What is ‘Ethical Hacking’?

Here, we examine how ethical hackers can help companies keep their systems secure.

01/12/17

The term ethical hacking is perhaps a misleading one, given that hackers have earned a reputation as cyber criminals who often steal and compromise different computer systems/networks, often for personal financial gain.

Ethical hackers use their skills in the same way any criminal hacker would, but for an entirely different purpose. They attempt to compromise the security systems or network of a computer in order to find the potential weaknesses and flaws which a ‘real’ hacker may be able to exploit. Ethical hacking clearly has many uses, and is used by companies to help keep their systems secure. Here is some information which is all about ethical hacking.  

Ethical Hacking Services

The amount of cyberattacks on the systems of companies and organisations over the last decade has been well documented, and many of them have resulted in the loss of large swathes of private data. This data often included customer payment details, but hackers have also been known to steal movie and television show plots and demand payment for them not to be released. 

Ethical hackers are now rising to prominence as a result of the constant threat cyberattacks pose to the different security systems and networks of the world. Using their expertise in the field of hacking, they attempt to penetrate any given system and identify any weaknesses in its security.

Once all common flaws and access points have been identified, they can then report these to the company/organisation, along with suggestions of how to fix them or improve overall system security.

Ethical Hacking Certification

To become an ethical hacker, an ethical hacking certification (such as a CEH) is usually needed as proof of skill and competence. There are also ethical hacking classes which can teach people how to think and behave like a hacker, as well as exploit systems for the purposes of ethical hacking.

Once fully qualified, an ethical hacker can go to different companies and organisations with their skills, and ultimately offer their services to try and help them optimise and improve their cyber security.  

When is it ‘Ethical’?

There is some moral debate as to what constitutes as ethical hacking, as some people believe that breaching digital security systems can never be considered ethical, even if the purpose is to improve those systems. The fact that some ethical hackers may have a background in illegal hacking could also work against the idea of ethical hacking.

There are, however, some points which can help to identify when hacking is ethical. They include:

  • Having permission from the company or organisation to penetrate their systems to find any vulnerabilities
  • Letting them know where each potential vulnerability may lie
  • Covering tracks and making sure the system which has been hacked is not left open for illegal hackers to exploit
  • Respecting the data and privacy of the company or organisation

Some prefer to call ethical hackers ‘penetration testers’ instead, given the negative connotations of the word ‘hacker’.

Who Uses Ethical Hackers?

Since the methods regular hackers use to breach security systems are constantly changing and evolving, computer networks are constantly facing new threats which could compromise them at any time. It is mostly larger companies and organisations which use ethical hackers, as these often store huge amounts of sensitive data and are most at risk from being targeted by hackers as a result.  

IBM, for instance, have their own in-house team of ethical hackers, who conduct penetration tests on a regular basis in order to help ensure the company’s systems are secure. Ethical hacking teams could well become a commonality in the cyber security departments of large corporations like IBM.

The Future of Ethical Hacking

As cyber threats continue to develop and evolve, the need for robust cyber security measures will only increase in the future. As such, it is likely that companies may set aside more money for investing in ethical hackers and cyber security improvements.

Technological developments like the Internet of Things (IOT) , which refers to the way regular items are now being imbued with the ability to connect to one another digitally, also presents new security risks. Ethical hackers may come in useful in developing the security of these new technological advancements and ensuring that they are hacker-proof for the foreseeable future.

Ethical hacking is bound to be an important part of future cyber security operations. It is a tool which can help companies and organisations better prepare themselves against future threats, whilst also allowing them to keep their current security systems robust and up to date.

Image courtesy of iStock

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