“Is hacking illegal or legal?” is now one of the most common questions that take place on the web space. In fact, studies show that hacking activities have increased in recent times.

The hacking world is big enough such that it features different categories of hackers, ranging from white hat to black hat, grey hat, script kiddies, hacktivists and so on.

However, there has been a lot of controversies around hacking, and part of them is that some people believe hacking is 100% illegal while some believe hacking is legal.

Well, the principal thrust of this article is to describe when hacking is legal and when it becomes a crime. So, keep on reading.

Hacking Explained

Hacking occurs when someone intentionally uses a computer to identify and maneuver the weakness in computer systems or networks so as to gain unauthorized access or control over the data stored therein.

A copious example of hacking is when someone uses a password cracking algorithm to gain illegal access to a computer system.

Hacking can also be referred to as gaining unauthorized access to computer systems or networks. The criminal action is a punishable offense in many countries, including Canada, USA, Australia or Russia, and can attract heavy penalties.

It is worthy to note that hacking can be done legally and illegally, and this is the basic thrust of this article to let you understand the circumstances where hacking can be considered legal and when it becomes illegal.

The truth about hacking is that it is not an illegal activity unless the hacker is compromising a system without the owner’s permission. To further break it down, let’s talk briefly about the categories of hackers and how they operate.

Classification Of Hackers And How They Operate

There are several classification of hackers, but for clarity sake we shall be exploring only the major ones, which include:

White hat hackers – they are computer network security professional and they engage in hacking for non-malicious reasons. Their sole intent is either to test their personal security system, check for loopholes, or access the weakness of computer systems/networks for a client. They are mostly hired by companies and government agencies to help secure their systems against intruders and hackers. White hat hackers are also regarded as ‘Ethical Hackers’.

Black hat hackers – they are the professionals who are very versed in Computer Networking, Network Protocols and System Administration, Scripting and Programming just like the Ethical Hackers.

These hackers are also known as crackers. However, what makes their operations illegal is that they use their skills for unethical reasons with a personal gain in mind. They are also capable of writing malware just to gain unauthorized access or control over the computer systems or networks.

Apart from hacking into computer systems or networks, the black hat hackers might as well destroy the hacked system or even prevent authorized users from accessing it. Some of their practices include stealing financial information from a company, stealing personal information and login credentials, hacking email account, but to mention a few.

Grey hat hackers – this category of hackers possess significant computer language skills which enable them to easily identify potential loopholes in the computer or network security system. In most cases, these hackers do notify the network system admin about the weakness discovered earlier. The major difference between the grey hat hackers and black hat hackers is that the former isn’t really concerned with personal gains as seen with the latter.

Overall, any other hackers apart from the white hat hackers are considered cybercriminals, and they exist solely to bar the work done by white hat hackers.

When is hacking illegal?

“Unauthorised access to computer systems” and “intellectual property violations.” are the two most common “illegal” hacking activities as recently observed.

However, hacking can be considered illegal when it is done for malicious & sick intentions like:

Hacking for fun – some political parties or politicians may hire hackers to help satisfy their selfish interests by engaging in illegal activities such as hacking personal accounts, websites, emails and/or networks relating to political parties. The sitting president of US, Donald Trump experienced such during the US presidential election campain.

Hacking for notoriety – online hackers, especially the script kiddies might want to brag to their friends or relatives about their programming knowledge or computer skills, and thus they engage in hacking activities. Hacking like this is unethical and the hacker if caught would be subject to prosecution and penalties.

Hacking for profit – what some hackers do online is to find loopholes in a computer network or system, and then exercise full control over it. Some might even restrict the authentic users from gaining access to the system while demanding the admin to pay a huge amount of money to regain access. Hacking like this is considered illegal and punishable under the law.

When is hacking legal?

Hacking is considered legal when it is done with non-malicious intentions, also known as etchical hacking, such as:

1. Bug Bounty – a significant number of big companies offer tremendous rewards for whosoever finds any vulnerabilities or loopholes in their systems. When a hacker eventually finds any weakness in the system, he will be rewarded by the company in question. In a scenario like this, hacking is considered legal since the company itself has authorized the third parties to interfere with its computer systems and networks.

2. Professional Penetration Testing – in a bid to tighten the security of the existing computer systems and networks, companies employ security professionals to help test their system for any loopholes before the intruders would detect them. Penetration testing can be sub-categorized into Web Application Penetration Testing, Infrastructure Penetration Testing, Mobile Device and Mobile Application Penetration Testing.

3. Retrieval Process – there are some cases where the computer systems and networks of a particular would become inaccessible due to forgotten passkey or other related issues. If the alternative retrieval methods seem not to be working, the company might hire some experienced hackers to crack into the system or network so as to retrieve the data again.

Please note that there are many other ways hacking can be considered legal, we only cited some copious examples.

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