white-hat hacker
n. A hacker who, upon discovering a vulnerability in a computer system, alerts the system vendor to the problem.
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A piece profiles a group of white-hat hackers called Lopht, the Ralph Naders of the online world. They crack computer systems of companies and agencies to reveal their security holes. Crackees, including Microsoft, appreciate the warning.
—Eve Gerber, “Jamaica's Coke Problem,” Slate Magazine, September 28, 1999
Mell says the attack scripts are posted on hacker Web sites by other hackers, by disgruntled systems administrators trying to draw attention, and eventually patches, to holes in their systems, and by "white hat" hackers seeking to alert the computer security industry to vulnerabilities.
—Michael E. Ruane, “New Computer Technology Makes Hacking a Snap,” The Washington Post, March 10, 1999
1997 (earliest)
Mr. Palmer and his team work for the International Business Machines Corporation, and their brand of computer hacking is legal. Companies pay the I.B.M. squad to attack their computer systems to test how well they can stand up to the increasing assaults by real hackers. The growing ranks of cyberintruders are engaged in everything from snooping around to "parking" pornography and pirated software on unsuspecting corporate machines to computer-assisted fraud and theft.

White-hat hackers, like those at I.B.M., are only one kind of computer-security professional whose skills are much in demand today.
—Steve Lohr, “Feeling Insecure, Are We?,” The New York Times, March 17, 1997
There are also black hat hackers who exploit system security breaches for nefarious ends, and gray hat hackers who supply information about a security issue both to the vendor and to crackers (hackers who have succumbed to the dark side of the Force).
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