Why is Ethical Hacking Necessary?
There’s no escaping the fact that this is a technology-reliant age. Almost everything we do now can be enhanced by some form of tech tool or application. This isn’t a static process, either. Development is so constant and highly funded that artificial intelligence (AI) and automation are rapidly becoming essential parts of our contemporary landscape and integrated into various aspects of our lives — medicine, education, and employment to name a few.
However, for all the positives that these tools can offer, our reliance puts us at risk from cybercriminals. The threat of hackers accessing our data and causing disruption is ever-present, and their methods frequently evolve and adapt to the times. While most people will be familiar with this kind of negative hacking — even if it is only through movie stereotypes — many of us are not aware of one of our best tools against it: ethical hacking.
We’re going to take a closer look at this activity. What is involved, why is it such an essential part of our defense, and how can businesses of all sizes best utilize it?
What Is It?
To establish why ethical hacking is necessary, we need to first establish what it entails. For the most part, it’s really about experts in information technology doing exactly what so-called “black hat” hackers do but with different intentions and contexts. While cybercriminals are out to gain funds or cause disruption, ethical hackers work to better understand and address vulnerabilities in the networks they’re exploring. In other words, these “white hat” hackers are operating against the system to find where they can make it stronger, and work with wider cybersecurity departments to keep on top of threats.
Many ethical hackers started as the less legal kind and have insider knowledge, while others have gained qualifications in cybersecurity to make a positive difference in this area as a career. While they may have varied approaches depending on experience and the industry, the techniques used tend to fall within a couple of areas. Penetration testing sees hackers actively attempting to breach a system as a cybercriminal would, to identify where protection needs to be beefed up. The other form used is vulnerability assessment, which is a more analytical approach where the code and systems are examined to see what points present weaknesses that need to be fixed.
It’s also an important point of context that ethical hackers work within stringent moral guidelines when undertaking their work. While they will have an understanding of how black hat operators think, there is also an emphasis on making sure that their actions are undertaken legally — they generally won’t try to breach a system without first getting proper permission. However, there are projects, like HackerOne, through which companies can openly enlist ethical hackers to test aspects of their systems, and offer a bounty for any bugs found in return.
How Is It Essential?
Cybersecurity comes in many forms, so why is it essential that ethical hacking must be a part of wider measures?
Well, the imperatives here include:
Automation is quickly becoming a familiar sight around us, utilized in aspects as diverse as assembly lines, raw materials processing, and computer-aided design (CAD). From a business perspective, it is a vital tool to ensure work proceeds without disruption and as efficiently as possible. Even if your company doesn’t directly deal in manufacturing, automation is likely to impact your productivity through the supply chain. As such, ethical hacking, when applied frequently, is essential to understanding where potential holes in security lie that could result in costly disruption of productivity.
We are living in a time when systems are not just valuable business assets, they are increasingly essential for safety. Businesses that use automated systems — especially those in manufacturing or have fleets using automated GPS systems — have to be certain that these are not illicitly accessed in ways that become dangerous for staff and the public. As we move closer toward the adoption of automated vehicles, this is especially important. Ethical hackers have an important role to play in testing systems to ensure that unethical hackers can’t risk the health or lives of the humans that interact with automated processes.
How Can Businesses Implement It?
So, given that ethical hacking is a necessary part of keeping businesses and consumers safe, how can companies go about utilizing it? Well, it is usually most effective as part of a wider cybersecurity strategy. Criminals use a growing variety of methods to illicitly access systems, and as such companies have to utilize protection methods that are just as agile. There have been times that major corporations and even governments have hired former black hat hackers to become ethical hackers on staff. However, it’s important to understand that this requires stringent vetting procedures, to ensure that companies can minimize risk to their operations, customers, and possibly reputation.
It can be wiser, then, for companies to develop security teams that include staff members that are not just skilled at putting in place firewalls and reviewing protocols, but also some who have expertise in ethical penetration testing. This is something that cybersecurity courses at universities are starting to include in their curriculum, and there are also specific penetration testing certification programs. However, it’s important that the investment in this team also goes toward frequent upskilling and refresher courses, even attending hacker conferences, to keep up to date on the latest threats and techniques.
Smaller businesses might find it more practical to hire ethical hackers on a freelance basis. Security consultants that also have experience in penetration testing can be hired on a periodic or retainer basis. However, if the company has the budget to provide a bounty, there can be benefits to encouraging a more diverse range of ethical hackers to test your systems through programs like the aforementioned HackerOne.
Hacking isn’t just the dark, seedy activity we see in movies. It can also be an agile and effective tool in the fight against cybercrime. By using similar methods adopted by criminals, security experts can better predict issues that might arise in the future, and mitigate vulnerabilities in systems, keeping businesses and consumers safer.