Hacking can be both malicious and well-intentioned or legitimate. And, in the second case we are referring to the specific term of “ethical hacking”.
To getter a better understanding on this matter, in today’s article we are going to see
– What is ethical hacking?
– What is the difference between ethical hacking, black-hat hacking and grey-hat hacking?
– What are the responsibilities of an ethical hacker?
– What are the benefits of ethical hacking
– 3 real-life examples of ethical hacking
Let’s start with the main definition.
What Is Ethical Hacking?
To start with, hacking is the process of getting unauthorised access to a certain device, network or software. This kind of unauthorised access is achieved through the use of IT tools, such as softwares, computers, servers or other.
Ethical hacking or white-hat hacking is a special form of hacking where the hacking is actually permitted by the owner of the computer system. Ethical hackers are given the leeway to infiltrate a system, in order to detect and patch system vulnerabilities.
This practice is usually applied in the case of businesses where hackers are hired to amplify the security of the business IT infrastructure. Therefore, ethical hacking is used as a prevention measure against other malicious forms of hacking, namely black-hat hacking or grey-hat hacking.
What Is the Difference Between Ethical Hacking, Black-hat Hacking and Grey-hat Hacking?
As seen above, ethical or white-hat hackers serve the legitimate purpose of protecting a business from cyber attacks.
However, the motives of black-hat hackers or grey-hat hackers are different.
Black-hat hackers are the “digital criminals” who crack a computer network in order to use its data for malicious purposes. E.g. black-hat hackers may install malware to destroy company files, steal network passwords, exploit credit card information or cause a generalised data breach in any other way.
On the other hand, grey-hat hackers are somewhere in between ethical hackers and black-hat hackers.
Grey-hat hackers do indeed intrude a computer system but not to exploit information in a malicious way like black-hat hackers do. Their goal is to prove to the targeted companies the existence of gaps in their cybersecurity infrastructure and request a fee to fix them.
Although grey-hat hacking can be proven beneficial, it is rarely welcomed by companies, since they have not granted permission for such intrusive actions.
Having fully understood the differences between the above forms of hacking, let’s delve into the specifics of ethical hacking starting with what the responsibilities of an ethical hacker are.
What Are the Responsibilities of an Ethical Hacker?
When a company outsources cybersecurity troubleshooting to ethical hackers, the latter must act within the guidelines set by the specific company.
A) In this context, ethical hackers and their client-company must agree on which hacking activities will get authorised so as for the hackers to know the limits of their actions.
B) In the next phase, an ethical hacker must specify the goals of the hacking activities and inform the client-company on them.
C) When the goals get agreed upon, hackers can implement their plan and report back all cybersecurity breaches detected.
D) Simultaneously, an ethical hacker should pay attention to any terms of confidentiality, in order to ensure that the hacking findings will be disclosed safely and to the right people.
E) Finally, yet importantly, ethical hackers must erase any trace of their hacking action to a) restore possible system malfunctions caused intentionally by them, and b) prevent the exploitation of the “loopholes” created by other malicious attackers.
Following this process, ethical hacking can prove beneficial for any business that deploys it as a means of cybersecurity.
So, let’s see in detail how a business can benefit from its use.
What Are the Benefits of Ethical Hacking?
Every advantage of using ethical hacking within the framework of a company is related to ensuring the cybersecurity of the corporate network.
Ethical hacking includes studying a computer system and identifying vulnerabilities from an attacker’s point of view. In this way, an ethical hacker cannot only spot system vulnerabilities one-by-one but also reckon the whole chain of steps that a possible attacker may follow so as to infiltrate the network.
As a result, a more holistic approach is adopted that better responds to real cybersecurity risks.
By safeguarding the security of a network, companies also avoid the unauthorised exploitation and disclosure of their data. In other words, ethical hacking minimises the possibilities of data breaches and helps companies avoid the high sanctions that a data breach comes along with.
At the same time, cybersecurity guarantees strengthen the feeling of trust in an organisation’s customers who are aware that their data is safely kept within the corporate network.
At this point, in order to better understand how organisations or users have benefitted from the application of ethical hacking, let’s see some real-life examples of ethical hacking put in practice.
3 Real-life Examples of Ethical Hacking
Although ethical hacking gets used by businesses on a daily basis, here are some great cases where ethical hacking helped identify major system vulnerabilities.
1. The WordPress-Twitter incident: Leaking social media information
In 2019, security researcher Baptiste Robert, a.k.a. Elliot Alderson, discovered a vulnerability in the WordPress plugin “Social Network Tabs”, which shares content on social media.
It was found that the plugin stored Twitter account information and had already leaked an account’s information allowing everyone to access it.
2. The Visa card incident: Bypassing payment limits
Later this year, researchers Leigh-Anne Galloway and Tim Yunusov found errors in the Visa’s card system that allowed attackers to raise the contactless payment limits without needing verification.
During the probationary process, the exploitation of these errors proved capable of bypassing the UK contactless verification limit of £30 on all tested Visa cards, no matter the card terminal.
3. The Mac Zoom client incident: Unauthorised camera activation
At around the same time, ethical hacker Jonathan Leitschuh found a vulnerability in Mac’s client that could allow any malicious website to enable Mac’s camera and join a Zoom call without permission.
In contrast to the above cases where organisations neglected to address the respective vulnerabilities, in this case both Apple and Zoom took action to tackle the issue.
Apple immediately fixed the vulnerable component, while Zoom applied a quick-fix solution.
Concluding with these interesting real-life examples of ethical hacking applications, we can now make a summary of what was said overall.
To Sum Up
In total, we discussed what ethical hacking is, its differences from other forms of hacking, some of its key benefits and three examples where ethical hacking saved (or could have saved) the day.
In this context, we realised the great “distance” that separates ethical hacking from other malicious forms of hacking that we usually have in mind.
Knowing how to use ethical hacking for one’s own advantage and how to guarantee protection from black-hat or grey-hat hacking is crucial for every business who makes extensive use of IT in its daily operations.
Therefore, if you wish to learn more about the ways you can safeguard your IT infrastructure, don’t hesitate to contact us so as to receive solutions adapted to your needs!