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By Daniel J. Solove


I produce computer-based privacy and data security training, so I’m often in the hunt for stock photos. One of the hardest things in the world to do is to find a stock photo of a hacker that doesn’t look absolutely ridiculous.

I’ve gone through hundreds of hacker stock photos, and I’ve discovered some that are so absurdly funny that they are true classics and deserve to be celebrated in a hall of fame. So I bought some of these gems to share them with you — because if there’s any sense of justice in the universe, when so much thought, creativity, and effort goes into a stock photo, it deserves to be sold.

But this post is more than just about humor. I’m going to teach you some of the most dastardly clever techniques that hackers use (such as typing in very thick gloves). I will teach you hacker attire, and the difficult fashion decisions hackers must make (i.e., ski mask vs. ninja mask).

I also hope to use these photos to teach you how to spot hackers. Some of the hackers below are very good at concealing themselves, but you’ll learn some of the key signs that will tip you off that they are hackers.

Dangerous hacker with laptop.

Hacker Stock Photo #1. This guy is gently resting his chin on his laptop. How do we know he is a hacker? Because hackers love to stick skull-and-crossbones decals on their computers. Another tip off is the sunglasses. As a general rule, if a person is using sunglasses indoors while using a computer, that person is a hacker.

This hacker could use a more stylish jacket, and it is odd he is wearing a winter hat rather than a ski mask. I think it’s probably because he’s freshly shaven and wants to impress the ladies with his aftershave.

Hacker 2

Hacker Stock Photo #2. This hacker needs a little bit of help. Someone needs to tell him that the font can be resized. Maybe he’s using a Windows machine, so he can’t find the location of how to change the font size — even the most savvy computer experts would have difficulty. We know that he is an expert hacker because he is able to type in those gloves. He could have worn latex gloves, but no hacker of any sophistication would be caught dead in latex gloves! The thicker the gloves, the better the hacker.

Hacker 3

Hacker Stock Photo #3. It appears that this hacker feels the need to dress in a suit and tie to hack. Like many good hackers, he wears a ninja mask. On casual Fridays, he wears a ski mask. This hacker is very savvy — he has seemingly found the only computer in the room that was made after 2000.

Hacker 4

Hacker Stock Photo #4. Now this hacker is wearing what appears to be a kinky spandex body suit designed by MacKenzie-Childs. The hacker is to be applauded for taking fashion risks. Although some practicality can be sacrificed for trendiness, I think that not including openings for eyes is a rather poor decision.

Hacker 5

Hacker Stock Photo #5. This hacker is striking the same pose as the hacker in #4 — apparently, this is a very popular hacker pose! He has decided, quite unfashionably for a hacker, to dispense with a mask and gloves.

Question: If you spot a guy looking like this, should you immediately call IT security?

Answer: No; first flee the building, then call.

Hacker 6

Hacker Stock Photo #6. Here is one of the rare stock photos of a female hacker. She has been careful to coordinate the colors of her outfit, as it is very important that a hacker’s shoes be the same color as her mask.

Hacker 7

Hacker Stock Photo #7. I really don’t know what to say about this one. If a hacker wants to wear spandex and flex his muscles, he ought to work out with weights rather than a laptop for each arm. He needs a makeover — time to toss the spandex and go for some real fashion — a thick jacket and sweatpants. And the black baseball cap, sunglasses, and ninja mask combination is just a little too overpowering for his face.

Hacker 8

Hacker Stock Photo #8. This guy is the most slovenly hacker I’ve seen. His shirt seems to be falling off, and his ninja mask is too large. What’s the point of wearing a mask that shows most of your face? This hacker is showing way too much skin. And no gloves. This guy is clearly an amateur.

Hacker 9

Hacker Stock Photo #9. It’s now time to test your knowledge. Is the person above a hacker? Before reading this post, you might have guessed that he’s just a normal businessman. But now you should know that you need to look more closely. Observe the ninja mask — that should raise suspicion he might be a hacker. It’s a tough call, but if you saw this guy hanging around the office, you should probably check with IT security just to be on the safe side.

But unlike many hackers, this guy has style. See how neatly the ninja mask is tucked in. He’s straightening his tie. His suit looks clean and pressed. Many hackers should learn from this guy that the good hackers take care in their appearance.

Hacker 10

Hacker Stock Photo #10. This photo is just wrong on so many levels. He’s not wearing black. He has no ski mask. I have no idea what this guy thinks he’s trying to accomplish with this disguise — it’s clearly not hacking! He must just be a thief. One thing to note: He has a big happy smile. There’s a life lesson here: Choose a career where you will love your work.

Hacker 11

Hacker Stock Photo #11. Is the guy above a hacker? Or a Jawa from Star Wars? Although he blends right into most office settings, this guy is actually a master hacker. How do we know he is such a good hacker? First of all, his mask appears to be a fusion between a ninja mask (no mouth) and a ski mask (two holes for eyes). He has managed to solve the difficult fashion dilemma that has faced hackers from days of yore — the ski mask vs. the ninja mask. Second, he is wearing goggles, essential for hacking in the dark. Third, and most tellingly, his gloves look incredibly thick — the signature of a master hacker!

Conclusion and Lessons Learned

If this post has accomplished anything, it has given a few talented photographers a sense of redemption by learning that someone out there actually purchased a license to use their photos. These photographers can keep hope alive that they might soon be able to quit their day jobs and make a living from selling stock photography.

As for lessons learned, there are no absolute rules for how to spot a hacker. Many wear masks, as masks can be quite helpful for sneaking undetected into offices or when hacking from home. But a few bold hackers don’t wear masks. Most hackers wear black, but a new fashion trend appears to be checkered spandex. Hackers are generally more buttoned up than buttoned down.

But there is no 100% surefire way to spot a hacker. It takes spending years seeing hundreds upon hundreds of stock photos of hackers. But I hope that this post has helped provide you with a good start. With extensive study and a lot of practice, in time, you will be able to hone your hacker recognition skills.

For now, if there’s one rule of thumb, it is this: Many hackers wear suits. So if you see someone in a suit at your workplace, call IT security immediately.

Image Credits: All of these gems are on Fotolia


This post was authored by Professor Daniel J. Solove, who through TeachPrivacy develops computer-based privacy training, data security training, HIPAA training, and many other forms of awareness training on privacy and security topics.  This post was originally posted on his blog at LinkedIn, where Solove is a “LinkedIn Influencer.” His blog has more than 890,000 followers.

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