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Not all hackers are bad guys. Some choose to don the white hat and use their skills and abilities to do good. A white hat or ethical hacker is a legitimate professional who attempts to crack a network or system in order to find out and expose flaws and vulnerabilities that could have otherwise been exploited by a malicious hacker. Having ethical hacking in an organization ensures that they are better positioned to find and fix their flaws before they experience an attack.
White hat hackers are constantly testing the security systems of a company in order to determine weaknesses. This can be done in the following ways:
- Simulating attacks or penetration testing to determine if and where an outsider can gain access to the company’s network
- Using information available online about a company to infiltrate its system
- Testing the efficiency and security of firewalls, routers, and switches
- Attempting to break into a company’s wireless network
- Trying to manipulate employees into divulging sensitive information, known by hackers as social engineering
- Checking the security of physical controls systems such as key-cards, doors, alarm bell, security cameras, etc
- Examining a company website to determine security deficiencies
Based on the degree and manner in which a hacker is involved in the act of breaking into a computer network, a hacker can be classified as a white hat, grey hat, or black hat hacker.
Black Hat Hacker
They are the hackers whom you’ve probably heard the most about. They break into computer networks or systems, steal vital and sensitive information or manipulate data thereby severely compromising its security and data integrity. The motivation to do this is generally financial gain through selling this data or political interest e.g. by vandalizing an opponent’s online presence.
White Hat Hacker
On the other hand, White Hat Hackers are often employed by the government, a corporation, or even private individuals to protect data against possible breaches of Black Hat Hackers. For example, a White Hat Hacker would frequently use the technique of penetration testing to break into their employer’s system so they can expose its flaws and weak points. These tests can help guide a company to fill those loopholes and strengthen its security.
Grey Hat Hacker
Occupying the middle ground between a Black Hat Hacker and a White Hat Hacker is a Grey Hat Hacker. The one thing that separates a Black Hat Hacker from White Hat Hackers is intention. Grey Hat Hackers, like White Hat Hackers, do not harbor malicious intentions. They work to discover the flaws and vulnerabilities of a system without necessarily taking the permission of the system’s owner. This secrecy makes their work illegal.
In order to enter into this field, one must be well versed with at least one programming language, networking, database management, and an operating system like Linux or Windows.
Training in ethical hacking can easily be obtained via multiple online courses teaching the fundamentals and techniques of hacking to those who wish to gain expertise in this field.