The term hacking gets bandied about a great deal in both the industry and in the media. Some stories carry the image of bored tweens, building skills while bragging about tearing up someone else’s hard work. Other stories talk more about offshore groups using server farms to mass phish for information.

The kinds of damage that hackers can cause is as varied as functions of a computer or device: Lost finances, trade secrets, and files swapped or erased are only the tip of what could be done to a person or company. Sometimes, just being one of the few people aware that different companies are talking to each other about business can mean opportunities for the unethical.

So the question gets raised: Can the arts of hacking be used to improve lives on a broader scale, or is it a purely destructive activity? Below, Forbes Technology Council members weigh in on ethics and hacking.

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1. They’re Essential For Security 

An ethical hacker is defined as someone who exploits vulnerabilities without impacting the systems they are penetrating. They usually have permission to do this in order to discover weaknesses. It is part of the cybersecurity scientific method, as an ethical hacker would work to eradicate vulnerabilities on the individual and global level before a vulnerability is maliciously exploited. – Tim Maliyil, AlertBoot

2. Hackers Help Shore Up Defenses

Cybercriminals are getting smarter every day, and companies must keep security protection up to date. Having researchers who can get into the minds of cybercriminals and look for security vulnerabilities and potential entry points is a crucial part of protecting against an outside breach. We have a number of employees who play this role on our own team, enabling us to better protect customers. – Neill Feather, SiteLock

3. Hackers’ Shades Vary By Intent

Anyone looking to break into a system uninvited would never qualify. Individuals contracted to look for vulnerabilities or those who find them accidentally — often referred to as “white hats” — can certainly qualify as ethical hackers. As for the the ones in between (the grey hats), like vigilantes, it is difficult to see these individuals operating in an ethical way. – Chris Kirby, Voices.com