Ethical hacking has become big business in the cyber security industry, with organisations embracing a seemingly radical approach to data protection.
What is ethical hacking?
As the name suggests, ethical hacking is an approach to cyber security in which people exploit an organisation’s networks and applications not for malicious purposes but to highlight weaknesses that must be addressed.
The idea behind this is simple: to catch a cyber criminal, you need to think like one. Ethical hackers use the same techniques as malicious hackers but refrain from using any information they discover for nefarious purposes.
Organisations usually hire ethical hackers when they are developing a new system or product.
However, sometimes ethical hacking occurs as a result of ‘bug bounties’. These are rewards offered by organisations for people who find and report a serious vulnerability in its systems.
Bug bounties are an invaluable tool for many organisations, because they mitigate the risk of cyber crime. Consider the fact that hackers enjoy looking for exploits primarily because it’s a way of testing their skill.
By offering a reward for reporting the vulnerability, hackers can enjoy their hobby, get recompensed and know that they’ve done something in the public interest.
What methods do ethical hackers use?
Ethical hackers can use any means at their disposal to gain access to sensitive information. This includes, for example, exploiting system misconfigurations, sending phishing emails, conducting brute-force password attacks or breaching the physical perimeter.
This is what differentiates ethical hacking from penetration testing. The latter is a specific type of ethical hacking that’s typically performed via an on-site audit of the organisation and is generally limited to technical vulnerabilities.
Becoming a certified ethical hacker
Those looking to develop a career as an ethical hacker need to gain the CEH (Certified Ethical Hacker) qualification.
It’s globally recognised as the credential of choice for those looking to develop a senior career as an ethical hacker or penetration tester, and is intended to:
- Establish and govern minimum standards for qualifying professional information security specialists in ethical hacking measures;
- Inform the public that credentialed individuals meet or exceed the minimum requirements; and
- Reinforce ethical hacking as a unique and self-regulating profession.
Qualifications such as these are more valuable than ever, given the increasing cyber security skills gap and the need for industry experts.
As we explain in our cyber security skills guide, the right qualifications will give you a career for life and the opportunity to earn a competitive salary.
If you’re thinking of pursuing a career as a professional hacker, you might be interested in taking our Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) Training Course.
It’s the world’s most comprehensive ethical hacking training programme, giving you practical, hands-on experience with the systems you’ll test and the tools you’ll use to identify vulnerabilities.
Our expert trainer will show you the tactics, technologies and motivations of criminal hackers, helping you understand and replicate their methods.
A version of this blog was originally published on 12 March 2020.