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March 2003

IT security and ethical hacking: Does it do more harm than good?

Within minutes of its release, SQL Slammer caused Internet connectivity to drop 15 percent globally and by as much as 60 percent in some locations. It was particularly nasty for large corporations with multiple intranet connections to partners and suppliers. Latency tripled, and many applications timed out. More than 13,000 Bank of America ATMs went down for several hours. And yet, like hundreds of worms and viruses before it, Slammer need not have happened at all. While media reports largely focused on the technical reasons why organizations were vulnerable to Slammer, few have discussed the root problem: the person who released the worm. This person violated a fundamental ethical rule--Kant's Categorical Imperative, which cautions us not to behave in a manner that we wouldn't want everyone else to behave. If we all behaved in such a manner, the Internet would be unusable. Indeed, it wouldn't exist. But part of the responsibility also rests with the person who made a conscious decision to move the vulnerability from "known to ...

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