taxpayer money — on investigating malicious attacks. Their time would be better spent configuring and maintaining educational resources. Hackers also risk exposing the confidential data about students and staff that schools store on their servers.
Recently, a neighboring school district's website was hacked. Hackers posted obscene photos and offensive messages in place of the district's content. No confidential or financial data was stolen from the site, so why did the hacker do it? I believe people who hack without financial gain do so to expose others' faults and prove that they can outsmart others.
It's true that companies, school districts and individuals must set up secure networks and use strong passwords. But as my student pointed out, it's not OK for hackers to exploit others' mistakes or shortcomings.
Let's talk to our students about the importance of password security so we can all protect ourselves, and let's talk to them about digital citizenship . There are many more ethical ways to use their computing expertise to help companies and districts secure their networks.