by Joran Teijema
Though the words “ethical” and “hacking” seem to be contradictory, their combination is an entirely legitimate topic. Ethical hacking and ethical hackers are, in fact, terms used to describe hacking performed by a company or an individual to help identify potential threats on a computer or network. An ethical hacker can attempt to bypass system security in a search for any weak points that could be exploited by malicious hackers, thus helping develop the program in ways that will keep its users secure. There are even universities that offer in-depth cyber security courses and degrees, as well as online platforms that supply guides to becoming an ethical hacker.
While most people associate hacking with malicious intent, it is actually a legitimate and oftentimes helpful skill, and as such, it comes with various classifications. Hackers can be split into three main groups:
Black Hat Hacking – This is the term used for hackers that use the skill with bad or outright vile intentions. These hackers will have a considerable amount of knowledge about writing malware, which can be used to gain access to other computer systems; this hacking is commonly used for either personal or financial gain, taking control of other users’ accounts to steal funds or personal information. Black Hat hackers can often be offered jobs on the dark web to perform cyber espionage, usually for the purposes of blackmail.
White Hat Hacking – Also known as “ethical hacking,” this category is performed by hackers who use their skills with good intentions and legal reasoning. Usually, these hackers will be hired by companies, businesses, and sometimes even the government to find security breaches in their respective systems so that they are able to insert countermeasures. Before a White Hat hacker can perform these security breaches, they require permission from the owner, thus making the operation legal. There are many people who make their living doing White Hat hacking; if you’ve ever seen pictures of T-Shirts that read, “I hacked in to the government and all I got was this T-Shirt,” that’s referring to White Hat hackers! Performing this classification of hacking can be controversial, making it a subject that many people believe in strongly. As long as the right moral standards are utilized, White Hat hacking can be immensely helpful.
Grey Hat Hacking – This is the final type of hacking, which is just what the name implies: “a grey area of hacking in which parts of both Black Hat and White Hat hacking are used.” Grey Hat hacking is not necessarily a risk, but it should be noted that whenever one leans more toward the illegal side of hacking, it can become legitimately dangerous. A Grey Hat hacker may hack into a system without letting the owner of this system know, introducing an issue of legality and opening them up to possible lawsuits, even if they find all the vulnerabilities that the system has. At this point, the hacker has technically already done something illegal, and could potentially lean towards the “Black Hat” or “White Hat” side of things. A hacker can decide to let the owner know what the vulnerabilities are and apologize for hacking into their system without receiving permission. Some hackers will unfortunately decide to use these vulnerabilities for their own gain and therefore use their skills to cause damage to the owner of the system.
As time goes on, ethical hacking has become more and more relevant. With hacking talents being recruited straight out of high school for certain governmental organizations or by companies with high end security, it’s vital that more people come to understand the specifics of how exactly it works, and to consider the ethical uses that hacking has both for companies and for individuals.
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