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What Is a White Hat Hacker?

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A white hat hacker is an expert employed by businesses to break into their computer systems & networks to find vulnerabilities. This type of hacker is also known as an ethical hacker, using their skills to highlight security flaws that black hats can exploit.

Interestingly, white hats use the same techniques that a black hat hacker would use, including sending malicious emails to employees and attempting to hack business systems. The only difference is that they use their talents for good.

Thus, they let the business know once they discover security leaks.

What Are the Differences Between White Hat Hackers and Gray Hat Hackers?

vpnalert comparison between white hat and gray hat hacker

There are three main types of hackers: white hats, black hats, and gray hats.

You already know white hats are the good guys, and black hats are the malicious guys. So, where do gray hat hackers fit in?

Well, gray hat hackers fall halfway between the white hats and the black hats.

Like white hats, they scan systems for vulnerabilities and notify the owner or request payment to fix the flaws. However, they usually don’t have the authorization to break into the computer systems and networks they “test.”

Below is a breakdown of the differences between white hat hackers and gray hat hackers:

Criteria: White Hat Gray Hat
Job Description Ethically hacks an organization’s systems and lets them know of any vulnerabilities Breaks into computer infrastructure without consent but doesn’t cause harm
Legal Perspective Officially hired Accesses systems unlawfully
Intentions Help system owners maintain their cybersecurity Help themselves first and then help system owners
Priorities Uphold cybersecurity and the law Preserve “personal morals”

Gray hat hackers sometimes like to think that by breaking into organizations’ networks, they are benefiting the businesses. However, their true motive is often to flaunt their abilities and garner recognition for what they see as a service to the businesses’ cybersecurity.

Sometimes, if companies fail to comply with their requests, gray hats may threaten to publish the recently-identified flaws online for everyone to see.

How to Become a White Hat Hacker? (Key Certifications & Skills)

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White hat hacking requires communication and problem-solving skills.

You must also have excellent judgment, technical and organizational abilities, and the capacity to keep it together under pressure.

Most importantly, you must have the same mindset as a black hat hacker, including their sinister objectives and cunning actions.

There’s no universally accepted educational requirement for white hat hackers, but a bachelor’s or master’s education in computer science, mathematics, or information security gives you a solid foundation.

There are also several IT certifications in white hat hacking and cybersecurity that can help get your foot in the door. They include:

CEH Handbook and Exam Workbook

ethical hacking by ceh

The EC Council offers this certification to teach students the skills necessary to begin working as ethical hackers. This handbook is intended to help you get ready for the Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) exam, an assessment that evaluates your fundamental understanding of security dangers, vulnerabilities, and countermeasures.

According to the EC-Council, students without prior job experience are advised to take a five-day CEH training course. They should be familiar with TCP/IP, Windows, and Linux systems management with a practical understanding of virtualization platforms.

SANS GIAC Curriculum

giac certifications

Candidates are often in a better position to go through an active, well-respected, and in-depth security curriculum if they begin with GIAC’s Cyber Defense certificates, starting with the GSEC.

Other notable certifications in the SANS GIAC curriculum for budding white hat hackers include the GIAC Penetration Tester (GPEN) and the GIAC Exploit Researcher and Advanced Penetration Tester (GXPN).

MILE2 Cybersecurity Certification

mile2 certification

Mile2 offers another set of accreditations for aspiring white hat hackers.

It includes the Certified Vulnerability Assessor (CVA), the Certified Professional Ethical Hacker (CPEH), the Certified Penetration Testing Engineer (CPTE), and the advanced-level Certified Penetration Testing Consultant.

Popular White Hat Hacking Techniques

vpnalert white hat hacking techniques

White hat hackers use the same strategies and tools as black hat hackers, except they use them for good intentions. Some of the most popular techniques include:

Social Engineering

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Social engineering, sometimes known as “people hacking,” is a frequent tactic used by white hat hackers to identify gaps in an organization’s “human” defenses.

It’s built around human behavior, where hackers manipulate users into undesirable actions, such as sharing confidential files and credentials that could put a company at risk.

This technique is highly effective because it exploits a user’s lack of knowledge and doesn’t require brute force. Instead, the hacker lets people compromise and provide sensitive data willingly.

Penetration Testing

twitter the hacker news penetration testing

White hat approaches rely heavily on penetration testing, an attack against a business’s cybersecurity defenses. The main goal of this technique is to identify an organization’s vulnerabilities and flaws so they can be fixed.

Security Scanning

Security scanning requires investigating a company’s IT and physical infrastructure weaknesses. The goal is to gather enough knowledge and find lawful ways to get around security measures/controls without causing harm or breaking anything.

