White Hat Hacker: The Benevolent Cybersecurity Wizard

Ivan Stevanovic Image
Updated:

June 20,2022

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The Department of Justice has revised its policy towards violations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and will no longer be prosecuting ethical hackers. So, who are these heroes of the hacking world?

A white hat hacker is a cybersecurity professional who uses his skills to identify vulnerabilities in software, hardware, and networks. They enable companies or product owners to fix the flaws before they can be exploited by malicious actors. Read on to find out more about these security researchers and if you have the talent to become one.

Ethical Hacking

Experts in this type of hacking disclose all the security vulnerabilities they identify in order to help organizations fix them before bad actors can cause any damage. White hat hackers use their skills to enhance the security of systems, shield them from malicious software, and make the internet a safer place. 

They are often independent researchers or employed by cyber security firms. Many have a strong background in programming and computer science. These hackers are also known as ethical hackers or penetration testers. In other words, they attack a computer system or network in order to find security vulnerabilities.

A white hat hacker, by definition, seeks out these vulnerabilities when they are legally permitted to do so. By finding and reporting weaknesses, these hackers help organizations fortify their defenses and protect their data. Many of the world's leading security experts began their careers as ethical hackers. 

Several well-known companies, including Google and Microsoft, run bug bounty programs that invite ethical hackers to try and find security vulnerabilities in their computer systems. In return for their efforts, these hackers are rewarded with cash prizes or other incentives. While a white hat hacker’s job falls within legitimate security practices, it should only be carried out with the permission of the system owner

Facing the Dark Opposite

Of course, to define a white hat hacker as the good guy, we also need to have a bad guy. Enter black hat hackers. These are the hackers who use their skills to exploit weaknesses, destroy data, and steal data for personal gain.

One of the tools they use is ransomware, which involves blocking access to user data until a ransom is paid. 

Whatever their motivation, these malicious hackers pose a serious threat to individuals, businesses, and governments. While ethical hacking is a valuable security practice, black hat hacking is illegal.

That said, black hat hackers also perform a valuable service in some ways. Their evolving techniques are constantly pushing the average white hat or ethical hacker to do better. Also, some of the best ethical hackers started out as notorious black hat hackers. Many of these individuals were eventually caught and rehabilitated and now use their skills to help organizations improve their security. One notable example is Kevin Mitnick, who is now an ethical hacker and well-respected security consultant.

Pushing the Limits

Let's take a closer look at how these hackers operate. We’ve already covered the general definition of a white hat hacker. In short, these hackers tend to employ the same cyberattack methods that malicious hackers use to stress-test the network or find app vulnerabilities. Ethical hackers use advanced and custom-made rootkits to conduct various tests.

Depending on the contract they have with their employers and companies, white hat hackers can attack and test specific data systems, such as the client's networks, endpoints, or apps. Or they have the authority to run broader attacks that can include multiple systems.

Different types of ethical hacking include:

  • Pentesting: Also known as penetration testing, this is an authorized simulated cyberattack designed to evaluate the security of the system. 
  • Social engineering: This involves tricking people into revealing sensitive information, such as passwords or credit card numbers. 
  • Reverse engineering: This is the process of taking something apart to see how it works so that its functionality can be better understood.
  • Malware analysis: One of the white hat hacker’s jobs is to analyze malware to understand how it works and what it does. This information can then be used to improve security systems and protect against future attacks.

Ethical hackers also run DDoS attacks, disk and memory forensics, or framework and security scans. All these activities are done with the permission of the system's owner and are typically carried out under a contract that outlines the rules and scope of the engagement.

Penetration Testing

Pentests are critical in identifying an organization's vulnerabilities and testing its ability to fine-tune security policies to deny bad actors system access. A certified white hat hacker carefully documents every step of the process and reports back the findings. 

It's like hiring someone to try and break into your house so you can see where your security needs improvement. A white hat will gather information on the target, explore entry points, and attempt to break into the system.

This helps you figure out where your system is weak so you can fix it before someone with malicious intent finds and exploits the same vulnerabilities. Pentesting can be done manually or with automated tools. It's an important part of any organization's security strategy.

