White hat gets firework hack restored on YouTube

Tweeters argue educational reasons for online hacking videos after YouTube flagged a tutorial by "mistake"

man reading computer code

YouTube has restored a vlogger's hacking tutorial after the site blocked it and removed his channel for violating its harmful content policies.

Kody Kinze, the co-founder of Hacker Interchange, tweeted on Wednesday that YouTube had stopped him from uploading a video the explains how to launch fireworks over Wi-Fi. Kinze produces a series on the site called 'Cyber Weapons Lab' and regularly provides tutorials for beginners to understand and learn hacking techniques.

Although targeted at white hat hackers (the non-malicious kind), YouTube blocked it under the rules laid out on its "harmful or dangerous content" page, which bans "instructional hacking and phishing" that "show users how to bypass secure computer systems or steal user credentials and personal data". 

"We made a video about launching fireworks over Wi-Fi for the 4th of July only to find out YouTube gave us a strike because we teach about hacking, so we can't upload it," Kinze tweeted. "YouTube now bans: Instructional hacking and phishing: Showing users how to bypass secure computer systems."

But, as Kinzie and others on Twitter pointed out, even if that could stop some illegal behaviour, it's a potential block for anybody studying computer security and those interested in countering hacking and phishing attempts.

As one malware blogger pointed out, hacking techniques may often be used illegally, but they're not necessarily criminal acts. Many legitimate researchers and computer system testers practise the same techniques.

"One major problem here is that hacking tutorials are not inherently bad," wrote MalwareTech. "There exists a vast YouTube community aimed at teaching the next generation of cyber security experts."

"If you were to ask someone to identify a person breaking into a house, in most cases they'd be able to. Everyone knows it's possible to climb through an open window, but how many could identify a hacker breaking into a website? Probably very few. Without knowing what it is hackers do, or how they do it, how can someone possibly be expected to prevent or stop them? The answer is simple: they can't."

YouTube has now reversed this ban, on Kinze, with a spokesperson confirming to The Verge that Cyber Weapons Lab's channel was flagged by mistake. "With the massive volume of videos on our site, sometimes we make the wrong call," the spokesperson said. "We have an appeals process in place for users, and when it's brought to our attention that a video has been removed mistakenly, we act quickly to reinstate it."

Kinze took to Twitter to thank the "hundreds of angry computer nerds" that helped to get the video up. He posted the video with the caption: "Things I learned today: People HATE having free content taken away. Things you'll learn today: How to set off fireworks from a distance over Wi-Fi to reduce the risk of blowing off your hand."

Given the need for cyber security skills in the UK, videos whereby people can learn such skills without formal teaching or training, are arguably a boon for the cyber security world, as they can help encourage people to enter into security careers in a fashion that traditional education routes might not be able to do. 

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