Cybersecurity is the protection of software, systems and devices against hacker attacks. One of the steps a company can take is to hire an ethical hacker who puts themselves in the shoes of a cybercriminal and tests and detects vulnerabilities in a company's systems and software. Read more about the phenomenon and get an insight into the work of an ethical hacker - a hacker on the right side of the law.
The ethical hacker
It's a good place to start by defining what a hacker was originally perceived as. Nowadays, a hacker is associated with malicious activity and illegal intrusion into devices and software (also known as a black hat hacker), but before this association, hacking was simply a trained or skilled person using technology to overcome a challenge - hackers thus solve problems using technology.
This definition has been overlooked in favor of the illegal maneuvering of cybersecurity protocols, illegal intrusion and the theft of personal data. Hacker has become analogous to IT criminal. Let's ignore this for now and remember the original definition.
Ethical hackers (also known as white hat hackers) are a professional that more and more companies are hiring as the cyber threat grows. Some of the things that malicious hackers exploit are vulnerabilities in systems and software - and a company needs to detect these before a black hat hacker does.
The ethical hacker is a skilled individual with a high level of technical knowledge. They are hired by companies to try to find vulnerabilities and holes in the software that cybercriminals will exploit.
In addition to finding holes in systems, ethical hackers will test a company's IT infrastructure and investigate how the company can improve it. Companies hire ethical hackers to have control over the entire process - besides, it's better to be involved in controlled hacking with the help of an ethical hacker than to be the victim of a real cyber attack.
Hackers on both sides of the law
The biggest difference between a cybercriminal and ethical hackers is that they are on opposite sides of the law.
When ethical hackers do their job, it's perfectly legitimate, approved and planned for them to test the cybersecurity of a company. When an IT criminal tries to break in, it's illegal, unauthorized by the company and unplanned, as they obviously won't report their theft to the company.
Ethical hackers examine systems and networks for weak links in the coding, which are the vulnerabilities that a black hat hacker is looking to exploit. They can then create an in-depth report on which points are vulnerable in the systems so that the company can put effort into strengthening them.
It may seem out of place to hire a hacker to penetrate your systems, but at the end of the day, they are the most competent people to test your systems. And it's also a great advantage to control when and how the systems are hacked, instead of being in a "real" situation where data is compromised and stolen by a black hat hacker.
What the ethical hacker is looking out for
To get a better insight into what the ethical hacker tests and looks for when testing a company's systems, we've created an overview. They ask,
- how easy is it to penetrate?
- how can they compromise security settings?
- can they expose data and how easy is it to access?
- how easy is it to access data and leak it in data breaches?
- what components are the systems made of and what are the entry points to the systems?
Having an insight into some of the many things an ethical hacker tests can help you gain a better understanding of their work. In addition, it sheds light on which parts of the systems are vulnerable. This means you need to increase security around these, especially if an ethical hacker can penetrate and encrypt the data.
The ethical hacker imitates the same tricks and methods that a black hat hacker uses when committing cybercrime. They do this to mimic a cyber attack so that a business can get the most lifelike experience of the attack and know what areas to look out for.
An important role in cyber security
With an ethical hacker, a company can stay one step ahead of the black hat hacker. This brings several benefits in cybersecurity:
- Important insights into systems and possible vulnerabilities.
- Prevention of attacks.
- Insight into software so holes can be patched.
So, it's a good investment for a company to perform security checks.
The ethical hacker operates under different sets of rules, so you can trust that they are doing legitimate work that benefits the company that hired them. Some of the essential rules that an ethical hacker follows are:
- Know the scope of the task and make a concrete report to the company - so they understand the extent of all vulnerabilities.
- Remember to keep the information confidential so that unauthorized persons don't get reports and the like. If a black hat hacker gains access to the reports, they will have valuable insight into vulnerabilities in the systems.
- You need approval from the company that owns the systems. If you don't have full approval from them, it's illegal.
- Report any vulnerabilities and leaks found in the systems so that the IT department can respond to the vulnerability.
- Delete all traces of the hack after reviewing the systems. This prevents black hat hackers from discovering entry points and holes in the systems.
The collaboration between technology and people
By having an ethical hacker reporting vulnerabilities, a company strengthens its cyber defenses. It's always beneficial to see things from the enemy's perspective, and ethical hackers provide this.
However, it's important to remember that once the technical aspect of cyber security is solved, the human aspect is just as important. This starts with a human ethical hacker who can think like a black hat hacker, but it's just as important that the employees of the company are aware of the cyber threat.
When you're aware of the potential threat, you give more thought to the security of important data and personal safety.
Hackers don't just exploit security holes in software and systems, they exploit the human errors that happen every day. That's why awareness training for employees is a good step towards even stronger cyber security.
Caroline is a copywriter here at Moxso beside her education. She is doing her Master's in English and specializes in translation and the psychology of language. Both fields deal with communication between people and how to create a common understanding - these elements are incorporated into the copywriting work she does here at Moxso.View all posts by Caroline Preisler