Ethical hacking is a field within cybersecurity where security experts assume the role of an unauthorized user and attempt to gain access to a private network or computer. These exercises aim to help targets identify any security vulnerabilities that could be exploited in a real cyberattack.
Cybersecurity professionals utilize non-invasive methods, such as risk assessments, audits, and security questionnaires, to discover security risks. On the other hand, ethical hackers utilize invasive methods, such as penetration testing and unauthorized access attempts to discover security risks that might be overlooked by scanning methods alone.
How Cybersecurity Experts and Ethical Hackers Work Together
Cybersecurity professionals and ethical hackers work together to develop a security strategy with the highest chances of protecting sensitive information from compromise. To understand how this relationship works, think of cybersecurity experts as architects of a security control strategy and ethical hackers as the quality control team.
- Cybersecurity professionals identify security risks within an information system and design a security control strategy to address them.
- Ethical hackers try to find loopholes in these security measures to test their resilience to malicious hackers.
- Cybersecurity professionals iterate their data security measures to address the security issues detected by ethical hackers.
- Ethical hackers try to find loopholes in the updated security systems.
This iteration process continues until ethical hackers can no longer discover exploits leading to security breaches.
Ethical hackers don’t always work with cybersecurity experts. Businesses occasionally hire ethical hackers directly to evaluate the resilience of their network security. This ethical hacking service, known as penetration testing, should be conducted regularly to confirm system security efficacy against evolving cyber threats.
Penetration Testing (or Pen Testing) is especially necessary after any changes to application security or information technology occur.
Both newly developed and modified applications are vulnerable to misconfigurations that could facilitate a data breach.
Ethical hackers are also known as pen testers and white-hat hackers
When Should I Perform a Penetration Test?
You should hire a penetration tester or an ethical hacker when:
- A new zero-day is discovered - If you don’t have an attack surface monitoring solution that measures your resilience to emerging threats in real-time, a pen tester will evaluate your risk against each new cyber threat. Resilience against new threats should be tested no later than 1 day after their discovery.
- User policies are updated - Especially when these policies impact computer security systems.
- New web applications are developed - New web applications almost always contain security risks that could easily be exploited in malicious attacks. A pen tester will also search for weak points in a web app from the perspective of common user habits.
- Security patches have been applied - to confirm each vulnerability has been completely addressed.
- An IT infrastructure or network has been modified - including information security upgrades, such as a new cybersecurity framework.
The 5 Different Types of Hackers
The term ‘hacker’ is often only used to describe cybercriminals, but there are five different categories of hackers, and some of them include professionals fighting against cybercrime.
The six main categories of hackers are:
- White Hat Hackers
- Black Hat Hacker
- Gray Hat Hacker
- Red Hat Hacker
- Blue Hat Hacker
What is a White Hat Hacker?
A white hat hacker is an ethical hacker that uses their hacking skillsets to identify security vulnerabilities in computer systems. White Hat hackers report all detected risks to the security manager - or representative of the targeted network - to support their remediation.
What is a Black Hat Hacker?
A black hat hacker is a cybercriminal or any individual contributing to the proliferation of cybercrime. Black hat hackers violate computer security to compromise sensitive data and inject malware like ransomware.
Common black hat malicious activities include:
- SQL Injections
- Man-in-the-Middle (MitM) Attacks
- Zero-Day Exploits
- Brute Force Attacks
- Cross-Site Scripting
- DDoS Attacks
What is a Grey Hat Hacker?
Grey hat hackers attempt to break into an IT network to document its vulnerabilities, but they do so without the owner’s consent, making their actions illegal.
But a recent revision of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) by the DOJ could move certain grey hat tactics into white hat territory if they can be proven to be motivated by good intentions.
This initiative could significantly increase computer security research contributions from grey hat security teams harboring valuable security insights that could benefit the advancement of cybersecurity.
“The department has never been interested in prosecuting good-faith computer security research as a crime, and today’s announcement promotes cybersecurity by providing clarity for good-faith security researchers who root out vulnerabilities for the common good.”
- Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco
(Referring to the CFAA revision announced on May 19, 2022)
What is a Blue Hat Hacker?
There are two types of blue hat hackers:
- BlueHat - The single word term refers to a security firm contracted by a business to test its cyber defenses.
- Blue Hat - The two-word variation refers to an amateur hacker motivated by revenge or the desire to demonstrate their hacking abilities.
What is a Red Hat Hacker?
Red hat hackers are highly skilled professionals often hired by government agencies to hunt down black hat hackers or disrupt their operations. They are free to employ any tactic to achieve these objectives, which could involve using the same malware and hacking strategies used by black hats.