Penetration testing has become increasingly important in recent years as cyberattacks become increasingly sophisticated. In fact, many organizations now have penetration testing policies in place to make sure their computer systems are secure. While it can be a time-consuming and expensive process, it is often considered essential.

Benefits of Hiring a White Hat Hacker

Mitigating vulnerabilities is one of the many benefits of hiring a white hat hacker, meaning that this is a more affordable option than dealing with the aftermath of an adware cyberattack. Here are a few of the key benefits:

  • Finding and fixing security vulnerabilities before they can be exploited
  • Reducing the risk of data breaches and other cyberattacks
  • Improving the security of systems
  • Helping organizations meet compliance requirements
  • Saving time and money by avoiding the need to hire multiple specialists

Drawbacks of Hiring an Ethical Hacker

A lot of the time, the white hat hacker vs. black hat hacker showdown comes down to skills. The good guys may not have the same skills as black hat hackers and may not be able to find all of the vulnerabilities in a system. That's not the only drawback to hiring an ethical hacker. Here are a few other problems:

  • Risks damaging systems
  • The risk of creating new vulnerabilities
  • The expense of hiring an ethical hacker
  • Limits in the scope and time for testing

How to Become a White Hat Cyber Wizard

If you want to know how to become a white hat hacker, there are a few things you need to do. First, you should get a degree in computer science or information security. Then, you need to get certified in ethical hacking. Finally, you should build up your experience by working with a company or organization that deals with cybersecurity.

An ethical hacker has a highly developed sense of logic and quick thinking. They must be well-organized and be able to think like a black hat hacker. One example of a white hat hacker area of expertise is threat prevention. 

Ethical hackers should possess thorough knowledge in the following areas:

  • Programming languages: C, C++, Java, Python
  • Web application security
  • Network security
  • Database security
  • Mobile security
  • Cryptography
  • Programing and hacking logic

In addition to these skills, white hat hacker certification will improve your chances of getting a job. Some of the most popular certifications include:

  1. Certified Ethical Hacker or CEH: The EC-Council gives out this vendor-neutral credential. Recipients must have at least two years of experience in information security and pay the $100 application fee. Large companies are on a constant lookout for CEH professionals, and their median pay ranges between $80,000 and $100,000. Contract-based employment can bring them between $15,000 and $45,000 per short-term project.
  2. GIAC’s Cyber Defense certifications: These certifications are globally recognized and highly respected and can help secure an excellent white hat hacker salary. They offer different programs, like the GSEC, GPEN, and GXPN, which are designed to test a candidate's skills in various areas of cybersecurity. The requirements for these certifications vary depending on the program you want to take.
  3. Mile2 Cybersecurity Certification Roadmap: This series includes the globally recognized Certified Penetration Testing Engineer (CPTE) and the Certified Professional Ethical Hacker (CPEH) certifications among others. 
  4. Computer Hacking Forensic Investigator (CHFI): This is another EC-Council certification designed for those who want to work in the field of computer forensics, gathering computer evidence and data. For someone who wants to become this type of white hat hacker, the requirements are demanding.

Conclusion

Ethical hackers play an important role in today's digital world. They are the ones who help organizations and businesses protect themselves from cyberattacks. If you're interested in becoming an ethical hacker, you need to have the right skills and knowledge, be certified in this form of hacking, and build up your experience by working with a company or organization that deals with cybersecurity.

FAQ
What is a red hat hacker?

A red hat hacker is an ethical hacker who is also skilled in black hat hacking techniques. Red hat hackers often use any means necessary to hunt down black hackers.

Who is a famous white hat hacker?

Jeff Moss, also known as The Dark Tangent, is a famous ethical hacker. He is the founder of the Black Hat and DEF CON conferences, and he has also served on the Homeland Security Advisory Council.

What is a purple hat hacker?

A purple hat hacker is someone who falls somewhere in between an ethical hacker and a black hat hacker. They may not have permission to break into systems, but they do it anyway for purposes that are not necessarily malicious.

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