But what does an ethical hacker do, and why? Should you hire one for your company?
What is an ethical hacker?
In short, ethical hackers — or white hat hackers — put cybersecurity protocols to the test by finding flaws in existing systems. They often perform mock attacks, revealing vulnerabilities companies and governments previously didn’t notice. This is all completed with permission in order to secure data, not take advantage of it.
They could send fake phishing emails or scan for zero-day exploits, creating higher defenses for their employer. They can also test defenses by sifting for easy-to-crack passwords or leaving backup devices like flash drives unattended.
This is in conjunction with penetration testing, which takes action on specific targets. Ethical hackers provide more comprehensive services, holistically viewing an entity’s cybersecurity risk management plan. This delivers even greater value for companies removed from technological sectors.
It also provides budget relief, paving the way for targeted training programs if employee practices reveal specific problem areas like password management or responding to suspicious emails. This prevents overall business loss, allowing money to funnel into reinforcing teams and IoT.
It’s critical to comprehend that, no matter the size or industry of a company, no one is safe from the threats of cybercriminals. Governments, companies and individuals are subject to hacking, making the situation dire for everyone.
What certifications do ethical hackers have?
Hiring ethical hackers may prove a trickier process than finding regular staff. This is because cybercriminal activity increases demand for these positions, with many offering competitive pay rates.
The first query an employer may have is how to tell the difference between a malicious hacker and an ethical one. The straightforward tells are distinct skills and certifications. This subdues fears that you are hiring unskilled testers that could provide a false sense of security. This is especially true for a business not well-versed in cybersecurity that cybercriminals could easily fool.
Here are some of the most reputable third-party qualifications to look for in an ethical hacker, alongside keeping an eye out for undergraduate and graduate degrees in related fields.
Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH)
Managed by the EC-Council, the CEH certification is the world’s most comprehensive and well-known hacking certification. The exam tests a hacker’s knowledge about everything from countermeasures to foundational familiarity with various cyberthreats. Lectures and self-study precede the exam. Many ethical hacking jobs require this on a résumé, but you could argue its efficacy for lacking enough hands-on testing.
CompTIA’s penetration testing certification claims to test hackers against the broadest array of attack surfaces. They check understanding of those techniques and ensure testers know compliance and legal requirements.
Certified Hacking Forensic Investigator (CHFI)
The CHFI certification is also offered by the EC-Council and educates primarily on the investigative side of ethical hacking, increasing incident response capabilities by reducing research time.
Global Information Assurance Certification (GIAC)
The SANS Institute offers this certification, and its tenure in the industry makes it authoritative. It provides several certifications depending on your specific study, including:
- Offensive operations
- Cyber defenses
- Cloud security
- Industrial control systems
- Digital forensics and incident response
- Management, legal and audit
One of its most widely recognized is the GIAC Penetration Tester (GPEN) certification, proving a hacker’s cogency in penetration testing.
Offensive Security Certified Professional (OSCP)
Offensive Security provides ethical hackers with one of the most technically advanced certifications, requiring only hands-on experience for the test. It requires people to hack into the open-source project Kali Linux. Hackers that obtain access within the time acquire the certification.
Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP)
This is one of the few certifications requiring prior experience before testing — five years of full-time work in two of their eight instruction domains. Some subject areas include cryptography and asset security.
What other qualities do they possess?
Knowing how to validate a hacker’s authenticity, coupled with solid interviews, background checks and references, will confirm a potential employee’s integrity. Luckily, there are soft skills you can watch for alongside tangible certifications.
Ethical hackers must have a wide range of skills, including:
- Knowing how to improve security systems
- Staying informed with new hacking techniques
- Maintaining technological operational efficiency
- Identifying weaknesses in hardware, software and employee behaviors
- Providing the best solutions the market has to offer
They must also demonstrate level-headedness. If they can’t manage their stress during an attack — which could be difficult after countless hours of hard work trying to prepare — they may not be a correct fit.
It’s essential to know their problem-solving, research and communication skills. They should communicate security gaps to less-informed staff members to execute strategies. These qualities exemplify their moral dedication, as hackers know better communication leads to stronger cybersecurity.
When should you hire an ethical hacker?
Create a sense of urgency to strengthen your cybersecurity by imagining the consequences of a single cyberattack, especially if you’re in an industry that relies on technology to survive. Even sectors that don’t rely on computers should consider how hackers could impact other technologies. Ultimately, the best time to hire an ethical hacker is as soon as possible.