Non-infosec folks hear the word 'hacker' and automatically assume it means a bad actor who breaches your systems or networks and tries to compromise important data by stealing it, damaging your organization’s reputation and assets. Hackers are not always bad of course, some hack for good. They are known as ethical hackers.

Black hat hackers (the bad guys) uses their hacking skills in a criminal way, exploiting vulnerabilities in your people and infrastructure for criminal financial gain.  White hat hackers (the good guys) are ethical hackers who use their hacking skills good in a legal way to help organizations assess the security of their IT infrastructure, and remediate known vulnerabilities. Lets take a closer look at ethical hackers, the kind of hacking they engage in and their reasons for hacking the way they do.

What is Ethical Hacking?

An ethical hacker legally exploits vulnerabilities and weaknesses in an organizations IT infrastructure with the permission of the organization, this is known as ethical hacking. By ethically we mean taking permission/consent from the organization or individual in order to exploit vulnerabilities. Vulnerabilities are exploited and countermeasures are suggested to the organization so that proper mitigation techniques can be applied in order to protect the organization’s assets.

Ethical hackers hack businesses in order to assess their overall security posture, the process involves using different hacking techniques against the organization in order to bypass their security controls by exploiting vulnerabilities in their systems, network, or application in the same way a real threat actor would exploit.

To beat a hacker you have to think like one.

An ethical hacker has the skills and mindset that helps businesses to stay one step ahead of cybercriminals and black hat hackers. Ethical hackers find vulnerabilities in your security before the bad guys do and help you remediate those vulnerabilities before they can be exploited by cybercriminals.

Do You Need An Ethical Hacker?

Whether you are a small, mid-sized or large business there is always a chance you could fall victim to a cyberattack, most businesses use some kind of IT infrastructure in order to provide their services to their customers. IT infrastructure includes computers, laptops, servers, printers, switches, wireless routers, etc. These all are at risk of being breached at some point in time by cybercriminals unless you make sure they are not vulnerable and this is the role ethical hackers perform.

Ethical hackers work for organizations who want to protect their business from criminal cyberattacks and breaches in order to protect their assets. Hiring an ethical hacker for your business helps you manage the acceptable levels of risk associated with breaches and attacks. An ethical hacker will use different tools and techniques such as running scans for open or unused ports. Identifying vulnerabilities in operating systems, system configurations, software versions, and services. He will also perform a penetration test to penetrate a particular network or system in order to identify holes in security. After a security flaw or vulnerability has been discovered he will suggest countermeasures and remediation steps to help the organization fix it, an essential service.

Hiring an Ethical Hacker

An ethical hacker with the right mindset and approach will serve as a great defender for your organization. The Ethical Hacker should have strong technical knowledge which includes and is not limited to the latest security trends, advanced persistent threats, complex attack scenarios, the risks associated with different security breaches, information security management frameworks, and standards.

He should be well versed with reverse engineering techniques, scripting, identification of vulnerabilities, exploiting them in order to propose countermeasures before an adversary takes advantage and breaches the perimeter. Security certifications prove the ability of an ethical hacker to deal with complex scenarios. Certifications such as CEH (Certified Ethical Hacker), LPT (Licensed Penetration Tester), OSCP(Offensive Security Certified Professional), and GPEN(GIAC Penetration Tester) are the most demanded and prestigious security certifications.

So if you are a business owner in the middle of launching new products or services, upgrading your infrastructure, or getting ready to meet compliance requirements then you should opt for a VAPT (Vulnerability Assessment and Penetration Test) at least once a quarter. Businesses offering these services employ teams of ethical hackers who will help to protect your businesses critical infrastructure by and provide solutions to strengthen the security posture of your organization after hacking it first.

In short, ethical hackers are still hackers. They just don't hack systems or computers without the permission of the owner and legally use their skills for the greater good, this is why we call them white hat hackers. By comparison, black hat hackers use their skills for criminal gain and never ask your permission before hacking you.

About Me

I am an Information Security  enthusiast pursuing my Master’s in Information Security and trying to get into a full-time cybersecurity career. You can follow for more write-ups and articles here.

An early photograph of 59½ Mulberry Street, New York in 1888, also known as 'Bandit's Roost' it was a violent and crime-ridden part of the Five Points slum in Manhattan. Source Unknown.