What Is a White Hat Hacker?

Ruta Tamosaityte
Content Writer
what is a white hat hacker

Did you know that not all hackers are bad? Most people associate the term “hackers” with cybercriminals who seek to steal data from people or companies. Make no mistake: these criminals are very real and dangerous. But, believe it or not, hacking can sometimes be perfectly legal and ethical.

White hat hackers – who are they?

Have you ever watched one of those videos where people do drop tests on their phones or where automobile manufacturers crash test their cars? Why do they do that? Because it’s important to know a product’s vulnerabilities, and the only way to do this is by putting it through the worst possible scenarios.

Just as a product undergoes testing for vulnerabilities, so does a business. A key test is the hack test, where you assess a company's resilience against cyber attacks. White hat hacking is vital for pinpointing weaknesses in this process.

A white hat hacker (or ethical hacker) is someone a company hires to test for security vulnerabilities. To do this, such a hacker performs penetration testing (or pen testing), a simulation of repeated cyber attacks on a business’s systems. This is to say that white hat hackers use the same hacking methods that cybercriminals would use such as social engineering, viruses, worms, DDoS attacks, etc, to ensure the test mirrors reality as closely as possible.

White hat security for businesses

White hat hacking is usually performed by independent contractors who stress-test a company's systems. A white hat hacker can also be considered an IT security engineer who will help to conceive and implement security solutions.

By identifying potential risks in a company's systems and finding ways to exploit them, white hat hackers can help in maintaining compliance with security and privacy regulations such as HIPAA, GDPR, and others. Additionally, they'll provide valuable advice on how to keep computer systems secure.

What are the main goals of hiring a white hat hacker?

So, what do white hat hackers do, exactly? As already mentioned, companies hire ethical hackers to enhance their cybersecurity and detect system gaps. Here are a few reasons why you would want to hire one:

  • To detect vulnerabilities in a company's network. A white hat hacker uses the same techniques as a black hat hacker would. If they find any vulnerabilities, they inform your IT teams so they can fix such shortcomings.

  • To check your team’s cybersecurity habits. White hat hackers can send fake phishing emails to your employees to see how they react. This is an excellent exercise to refresh your team's cybersecurity knowledge.

As you can see, the main goal of hiring a white hat hacker is to improve your company's cybersecurity.

Types of hackers: White vs black hat hackers

So, if ethical hackers are called white hat hackers, what are those bad ones you hear all about in the media called? Well, you guessed it, black hat hackers.

The primary difference between a white hat hacker and a black hat hacker is their intent and motivation. While white-hat hackers use their technical skills to identify and fix security vulnerabilities, black-hat hackers use the same skills to exploit and manipulate systems for their gain.

White hat hackers are often hired by organizations to test the security of their networks and systems. Black hat hackers, on the other hand, operate outside the law and use their skills to gain unauthorized access to computer systems and networks. Their motives can range from financial gain to personal amusement or political activism.

It's also worth noting that there is a gray area between white hat and black hat hacking, known as "gray hat" hacking. Gray hat hackers may identify vulnerabilities in systems without permission, but they do not have malicious intent and may disclose their findings to the affected organization. While their actions are technically illegal, they are generally seen as less harmful than those of black hat hackers.

white gray and black hat hacker

How to become a white hat hacker?

First things first, you need to be a cybersecurity expert to become a white hat hacker. This often means getting a degree in computer science, computer hardware engineering, database management, or similar fields.

Next, you should work in this field for a few years to get some practical experience. Then, you can get an ethical hacker certification and start working as a white hat hacker.

Famous white hat hackers

Some of the most famous white hat hackers have made significant contributions to cybersecurity and have become household names. Here are a few examples:

  • Kevin Mitnick is perhaps one of the most well-known white hat hackers in history. In the 1980s and 1990s, he gained notoriety for hacking into the computer systems of major corporations and government agencies. After serving five years in prison, Mitnick turned his life around and became a successful security consultant. His book “The Art of Deception” is a must-read for anyone interested in social engineering.

  • Tsutomu Shimomura is a renowned computer security expert who gained national attention in 1995 for helping the FBI track down and capture Kevin Mitnick. He also created the first intrusion detection system, which is still used today to protect networks from unauthorized access.

  • Dan Kaminsky is a cybersecurity researcher best known for discovering a major vulnerability in the Domain Name System (DNS) in 2008. The flaw, which could have allowed attackers to redirect internet traffic to malicious websites, affected virtually all internet users. Kaminsky worked with major tech companies to fix the issue before it could be exploited.

  • Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek are a duo of white hat hackers who made headlines in 2015 for hacking into a Jeep Cherokee and taking control of its steering, brakes, and other critical systems. Their research led to a recall of 1.4 million vehicles and sparked a national conversation about the security of internet-connected cars.

These are just a few examples of the many white hat hackers who have made significant contributions to the field of cybersecurity. By using their skills for good, they have helped to make the digital world a safer place for all of us.

How to keep cybercriminals away from your business

Before hiring a white hat hacker, you should do your cybersecurity homework first and ensure that your company follows at least these four tips for better online safety:

  • Install antivirus software: This will minimize ransomware and malware download risks.

  • Implement strong firewalls: Firewalls can help detect viruses and prevent malware and phishing attacks.

  • Use an enterprise password manager: This will help you secure your sensitive company data from falling into the wrong hands.

  • Control who connects to your network: Authorize every computer and device that can connect to your company’s network to prevent unauthorized access.

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