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Cybersecurity Consulting

What is a White Hat Hacker?

February 08, 2024

6 minute read

Man in a white fedora against a stark black background. Eyes covered and wearing a matching silver-grey suit.

Chess is a game of strategy, calculated movement, and predictive analysis. In order to gain an advantage over your opponent, you need to be able to recognize their tactics and have moves to counter them.

This is the core principle behind employing white hat hackers to test the strength of your cybersecurity defenses and identify where there’s room for improvement.

In the cybersecurity space, ethical hackers are known as white hat hackers. They make use of modern hacking techniques on behalf of businesses to build a cybersecurity strategy capable of defending the network against even the most sophisticated cyberattacks.

If you don’t know how your cybersecurity strategies measure up to those at the forefront of your industry, take a minute to review DOT Security’s Cybersecurity Checklist: How Covered Is Your Business?

Defining White Hat Hacking

A white hat hacker is defined as an ethical hacker who uses modern techniques, technology, and strategies to hack into business systems in the name of improving cybersecurity.

Unlike a classic depiction of evil hackers, white hats use their power for good. They help businesses identify their weaknesses, strengthen their defenses, and learn more about the attack vectors that bad actors will target.

An ethical hacker often works with managed security service providers (MSSP) like DOT Security to play a part in building cybersecurity strategies by performing gap analyses, conducting penetration testing, and identifying potential solutions for any existing vulnerabilities that need addressing.

Having an experienced hacker on the team gives businesses a look inside the mind of those executing cyberattacks including what they might be looking for, and more importantly, what measures can be taken to stop malicious actors and neutralize cyber threats.

How Does White Hat Hacking Help Businesses?

By employing white hat hackers, organizations can stay abreast of new attack tactics and fill any existing gaps in their current cybersecurity strategy.

All-in-all, white hat hackers aim to prepare businesses for realistic cyberattacks that mimic the most updated, most common, and most sophisticated used by real threat actors.

what does a white hat hacker do to help

Identify Vulnerabilities

White hat hackers are like digital detectives armed with the latest hacking techniques. They employ these tools to sneak into your computer systems, uncovering the weak spots and vulnerabilities that could be exploited by cybercriminals and providing those insights to your cybersecurity team.

This information acts as a roadmap to understand how threat actors might access your system, enabling the development of a robust strategy to patch up weaknesses and create a more secure environment.

Test Defenses Against Social Engineering

One significant aspect of cybersecurity is protecting against social engineering, where cyberattacks dupe individuals into divulging sensitive information or user credentials.

White hat hackers act as friendly adversaries, testing your team's resilience against common phishing tactics. For example, they might send out simulated emails that mimic cyber threats, evaluating how well your teams can identify and resist these deceptive messages.

This hands-on testing ensures that your employees are aware of the dangers posed by seemingly harmless emails or other digital communications, enhancing their ability to recognize and avoid falling victim to such attacks.

Evaluate Defense Systems

White hat hackers also use their skills to thoroughly assess the strength of your current defense systems. These systems include critical components like continual system monitoring software that identifies network anomalies and predictive analytics that help cybersecurity professionals execute proactive defenses in real-time.

By rigorously evaluating these defense mechanisms, ethical hackers help ensure that your first lines of defense are up to snuff when it comes to facing off against a modern cyberattack.

If any weaknesses are discovered, they can be promptly addressed, fortifying your network against potential breaches. Regularly evaluating your defenses is a proactive way to ensure that they can withstand sophisticated cyberattacks.

White Hat Hacker Vs. Black Hat Hacker

white hat hacker vs black hat hacker

While a white hat hacker’s goal is to help people improve their cybersecurity by finding vulnerabilities and strengthening defenses, black hat hackers use those same skills and tools to launch cyberattacks, typically with the goal of making money.

A black hat hacker creates or deploys malware with the intent of spying on people and businesses, siphoning information, isolating users, and holding sensitive or critical data hostage. Their motivations are always malicious and focused on personal gain, financial gain, or revenge.

In this pursuit, a malicious actor can corrupt or destroy data, and steal it with the intent to sell, or hold it for a large ransom with software known as ransomware.

The main difference between white hat hackers and their black hat counterparts is simply in the intent of their actions. While both groups use the same hacking tactics, white hat hackers do so to help businesses where black hat hackers are looking to do harm.

Other Types of Hackers

The hacking world is not always black and white. In fact, there are a few other kinds of hackers both with different motives than black or white hats, but with the same hacking skill and potential for danger.

Grey Hat Hackers: These hackers don’t typically hack with the intent to steal data or hold businesses hostage, but they do demand money. The way they operate is by hacking businesses, alerting them of the hack, then asking for money to fix what they broke and seal up the hole they used to get in.

Red Hat Hackers: These hackers walk the line between white hat hacking and black hat hacking. Red hat hackers use the same viruses, malware, and other attack tactics as black hat hackers, but aim their efforts at hindering black hat hackers by crippling their systems.

Blue Hat Hackers: While white hat hackers typically focus on penetration tests and identifying network vulnerabilities, blue hat hackers perform these same tasks on unreleased products or services. Typically, a blue hat hacker is employed by a cybersecurity firm or MSSP and focuses on beefing up the security protocols of products still in development.

Green Hat Hackers: Lastly, there are green hat hackers who are novice hackers looking to improve their skills through trial and error, educational materials, and even AI tools. Because of their skill level, green hat hackers aren’t typically associated with any formal organizations and are just looking to learn what they can however they can.

Final Thoughts on White Hat Hackers and What They Do

With white hat hackers on your side, you’re taking a proactive step toward an improved and comprehensive cybersecurity strategy through vulnerability identification, social engineering simulations, and ongoing defense system evaluation.

Employing white hat hackers helps you stay one step ahead of malicious actors so you don’t have to worry about your cybersecurity strategies becoming outdated.

Understand your current cybersecurity level and how it compares to industry standards and best practices by reviewing DOT Security’s Cybersecurity Checklist: How Covered is Your Business?