Modern Trader
Rise of the Ethical Hacker

Modern Trader
Rise of the Ethical Hacker

Garrett Baldwin

In the October issue of Modern Trader, Garrett Baldwin sat down with four ethical hackers to discuss the threats to the financial sector. The complete interview can be read on newsstands at Barnes & Noble next week. 

However, a few portions of the interview were cut for spacing. However, these two sections tell a critical story about the role of ethical hackers in today's digital world. 

What follows is an exploration into the rise of the ethical hacker, the challenges that companies face as cyber threats accelerate, and the fine line that experts walk in this sensitive industry.


In January 2015, a group of financial motivated hackers (calling themselves Rex Mundi) hacked into a Swiss bank and said they would release the private information of its clients. Assuming they were high-net-worth individuals, the hackers told Banque Cantonale de Genève that they wanted 10,000 euros. 

When the bank rejected the deal, they leaked private information online about a few of the clients, including names, phone numbers and account numbers, in addition to their e-mails with the bank.

It’s not clear if this bank or any other bank ever pays the money when a breach occurs.

“Most banks’ policy is to say that they don’t negotiate with hackers,” says Mr. Green, a security specialist who asked to remain anonymous during our interview with four ethical hackers. “But the additional information is never released, and the story never comes up again in the newspaper.”

Everyone at the table suggests that the bank likely paid the money.

The motivation for this hack and many like it is purely financial: The bank maintained critical data, it maintained a highly vulnerable website, and it had a lot of money. These three reasons are why hackers target the financial sector, including banks, brokerages, and exchanges. 

But another phenomenon has emerged, much to the chagrin of these ethical hackers. 

Some hackers have taken to preemptively hacking a company and exposing vulnerabilities. Quickly, they make a demand to the company executives and its technology team: Pay them to explain the breach; otherwise, the company will remain vulnerable to further attacks by more nefarious actors. 

To some, it’s blackmail, to others it’s “glorified ambulance chasing.” 

To Mr. Orange, it’s purely a violation of hacking ethics. “You just can’t do that,” he says. “Either you’re ethical or you’re not.”

But hypothetical questions emerge when exploring the nature of these breaches. If the bank or trading exchange is vulnerable, how else is it going to find out the vulnerability? Will they require a full-scale and potentially expensive assessment of the entire platform, or is it easier to simply pay this cost and get back to business? 

“It’s tough to classify because these hackers are going for easy money,” Mr. Green says. “But I see hackers as the immune system of the internet. And today, we are showing when and how something can be done. These events aren’t something on television. This isn’t the plot of the movie Swordfish. It’s not theoretical. I always tell companies that they need to hack themselves first to understand the threats.”

Ethics remain the central line between Black Hat hackers and White Hat hackers, according to Mr. Green. 

One could extend the “ambulance chasing” example to other industries to measure the ethical lines.

For example, what if a doctor knew your diagnosis but wouldn’t divulge unless you paid him a higher fee? But what if this doctor is the only one who knows how to cure your ailment? 

In the medical industry, the Hippocratic Oath keeps this scenario from happening.

But there is no Hippocratic Oath for hackers. 

Be sure to read the longer feature "Assume Breach" at Futuresmag.com or in the October print edition of Modern Trader


About the Author

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Garrett Baldwin is the features editor of Modern Trader and lives in Chicago.


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