Hacking news regularly sends shockwaves through the business community and everyday consumers alike.
A 2013 Yahoo breach saw more than 1 billion Yahoo accounts hacked, with personal information, details and sensitive data exposed. Over 1,000 Wendy’s franchises were hacked when cybercriminals accessed payment processors, and with them, thousands of customers’ credit card numbers and other information. And there are countless other examples like these.
While criminal hacking is always in the news, ethical hacking often goes unnoticed or is misunderstood. Ethical hackers are computer and networking experts who try to penetrate systems to find vulnerabilities. They are hacking into systems upon the request of their owners to test their security and keep malicious hackers from accessing their information first.
Ethical hacking isn’t new, though it has transformed rapidly as new technologies and the IoT evolve.
A modern approach to ethical hacking came in the 1970s when the U.S. government used “red teams” to hack into its own computer systems to test vulnerabilities.
Ethical Hacking vs Traditional Hacking
The idea may sound counterintuitive, but ethical hackers can actually empower small businesses for the better by using their skills for good. Unlike malicious hackers, ethical hackers purposefully break into servers and online systems to expose vulnerabilities so companies can fix them before they spiral and cause catastrophic data loss or financial damage.
Some ethical hackers are doing it for the satisfaction and challenge, and others come from robust IT backgrounds with a focus on digital security. Meanwhile, traditional hackers are usually hacking into systems illegally for fun, profit or even revenge.
There are many misconceptions and challenges ethical hackers must overcome in order to gain a reputable foothold in the business world. Many hear the word “hacking” and envision entire computers being taken down and sensitive information released to the world, or recall major hacks like Sony’s when information on thousands of personal computers, servers, and devices was compromised, erased or released to the public.
How Do Ethical Hackers Work?
Modern-day ethical hackers often started hacking for the challenge or to educate themselves on the vulnerabilities in information technology security. These hackers are sometimes called “white hat hackers.” It’s becoming increasingly common for companies large and small to employ their own in-house Information Security Analysts to help combat hacking. Information Security Analysts typically have extensive training in technological and informational infrastructure, with ongoing responsibilities to keep it all running securely.
Ethical hackers coming from this area of expertise also have knowledge in problem-solving strategies for security breaches and can collect and analyze data to monitor and interpret weaknesses. Expect them to possess deep knowledge of the latest infrastructure and hardware, from routers to memory storage, with the ability to establish security policies and best practices.
Information Security Analyst skills are highly valuable and sought out by juggernaut corporations like IBM. For example, a job posting from IBM specifically asks for candidates skilled in ethical hacking who can participate in technical testing for exposed applications.
Ethical hackers sometimes fall into the category of ‘penetration testers.’ According to Cyber Degrees, penetration testers look for security vulnerabilities across web-based applications, networks, and online systems. They use a variety of methods to hack into systems, from designing and creating their own tools, to employing social engineering.
The latter is often responsible for data breaches and relies on poor passwords, weak security and even scouring social media to gather personal information to password-test. That means technology and hacking tools are only part of the equation, and thoroughly educating businesses on security policies and best practices is necessary to create safe environments.