In the United States, the term “hacker” carries a negative connotation. It conjures an image of a dark room filled with computers and a lone man attempting to break into bank or credit card networks to steal as much personal information as he can.
While there are plenty of “black-hat” hackers engaging in criminal activity for their own gain, the term hacker has an entirely different meaning. A hacker is simply a programmer for whom programming is reward enough. They tend to be curious individuals who test the limits of what is possible in computing. Unfortunately, the term has become synonymous with “cybercriminal” and now that this image is etched into the conscience of American society, there isn't much this unorganized group of people can do to restore their reputation. Articles like this one also make it difficult for ethical hackers to shed this image.
Strict interpretations of DMCA, EULAs and other laws or regulations have made criminals out of "white-hat" hackers whose only goals are to test the bounds of computing. The truth is we need hackers. Hackers are some of the most computer savvy individuals and their unique knowledge can be helpful in all kinds of scenarios. For example, an organization can hire a hacker to find possible vulnerabilities in their network, or a network security company can hire a hacker to help create a more secure firewall or other security devices.
While hiring true cybercriminals may not be advisable in all cases, to say that someone who was convicted of a cybercrime could never be trusted is laughable. Criminals reform, and these cybercriminals posses knowledge that possibly no one else has. Why not use their expertise to create a safer internet environment?
Other countries understand the distinction between cybercriminals and hackers. Some even create college programs that teach hacking techniques. Why? Because at the very least those who develop our network security solutions should understand how cybercriminals operate on a practical and technical level.