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Hackers: The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly
The term hacker usually evokes images of cybercriminals who steal personal or corporate information and then peddle it to the highest bidder on the dark web. However, savvy companies realize that the right kind of hacking is essential to cybersecurity. Enter the white-hat hacker.
Cybersecurity companies often recommend that their clients employ the services of white-hat hackers. These professionals essentially break into systems, not for personal gain or criminal intent, but to identify the weaknesses within a company’s networks. By intruding into a network, mobile app, mobile device, or an Internet of Things device, white-hat hackers expose vulnerabilities so the company can find IT solutions before an actual hack occurs and data is compromised.
How Do You Find a White-Hat Hacker?
Where does a company find a white-hat hacker? In the traditional model, a company hires a penetration tester who is either employed directly by them or (more commonly) through their Managed IT Services or Cybersecurity company. The white-hat hacker then attempts to break into whatever the client is testing – whether it’s an entire network or an individual app, and reports their findings. Then, they guide the client on best practices to correct any discovered issues.
Over the past few years, companies have recognized that some of the most innovative hackers are taking nontraditional routes and have thus instituted “bug bounty” programs. In this scenario, a company details precisely what they want to test, institutes parameters of what hackers can and cannot infiltrate, names their reward for accomplishing the goal, and then opens the process up to anyone who can do the work. For organizations that don’t want to handle this process themselves, there are companies out there, like Hacker One, that will set up and run a bug bounty program for you, work with the hackers, report their findings to you, and even pay the hackers directly.
Types Of Hackers
It’s worth noting that there are other types of hackers out there. Of course, most people know black-hat hackers as criminals who exploit weaknesses in systems for their financial gain. Lesser known are red-hat hackers. They are hacking vigilantes who see the damage caused by black-hat hackers and take it upon themselves to go after them. Some of these folks are entertaining characters with their own YouTube channels or TikTok accounts who expose the bad guys in comical ways, such as hacking into their webcams so the world can see who is behind a scam.
Grey-hat is a term for hackers who walk a fine line between the legitimate and illegitimate worlds and may not always end up on the right side of it. While many are legitimate security researchers, these folks also might be involved in some nefarious activity. They hired to see if there are physical ways to exploit a network in addition to traditional hacking. That’s why companies must develop a relationship with a reputable Cybersecurity company and have a high level of trust before allowing any hacker into your network support infrastructure – or any other infrastructure.
Hacker Types & Deffinitions
- White-Hat Hacker: A hacker that uses their skills to highlight weaknesses in your organization.
- Black-Hat Hacker: A hacker that breaks into a system without authorization for personal gain.
- Grey-Hat Hacker: A hacker that tends to blur the lines between good and bad activity.
- Red-Hat Hacker: A hacker that uses their skills to actively pursue and attack black-hat hackers.
The Need For Hackers
Other typical types of penetration tests conducted by white-hat hackers include social engineering. In this scenario, white-hat hackers pose as third parties and contact employees to determine whether or not they will divulge information. Social engineering tests like these are essential because humans often are the weak link in many networks. That’s not to suggest that an individual employee has any ill intent; they often are just untrained or forget their training and click on a link or enter information that can leave their employer vulnerable to an attack. By discovering these weaknesses in training, they can help develop effective IT solutions that address the human element.
While some companies erroneously fear to enlist the help of a white-hat hacker because they dread public exposure, this fear is unfounded. An ethical white-hat hacker will present their findings – including any issues and how to repair them – to the company in question, receive compensation, and provide the company with ample time to correct the problems. Some companies don’t want to understand the extent of their exposure because they fear it will be costly to repair, and that’s a backward mindset. Realistically, suppose a white-hat hacker can uncover weakness. In that case, it’s only a matter of time before a black-hat hacker does (or already has undetected), and the results of that will be far more devastating financially than correcting the issue before a breach occurs.
Because of the potentially disastrous consequences of a breach, white-hat hacker services have become an IT support necessity. There are very few large organizations that have not experienced a data breach at some level. By employing the proactive services of white-hat hackers, companies can identify and correct issues before they become problematic.
This article was written from one of our podcast episodes on Between The Bytes!