DoS and DDoS Attacks

A distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) or denial-of-service (DoS) attack disrupts or impairs the operation of a network or security system. White hats often simulate these attacks to identify vulnerabilities so businesses may modify their response strategies.

Email Phishing

mueller, she wrote about email phishing on twitter

Email phishing involves sending malicious emails while posing as a reliable source.

These communications trick the user into downloading malicious files or visiting harmful links. In this case, a white hat hacker legally uses open sources to get data about the victim’s professional and personal history. They then build a convincing phony message using this information.

If you think phishing attacks are weak, these 30+ phishing statistics we put together prove otherwise.

What Are the Legal Considerations and Limitations of White Hat Hacking?

twitter shannon vavra hacking

While the law may be on the side of white hats, there are still some concerns and restrictions.

Legal Considerations

Some of the legal considerations of white hat hacking include the following:

  • Consent from secondary businesses: If a white hat hacker is asked to hack into a corporate partner’s network, the other company must also approve. This is because white hats may be legally liable for the damages and can be charged with criminal behavior if they conduct a vulnerability test without a business’s consent.
  • Organization’s written permission: White hats require formal authorization to hack a company’s system legally.
  • Notice of information access: White hats must notify the organization immediately if they manage to breach a system containing secure data, as customers might not be aware that someone accessed their information.

Legal Limitations

Two of the leading legal limitations of white hat hacking include:

  • Limited range of techniques: Most white hats are restricted to running penetration tests, as this hacking typically entails identifying security flaws and implementing patches.
  • Limited time to perform tasks: White hat hackers are given a specific time window to identify areas of compromise in a security system. They don’t have the same amount of time to experiment with various hacking tools and tactics as black hats and gray hats do.

Who Are the Most Famous White Hat Hackers?

Some of the most notable names in the world of white hat hacking include:

Kevin Mitnick

twitter kevin mitnick

Kevin Mitnick began as a “black-hat” hacker and ultimately got served prison time for breaking into some of the world’s biggest corporations.

He gained notoriety in 1982 by hacking into the North American Defence Command (NORAD) and had been on the FBI’s Most Wanted list for years. He works as a writer and cybersecurity consultant today, helping authorities adapt to pursuing cyber criminals.

Richard Matthew Stallman

Richard Stallman founded the GNU project, a free software project that advocates computer independence, in the mid-1980s. He’s convinced that computers should promote collaboration rather than thwart it.

Steve Wozniak

twitter steve wozniak

Steve Wozniak, the co-founder of Apple, began his career as a white-hat hacker by creating blue boxes. Wozniak and Steve Jobs created these systems to hack phone systems and allow users to make free long-distance calls.

The blue boxes would trick automated phone systems into making calls by mimicking the operators’ ‘switching’ tone. Steve Wozniak later sold this tool, but his early days of white hat hacking helped him and Jobs to build Apple.

Jeff Moss

Jeff Moss, better known as Dark Tangent, is a commissioner at the Global Commission on the Stability of Cyberspace. He founded the renowned hacker conferences “Black Hat” and “DEF CON.”

Why Are White Hat Hackers Important?

White hat hackers are essential to the safety of institutions, companies, and governments. They assist these organizations in identifying and addressing vulnerable points before black hats do.

First, they intentionally break into computer networks using the same techniques as black hats. Then, they identify & fix cybersecurity gaps and assess the safety of the systems.

The job of white hats is mainly proactive, and their skills fortify the online defenses of organizations by highlighting potential entry points that could be exploited.

These are the people that the world needs more of right now, as the number of businesses undergoing cyberattacks is increasing daily.

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Yes, there are jobs for white hat hackers. Companies are now making significant investments in cybersecurity due to the rise in internet crime. As a result, there is a growing need for white hat hackers who identify and stop malicious activity before they cause harm.

On average, white hat hackers make around $71,000 annually, but experts can earn up to $120,000. Additionally, since their skills are in high demand, they sometimes receive bonuses of about $15,000–$20,000.

Kevin Mitnick holds the top spot as the world’s No. 1 white hat hacker due to his hands-on experience as a black hat hacker.

White Hat Hackers Deserve More Recognition

Most of the time, people assume all hackers are malicious, but that’s not entirely true.

In a world where cybercrime is rising, white hats are the unsung heroes that keep organizations’ systems and networks safe.

White hat hackers get into the mindset of black hats to identify vulnerabilities that could be exploited. They then notify business owners and corporations to fix the flaws.

Since security breaches can be catastrophic, the world needs more of these hackers.

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