Black hat innovation

Sometimes, it might seem as if black hat innovation out paces white hat innovation. Whenever there is innovation or invention there is also misuse. As a colleague once put it: “where there is encryption, there is also decryption”.

A black keyboard, the favourite tool for black hat innovation

All digital innovation seems to go through the keyboard. This includes black hat innovation.

Things are getting better

The world is a better place today than it was in the past. I wrote in my previous blog post that change is inevitable. I do not think that means that we are locked in stasis. Every change for the better is not matched by another change for the worse. We are seeing a gradual progression towards a better future.

Fewer and fewer people live in extreme poverty. There are fewer wars and less murders now then in the past. It seems that we can reach the very ambitious UN Millenium goals.

On the whole, things are better and better. That does not mean that there aren’t problems that need to be addressed, inventions to make and innovations to be rolled out.

Black hat innovation, a definition


Usually, sustainable innovation is about a win-win. In the normal innovation game everybody is a winner. I hereby propose a simple definition of black-hat innovation:

A black hat innovation is any innovation that is about win-loose, where the innovator wins and everybody else looses.

I think the following are good examples of black hat innovation in the digital space: credit card fraud, ransomware and identity theft. There are many other black hat innovations that does not rely on tech such as chain letters, counterfeit money and even weighted dice. I will not cover those in this post.

I do not consider general computer viruses and malware as black hat innovations. There has to be profit and improvement for at least someone for something to be an innovation. Simple defacing and vandalism has no real gain for the perpetrator.

I am not sure if there aren’t memes that can be considered to be black hat innovations. Sure, these ideas might seem harmless or no worse than graffiti. But often, they are spread for profit. Alternatives to proven methods will seem just that bit more attractive backed by the right meme.

The innovation arms race

There is now, and there has always been an arms race between white hat and black hat innovators. Watch me and Jan Eldenmalm discuss how this plays out in the payments area in the following video.

As white hat innovators, we need to keep the black hat innovators at bay. We should not be reactive. It is important that we are always “skating to where the puck will be“. We need to design innovation not around the potential for misuse but for the certainty of misuse. The law of unintended consequences is very real.

The innovator needs to use risk management and threat analysis. We must never forget that we need to be good managers and good engineers to be resistant to black hat manipulation. As long as we continue to be imaginative and conscientious the world will continue to improve.

Part of a series

This post on black hat innovation is part 24 of my innovation discussion with Gene Hughson. In part 23, Gene quoted Wayne Gretzky on “skating to where the puck will be”. I hope I have made it clear in this post how important that is faced with black hat innovation.

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About Greger Wikstrand

Greger Wikstrand, Ph.D. M.Sc. is a TOGAF 9 certified enterprise architect with an interest in e-heatlh, m-health and all things agile as well as processes, methods and tools. Greger Wikstrand works as a consultant at Capgemini where he alternates between enterprise agile coaching, problem solving and designing large scale e-health services

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