Computer hackers have a bad reputation. Repeatedly vilified by the press and caricatured by Hollywood, the traditional image of a hacker is of a man hunched over a screen in a dark room, hiding from the police. However, this side of computer hacking mostly belongs in fiction. There is a lucrative side to the industry, and some computer hackers move on from their illegal beginnings to enjoy a successful and above-board career.

Kevin Mitnick is perhaps the most famous name in hacking. He first came to public attention in 1988, when he was jailed for 12 months for breaking into the network of the Digital Equipment Corporation. Mitnick reoffended shortly after his release, and managed to evade the police for 2 ½ years. He was eventually caught and sentenced to a further five years in prison – but by this time, he had amassed significant public support. Following his release, he opened a computer security consultancy, and has enjoyed considerable success. He also became the subject of movies and books, co-authored two computer security books and an autobiography, and has since been referenced in a number of video games and TV shows.

Kevin Poulsen is another hacking success story. Following an FBI investigation into his illicit hacking activities, Poulsen went on the run in 1988. He continued to disrupt official networks as a fugitive, also hacking the phone lines of radio station KIIS-FM in order to win a competition. After serving a five-year sentence, he forged a successful career as a journalist, writing for companies and publications such as SecurityFocus News and Wired News.


Insecure Future

However, not all computer hackers go on to future success. Jonathan James became famous for hacking into the systems of high-profile agencies – including the U.S. Department of Defence and NASA – when he was just 15 years old. Due to his age, he was found guilty of juvenile delinquency, and was subsequently sentenced to house arrest and probation. Jonathan’s story took a tragic turn in 2007, when a group of hackers infiltrated TJX. Although he protested his innocence, the Secret Service placed him under investigation. Fearing he would be falsely accused of aiding the hackers, he ultimately committed suicide in 2008.

Another hacker, Dennis M. Moran, suffered a similar fate. He was sentenced to 12 months in prison and ordered to pay a $15,000 fine, following a series of attacks on popular websites such as Yahoo, eBay, and He passed away in 2013 from a heroin overdose – members of an online forum he frequented suggested that it might have been suicide.

Becoming a black hat computer criminal – defined as ‘a hacker who violates computer security for little reason beyond maliciousness or for personal gain’ – is not advisable, and the majority of illegal hackers are given lengthy jail sentences. Mitnick and Poulsen saw the error of their ways, and successfully turned their careers around following their respective releases from prison. They ultimately chose to use their expertise legally, and now advise companies on computer security.


Legal Ethical Careers for a Computer Hacker

If you are ready to avoid the ‘dark’ side of hacking and turn to the ethical side, there are rewards and opportunities galore.

There are plenty of ways for computer enthusiasts to forge a legal career from their interests, without turning to illicit hacking. Programming is perhaps the obvious choice, with colleges around the world offering courses in computer science and software development. A career in programming involves creating new software, updating existing code and finding solutions to problems on a daily basis. The possibilities are endless – programmers are needed everywhere from long-running companies to hot new startups.

Those who enjoy the challenge of hacking a site could always consider a career as a computer security expert. These professionals use their expertise to advise companies on security, often by attempting to break into computer systems, and then suggesting potential improvements. Ultimately, a career in computer security gives hackers a legal – and potentially lucrative – outlet for their passion.


Cisco recently announced $300,000 in prize money that challenges security experts around the world to put together ways to secure what’s now called the “Internet of Things,”. The Internet of Things Security Grand Challenge invites you — the global security community — to propose practical security solutions across the markets being impacted daily by the IoT.


There are challenges, money and a career if you have make the right ethical choices.


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Guest Post Contributor:

This post was written by John Philips from are a reseller of SSL certificates from the likes of Comodo, GeoTrust and VeriSign.