he term ‘Hacker’ was coined in the 1960s at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to describe experts who used their skills to re-develop mainframe systems, increasing their efficiency and allowing them to multi-task.
Nowadays, the term routinely describes skilled programmers who gain unauthorized access into computer systems by exploiting weaknesses or using bugs, motivated either by malice or mischief. For example, a hacker can create algorithms to crack passwords, penetrate networks, or even disrupt network services.
With the increased popularity of the Internet and E-Commerce, malicious hacking became the most commonly known form, an impression reinforced by its depiction in various forms of news media and entertainment. As a rule, the primary motive of malicious/unethical hacking involves stealing valuable information or financial gain.
That said, not all hacking is bad. This brings us to the second type of hacking: Ethical hacking. Ethical hackers are hired by organizations to look into the vulnerabilities of their systems and networks and develop solutions to prevent data breaches. Consider it a high-tech permutation of the old saying “It takes a thief to catch a thief.”
What is Ethical Hacking?
Ethical Hacking is an authorized practice of bypassing system security to identify potential data breaches and threats in a network. The company that owns the system or network allows Cyber Security experts to perform such activities in order to test the system’s defenses. Thus, unlike malicious hacking, this process is planned, approved, and more importantly, legal.
Ethical hackers aim to investigate the system or network for weak points that malicious hackers can exploit or destroy. They collect and analyze the information to figure out ways to strengthen the security of the system/network/applications. By doing so, they can improve the security footprint so that it can better withstand attacks or divert them.
Ethical Hackers check for key vulnerabilities include but are not limited to:
- Injection attacks
- Changes in security settings
- Exposure of sensitive data
- Breach in authentication protocols
- Components used in the system or network that may be used as access points
Types of Hackers
The practice of ethical hacking is called “White Hat” hacking, and those who perform it are called White Hat hackers. In contrast to Ethical Hacking, “Black Hat” hacking describes practices involving security violations. The Black Hat hackers use illegal techniques to compromise the system or destroy information.
Unlike White Hat hackers, “Grey Hat” hackers don’t ask for permission before getting into your system. But Grey Hats are also different from Black Hats because they don’t perform hacking for any personal or third-party benefit. These hackers do not have any malicious intention and hack systems for fun or various other reasons, usually informing the owner about any threats they find. Grey Hat and Black Hat hacking are both illegal as they both constitute an unauthorized system breach, even though the intentions of both types of hackers differ.
White Hat vs Black Hat Hacker
The best way to differentiate between White Hat and Black Hat hackers is by taking a look at their motives. Black Hat hackers are motivated by malicious intent, manifested by personal gains, profit, or harassment; whereas White Hat hackers seek out and remedy vulnerabilities, so as to prevent Black Hats from taking advantage.
The other ways to draw a distinction between White Hat and Black Hat hackers include:
- Techniques used: White Hat hackers duplicate the techniques and methods followed by malicious hackers in order to find out the system discrepancies, replicating all the latter’s steps to find out how a system attack occurred or may occur. If they find a weak point in the system or network, they report it immediately and fix the flaw.
- Legality: Even though White Hat hacking follows the same techniques and methods as Black Hat hacking, only one is legally acceptable. Black Hat hackers break the law by penetrating systems without consent.
- Ownership: White Hat hackers are employed by organizations to penetrate their systems and detect security issues. Black hat hackers neither own the system nor work for someone who owns it.
Roles and Responsibilities of an Ethical Hacker
Ethical Hackers must follow certain guidelines in order to perform hacking legally. A good hacker knows his or her responsibility and adheres to all of the ethical guidelines. Here are the most important rules of Ethical Hacking:
- An ethical hacker must seek authorization from the organization that owns the system. Hackers should obtain complete approval before performing any security assessment on the system or network.
- Determine the scope of their assessment and make known their plan to the organization.
- Report any security breaches and vulnerabilities found in the system or network.
- Keep their discoveries confidential. As their purpose is to secure the system or network, ethical hackers should agree to and respect their non-disclosure agreement.
- Erase all traces of the hack after checking the system for any vulnerability. It prevents malicious hackers from entering the system through the identified loopholes.
Benefits of Ethical Hacking
Learning ethical hacking involves studying the mindset and techniques of black hat hackers and testers to learn how to identify and correct vulnerabilities within networks. Studying ethical hacking can be applied by security pros across industries and in a multitude of sectors. This sphere includes network defender, risk management, and quality assurance tester.
However, the most obvious benefit of learning ethical hacking is its potential to inform and improve and defend corporate networks. The primary threat to any organization’s security is a hacker: learning, understanding, and implementing how hackers operate can help network defenders prioritize potential risks and learn how to remediate them best. Additionally, getting an ethical hacking training or certifications can benefit those who are seeking a new role in the security realm or those wanting to demonstrate skills and quality to their organization.
Skills Required to Become an Ethical Hacker
An ethical hacker should have in-depth knowledge about all the systems, networks, program codes, security measures, etc. to perform hacking efficiently. Some of these skills include:
- Knowledge of programming – It is required for security professionals working in the field of application security and Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC).
- Scripting knowledge – This is required for professionals dealing with network-based attacks and host-based attacks.
- Networking skills – This skill is important because threats mostly originate from networks. You should know about all of the devices present in the network, how they are connected, and how to identify if they are compromised.
- Understanding of databases – Attacks are mostly targeted at databases. Knowledge of database management systems such as SQL will help you to effectively inspect operations carried out in databases.
- Knowledge of multiple platforms like Windows, Linux, Unix, etc.
- The ability to work with different hacking tools available in the market.
- Knowledge of search engines and servers.
Ethical Hacking is a challenging area of study as it requires mastery of everything that makes up a system or network. This is why certifications have become popular among aspiring ethical hackers.
With relevant Ethical Hacking certifications, you can advance your career in cybersecurity in the following ways:
- Certified individuals know how to design, build, and maintain a secure business environment. If you can demonstrate your knowledge in these areas, you will be invaluable when it comes to analyzing threats and devising effective solutions.
- Certified cybersecurity professionals have better salary prospects compared to their non-certified peers. According to Payscale, Certified Ethical Hackers earn an average salary of $90K in the U.S.
- Certification validates your skills in the field of IT security and makes you more noticeable while applying for challenging job roles.
- With the growing incidents of security breaches, organizations are investing hugely in IT security and prefer certified candidates for their organization.
- Startups need highly skilled professionals experienced in repelling cyber threats. A certification can help you demonstrate your IT security skills to earn high-paying jobs at startups.
In today’s world, cybersecurity has become a trending topic of increasing interest among many businesses. With malicious hackers finding newer ways to breach the defenses of networks almost every day, the role of ethical hackers has become increasingly important across all sectors. It has created a plethora of opportunities for cybersecurity professionals and has inspired individuals to take up ethical hacking as their career