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Can hacking be good?

date: 7 September 2020
reading time: 2 min

The word ‘hacker’ is rarely associated with something positive. It instantly makes us think of someone who wants to steal our data and/or money, destroy our software, and wreak havoc within large public or private organisations.

However, before we write off all hackers as cyber villains, perhaps we should reconsider our first impression and dig a little deeper. When can hacking be a good thing? This might be difficult to imagine, especially given that for the majority of our lives, the media has been feeding us images of the ever malicious hacker. Nevertheless, even the Oxford Dictionary defines a ‘hacker’ as both:

  • someone who uses computers to gain unauthorised access to data,
  • an enthusiastic and skilful computer programmer or user.

And today, I would like to focus on the latter. Throughout the years, the profile of a hacker has changed and the term has evolved. Currently, we can distinguish between three types of hackers:

  • white-hat hackers – focused on helping organisations and individuals strengthen their cybersecurity,
  • grey-hat hackers – conflicted hackers that waver between doing good deeds and bad deeds,
  • black-hat hackers – the most well-known and dangerous type of hacker, responsible for cyberattacks.

As you can see, hacking can be a good thing and can even help us solve difficult problems. But do you know how? Let’s find out.As we proved above, hacking can be good and may solve difficult problems. How?

3 ways hacking can be used for good

A good white-hat hacker can be a great addition to your security system, especially if you have encountered problems with cybersecurity in the past. And there are three main reasons for this:

1. White-hat hackers are invaluable in terms of security

Firstly, they know all the tricks that a black-hat hacker knows, so they can give you useful tips on how to protect yourself against cyberattacks. Since they are part of the hacker community, they will recognise any shortcuts and security threats that might have been taken on your system and foresee how they may be taken advantage of in the future. Approaching your system vulnerabilities from a white-hat hacker’s perspective is highly beneficial for your company. Black-hat hackers often strive to make their attacks as complicated and inexplicable as possible, and this is exactly why knowledge of those very tactics can come in handy.

The best way to make sure that your software is hacker-proof is by conducting a simulated cyberattack. This is called a penetration test, pen test or, in other words, ethical hacking, and it is a vital part of any security audit. It reveals how hard (or easy!) it may be for any unauthorised party to breach the security of your system. Pen tests aim to identify system weaknesses, as well as strengths, in order to estimate the level of vulnerability and come up with a risk mitigation strategy to quickly plug in any security gaps.

And no one is as good at running penetration tests as white-hat hackers: they know exactly how to bypass protocols and override fail-safes. 

2. White-hat hackers are often educated, skilled in many technologies and always stay up-to-date on the latest hacking trends and tools.

Secondly, white-hat hackers have the freshest insights and tend to keep up with the latest technologies. This makes it extremely hard to catch them by surprise. So, their security patches can be quickly applied, especially in situations where timing counts.

White-hat hackers are skilled in:

  • DoS (Denial-of-Service) attacks – making a service unavailable to its intended group of users by overloading it with a flood of traffic or through any other activities that could cause a system to crash. 
  • Reverse engineering – understanding how a system works, even without access to its source code. It should never be easy for a potential hacker to break down a working product, and  see exactly how to orchestrate a successful cyberattack.
  • Vulnerability research – the process of analysing a product or algorithm for weaknesses. This usually finishes with a detailed report, so that a software development team can precisely handle any vulnerability issues in order of importance. 
  • Social engineering tactics – this targets “bugs in human hardware” and tricks employees into performing unsafe actions that may be potentially harmful to the company. These types of authorised actions should always be highly confidential and proceed in consultation with a closed group of C-level executives only, so that people behave naturally. 
  • Network security – meaning the entire configurations of both software and hardware technologies designed to protect network infrastructures. 
  • Disk forensics – the extraction of information from any piece of hardware, such as hard drives, CDs, USB devices, and mobile phones, etc. 
  • Memory forensics – the analysis of volatile data in order to identify malicious behaviours that leave behind tracks which are very hard to detect.
  • Security scanners – tools that were designed to test networks and apps against vulnerabilities, such as Nessus, Intruder, BurpSuite, or AlienVault USM. 
  • Cybersecurity standards and IT security frameworks – created to help specialists protect corporate data with greater efficiency. 

Although it’s hard to define the best educational criteria for hiring white-hat hackers, some sort of academic degree always provides a solid foundation for the skills mentioned above. Having either a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree in computer engineering, IT security or mathematics is pretty common among the hacker community. However, some hackers do not possess any college degree, and still excel at what they do. 

3. White-hat hackers increase system efficiency and save the company money

And last but not least, not only do white-hat hackers make your system more secure, but also more efficient. Due to their vast knowledge, they pay attention to the little things that may be easily overlooked during a typical security audit, and are able to quickly fix any issues, making your system run better.

Plus, working with hackers is cost-effective: they prevent both bigger and smaller security breaches, devastating PR crises and, in turn, loss of users and money. Especially now, when a GDPR violation can create a huge hole in a company’s budget. The EU’s Data Protection Authorities can issue fines of up to €20 million, or 4% of an organisation’s annual turnover, for a single violation. 

Fortunately, white-hat hackers are increasingly getting more recognition. As the “good guys” fighting the “bad guys”, they use their superpowers to help organisations protect their systems and sensitive user data. Cyberspace isn’t naturally secure. However, with a little help from the experts, it can become a space that is more secure for both you and your customers.

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