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September 20, 2023 - 6 minutes

Ethical Hacking: A Deep Dive into the World of White Hat Security

Learn how you can hack for good–yes, we mean it! 

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Can hacking really be ethical? It’s a fair question: when you think of hacking, you probably think of bad guys sitting behind computers in ski masks with horrible intentions. And this picture comes to mind because of the negative connotations associated with hacking, but we have a secret: not all forms of hacking are bad. In fact, there’s an entire branch of cybersecurity dedicated to ethical hacking, or white hat hacking. 

The key difference between the hacking we immediately think and ethical hacking: ethical hackers work for a company, not against them, finding problems in their security measures so that they can be rectified before a bad hacker finds them. We know not everyone is fully familiar with the concept of white hat hacking, so we’ll dive into what it’s really all about in this article. 

What is White Hat Hacking? 

As we mentioned above, white hat hackers work for the company, identifying vulnerabilities in their hardware, software, or networks. It’s a completely legal way of hacking, as long as these steps are followed: 

  1. Obtain complete authorization from the organization for which they will be hacking

  2. Report all security breaches or vulnerabilities to the organization immediately, leaving nothing for later

  3. Sign a non-disclosure agreement to keep everything confidential

  4. Complete their job, resolving any identified issues 

Choosing not to follow these steps could lead to major trouble with both the organization and the law; ethical hackers must prioritize the ethics of their profession before all else. 

Why would an organization hire a hacker? 

Have you ever heard the saying, “if you want something done right, do it yourself”? You probably have and that’s because there’s a lot of truth behind it. Why wouldn’t you hire an expert hacker? After all, the people who will try to hack you will be hackers themselves and by hiring an ethical hacker, you’ll be using the best of the best and preventing future trouble. 

It might seem counterintuitive to hire a hacker to prevent hacks, but trust us. It’s becoming an increasingly common practice across all organizations as cyber threats become more and more advanced. 

Why is white hat hacking valuable?

We get that understanding the value of any sort of hacking can be a challenge, but it’s a practice that’s growing exponentially in popularity, thanks to its sheer usefulness. White hat hackers can: 

  • Identify problems before malicious hackers gain access to a system and cause damage 

  • Compile a list of potential problems so that companies can address them

  • Fix security holes and vulnerabilities for the company to ensure better protection from malicious hackers

  • Think like a malicious hacker, revealing risks that maybe hadn’t been previously identified

In fact, this is why hackathons have grown in popularity–hackathons provide participants with a problem to solve, letting them work on teams or individually to solve the issue. With new perspectives, you can consider things that otherwise would slip past you. 

What Do White Hat Hackers Actually Do?

If they’re not hacking for personal or monetary gain, what do good hackers actually do? Great question. Their responsibilities are pretty much what we already mentioned: to find issues with a company’s security. And to do this, they follow these four steps: 

  1. Research: before diving right in, they must gather information on the organization and potential threats to understand where to look for problems. Here, they’ll better understand how the company’s systems work and where problem areas might be (such as with old or basic passwords or wide employee access to all systems). 

  2. Scanning: with the information gathered during the research stage, the white hat hacker can look for additional information on the network and gather data, ready to launch an attack. 

  3. Accessing: it’s time for the fun stuff, gaining access to the system, applications, and networks, gaining control of the system. Once inside, they can seek out specific vulnerabilities and areas that need to be reinforced. 

  4. Covering their tracks: all white hat hackers must cover their tracks, completely concealing how they gained access to the system and leaving it exactly how they found it. 

How to Become an Ethical Hacker 

If we’ve piqued your interest in ethical hacking, we’re not surprised. After all, it’s a fascinating and challenging career path that allows you to hack for good, having fun finding ways to hack a system legally and then work to close those holes. So if you’re interested in taking the first step towards become a white hat hacker, take a look at the main requirements: 

  • You must have a spotless track record when it comes to hacking; white hat hackers are entrusted with a huge responsibility and will ultimately have full access to a company’s data, systems, and networks. The vast majority of companies won’t be interested in anyone who’s engaged in gray or red hat hacking before. 

  • You must have a solid understanding of wireless and wired networks, in addition to various operating systems. Each company will have a different setup and the bigger your toolbelt is, the more companies you’ll be able to work for. 

  • You must be able to think outside the box; even though you’ll be working for the company, you’ll need to think like a malicious hacker in order to prevent access. This creativity will help you create a thorough and complete report. 

If you already have these, great! Lots of companies are looking for qualified and skilled white hat hackers who can help them protect their networks. But if you don’t, there’s no need to worry. All of these skills are completely learnable and you can build your knowledge through online courses, books, or bootcamps. 

A cybersecurity bootcamp is your best bet, given it will teach you the basics of what you need to know to enter the field in a short period of time, preparing you to land your first job in the field. And bootcamps are hands-on and intensive, meaning you’ll be able to get your hands dirty and enter the workforce with actual experience–not just words. 

If you’re interested in taking this next step towards becoming a white hat hacker or entering the cybersecurity field in general, you’re in the right place. At Ironhack, we offer one of the market’s best bootcamps, expertly designed to set you up for success. 

Check out our cybersecurity bootcamp today and get ready to put that (white) hacking hat on! 

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