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I am interested in information security, and I want to be a "hacker." I want to write hacking tools, make viruses, and other stuff...

For me, programming botnets are a lot of fun, but how can legally I earn a living through the creation of nefarious applications?

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    Maybe you could apply for a job at the NSA? Commented Nov 13, 2015 at 20:26
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    ... or other nation-state information agencies (f.ex. if you don't live in the US getting a job at NSA won't be quite easy).
    – SEJPM
    Commented Nov 13, 2015 at 20:27
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    Hacker is not considered a criminal word for many programmers. Instead, it is considered someone who like to play and poke around systems and tools to understand them better. Within the lingo it would be cracker, someone who breaks into computer with nefarious intentions. White hat hacker and black hat hacker also come to mind reading the question, so maybe you'd like to search them up Commented Nov 14, 2015 at 0:59
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    @martinstoeckli - no, OP would still be a criminal then, just an unpunished one.
    – Tom Zych
    Commented Nov 14, 2015 at 1:44
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    Have the semantics among outsiders drifted so much that people don't realize that "hacking" has nothing to do with security cracks? It looks like the OP really wanted to ask "Can I make a legal living as an author of malware?" The answer is "yes -- that's what a certain type of security research is focused on". But its not the most fun work in security research, once you learn your way around.
    – zxq9
    Commented Nov 14, 2015 at 3:16

4 Answers 4

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There are many ways you can be an "ethical hacker." Here are a few that come to mind:

  1. You can write malware that helps catch the bad guys. Who the "bad guys" are may depend on who you're working for, and what your beliefs are. This may be a gray/black area to some.
  2. You can write malware so you can understand how it works, and then defend against it. The best anti-virus authors are those who understand how to actually create malware.
  3. You can get paid to find bugs in programs developed by large corporations, but this isn't generally "creating" malware; it's just finding security holes, of which people could use to inject malware.

Just because someone creates malware doesn't mean they're going to use it against others. For some, just understanding how it works is enough. Not everyone involved in information security is out to hurt someone.

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    "The best anti-virus authors are those who understand how to actually create malware" -- although note that while the best arson investigators of course are those who know how to set fires, the opportunities to actually do so are limited to test environments ;-) Commented Nov 13, 2015 at 23:57
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    @SteveJessop For some people. :p Commented Nov 14, 2015 at 1:56
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    Number 1 is basically criminals deluding themselves that they are some warriors of justice. Really, these people are more annoying than regular blackhats. And what they are doing (usually directly harming innocent people) is usually worse than blackhats trying to hack a bank.
    – Davor
    Commented Nov 14, 2015 at 12:23
  • @Davor: true, but even outside the realm of hacking you can say that about certain police departments. So it's not uncommon for people to have difficulty finding and agreeing the right lines to respect. Commented Nov 14, 2015 at 13:16
  • @Davor If they're hacking people for fun, true. Sure, I'll agree with that. But if they're really, truly going after the bad guys, then I honestly support them. Commented Nov 14, 2015 at 16:15
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You can get paid for finding vulnerabilities in software and web sites, that hackers could potentially exploit. For example, see here and here.

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  • Or you can get arrested, quite easily.
    – Davor
    Commented Nov 14, 2015 at 12:24
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One becomes something by doing that particular kind of thing. In other words, one becomes a hacker, not by reading and talking about hacking, but by actual hacking. Likewise, one becomes a criminal by committing crimes.

Therefore, it is clear that one might hack without committing crimes. So yes, one can be a hacker without being a criminal.

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The Italian company Hacking Team has job openings for hackers, see here:

Hacker / Developer

Developers design new features, develop them and polish our software to perfection. Hackers find out how to overcome the original design of objects, hack into them and uncover all their secrets. You have to be both, and the more you know, the better. We need a person with a strong technical background, able to deeply understand how devices and software work and to hack them. At the same time, you should be confident with lean programming and know how to structure code to fit into an enterprise scale software.

We only accept candidates with an unstoppable will to learn!

Depending on the area of development preferred knowledge is: C++, Objective-C, some x86 or ARM Assembly, Ruby or Python, ActionScript or reversing skills. Design Patterns and Agile Programming are a must. Work location is Milan, Italy, and on site presence is a plus.

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    Ethically speaking, working for them is arguably even worse than working for the NSA or GCHQ, as they sell exploits to some of the worst regimes in the world.
    – A.P.
    Commented Nov 14, 2015 at 15:28
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    -1 That's really bad advice. You seem to ignore that the Hacking Team has a terrible reputation. Not only they have been labeled as an enemy of the Internet by Reporters Without Borders for the reasons @A.P. wrote, but also they let themselves be victim of a massive data breach due to their ridiculous security practices: attivissimo.blogspot.ch/2015/07/… (in Italian, you can automatically Google Translate it in English).
    – dr_
    Commented Nov 14, 2015 at 17:08
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    @dr01 the question is about working in this field within the law. Hacking Team is subject to Italian law. Whether or not one should have ethical objections is another question. Note that ethical objections can lead someone to do something that is illegal, take e.g. the actions taken by Edward Snowden. So, if one for argument's sake accepts his arguments, then you would say that what he did was ethically justified while not doing what he did would be unethical, but he still broke the law. So the ethical perspective and the legal perspective are not always compatible with each other. Commented Nov 14, 2015 at 20:43

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