Ethical hacking refers to exposing weaknesses in computer systems and networks before cyber attackers can find and exploit them. In it, so-called “white hats” use the same methods threat actors or “black hats” do to test how strong your cybersecurity defenses are. That way, ethical hackers can assess how prepared you are to withstand actual attacks.
Why Companies Hire Ethical Hackers
Cyber attacks constantly evolve. Threat actors change tools, tactics, and procedures (TTPs) to successfully breach target networks’ defenses without getting detected, consequently blocked, and identified. Like real-world criminals, they do not want to end up incarcerated, after all.
To catch thieves and other nefarious individuals in the real world, law enforcement agents need to keep up with the latest TTPs that technology can provide. The same is true in the virtual realm. The more advanced the attackers get, the better at catching them should cybersecurity professionals do, too. Enter ethical hacking.
Ethical hackers get paid to think and act like the best threat actors so they can anticipate and thwart attacks against a network they get hired to break into. Organizations that employ ethical hacking as a cybersecurity strategy often have these reasons:
Offense Can Be Better Than Defense
Defending your network against threats is undoubtedly the status quo. But even the best-defended infrastructures can get hacked with the right TTPs. That is where ethical hacking comes in handy since penetration testers can try all the ways they know (and they know a lot) to breach your defenses so you can shore them up before cyber attackers can get to them. As a bonus, they can also tell you which of your strategies work, allowing you to focus on improving those that do not.
It Takes One to Know One
When Facebook welcomed George Hotz to its development team, it made headlines. Hotz gained infamy when he breached Sony Playstation’s network. Making him part of the social media giant, therefore, was a bold move. But it was a tactical one in that employing him would make the Facebook platform safe from the same TTPs he used to compromise Sony’s infrastructure.
What Is the Future of Ethical Hacking Like?
History has shown us that ethical hackers are a great addition to an organization’s workforce. Their extensive know-how and firsthand experience breaching the defenses of a well-protected company serve them well in protecting their employers’ systems.
Over time, we have seen former hackers get hired by some of the world’s biggest tech companies. We mentioned Hotz earlier, but he is not the only one.
Apple hired jailbreak app developer Peter Hajas. Nintendo Wiimote hacker Johnny Chung Lee was employed by Microsoft before Google took him on. Former underground bulletin board operator Jeff Moss who founded the Black Hat and DEFCON conferences, became a chief security officer for the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). Apart from Hotz, Facebook also hired worm creator Chris Putnam. There are others, which show that there is a place for hackers (even those who did not start as good guys) in legitimate businesses.
Ethical hackers do not have to be former bad guys, though, to get employed. They just need to have the right skills and knowledge to find network and system vulnerabilities before their malicious counterparts do.
The struggle to find cybersecurity professionals with the necessary experience may push companies to continue hiring ethical hackers. The ensuing skills gap will make them a commodity even in years to come. It does not help that schools do not actually teach IT students to hack systems, thus making them less prepared to take on hackers who learned through doing.
And since all organizations are constantly in danger of becoming the next cyber attack target, ethical hackers will continue getting jobs. As more companies move to the cloud, they will also need better protection, especially for systems that are not on their premises and so may not be as closely secured as those in their offices.
To conclude, industry experts predict that the global penetration testing market value will reach US$4.1 billion by 2027, which paints a bright future for ethical hackers.