What is a White Hat Hacker?

Does a hacker always have ill intent? While a general notion may suggest so, the reality is different. Statistics show that the industry for ethical or white hat hackers is worth $4 billion in the US and is growing at 21% year on year with nearly 2.3-million professionals.

Private businesses and government agencies spend around $25 billion annually on cyber safety. So, if you are looking for a career in the industry, this article is a single source of information for you.

In this article, we will understand how hacking skills can be useful in the industry, courses and certifications you can take, career options, and salary outlook.

White Hat Hacker or Ethical Hacker

White hat hackers or ethical hackers use their skills to expose vulnerabilities within systems so that organizations can improve security and protect their systems from malicious hackers.

Ethical hackers stress test your systems and run deep scans to detect any malware or security flaws. White hats perform penetration tests, social engineering, reconnaissance, and research to identify vulnerabilities.

For example, they would intentionally introduce spam emails and bait the staff into clicking on a malicious link. This helps you understand the security vulnerabilities within the organization’s systems and have a proactive approach to safeguarding data.

This protects the company’s image and saves businesses from any lawsuits or reputation damage in the industry. Businesses readily hire and reward white hat hackers generously for exposing the vulnerabilities in their systems.

Where Do White Hat Hackers Work?

White hats work in the government agencies such as the Department of Defense, intelligence agencies, homeland security, national security agency, justice, and revenue. Private sector organizations with sensitive data such as social security details, bank accounts, credit card numbers, and other personal information will also hire a white hat readily.

Many white hat hackers working in the industry are former black hat hackers. But the industry, especially large enterprises, is constantly looking for new skilled, ethical hackers that operate under the law of the land.

What Are Other Job Titles White Hat Hackers Go By?

Companies hire ethical hackers under different job titles, including these –

  • Information security analyst
  • Cyber security analyst
  • Intrusion detection analyst
  • Network security analyst
  • IT security administrator
  • IT security engineer
  • Advanced penetration tester

One could work in different technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), the internet of things (IoT), blockchain, mobile systems, and many more.

Difficulties White Hat Hackers Face

White hat hackers have to work in controlled environments as one mistake could easily cause a significant financial or business loss to the company. If they perform mock drills on live systems, it could cause large-scale system crashes or data loss.

It is because of this reason, they must perform only very delicate drills on live systems. Other aggressive scans or checks are on test environments that may or may not replicate live systems completely.

Often, the live systems are so large and expensive that it is difficult to make replicas for testing purposes.

What Other Types of Hackers Exist?

What other types of hackers exist?

While the populist opinion may want to put all hackers in a single bucket, there are various types with different intentions. Let us understand each one briefly –

Black Hat Hackers

Black hats are cyber criminals who exploit system flaws for illegal activities and personal gain. They intentionally break laws and systems for financial gain or political motives. They may directly access the finances or sell a company’s sensitive information to a third party for profit.

Businesses and government agencies have black hat hackers with malicious intent at the top of their list of risks.

Gray Hat Hackers

A gray hat hacker has the skills of both a white hat and a black hat hacker. Gray hat hackers don’t break into systems for malicious reasons or to help the institution. Rather, they do it for the pleasure and enjoyment of finding loopholes and breaking protective systems.

Red Hat Hackers

Red hat hackers are the vigilante community that stops the black hat hackers from causing any damage. They use the arsenal of black hat hackers and turn it against them. From DDOS attacks to viruses to trojan horses, they adopt every tactic to destroy the systems of black hat hackers from the inside out.

Blue Hat Hackers

Blue hat hackers intend to destroy data and take revenge on an organization. They want to make you pay because they feel you have done something wrong to them. Blue hat hackers would take existing open-source malware code and modify it according to their needs before introducing it into the organization’s systems.

What Does a White Hat Hacker Do?

What does a white hat hacker do?

Identify Threats

White hat hackers proactively identify threats to the organization’s data, operating systems, security controls, and computer systems from malicious hackers. One of the ways is to look for loopholes and try to penetrate the system. This is called penetration testing.

Another method could be to use DDOS attacks and assess the ability of the system to defend itself from the bad guys. This helps the organization strengthen its overall security posture.

Protect Networks

Computer systems in an organization connect with various other systems through private networks that may be vulnerable to a malicious hacker who can steal data.

Ethical hackers test and verify the security controls and protocols on these networks. This gives a detailed view of the networks’ vulnerability and helps patch installations if necessary.

Assess Firewall Efficiency

An ethical hacker attempts to identify vulnerabilities within the systems and firewall configurations. Using firewall bypass tests and other hacking techniques, the hacker tries to gain access to the system.

This helps the organization check its security features and implement better protocols to handle the network traffic.

Develop Social Engineering Methods

White hat hackers develop social engineering methods that take advantage of human nature and trust. They use these methods to trick the employees into giving away sensitive information and access to computer systems or breaking security protocols.

This helps an ethical hacker do the security evaluation from the employees’ point of view and design processes to avoid such attacks from a black hat hacker.

How Can I Become a White Hat Hacker?

How can I become a white hat hacker?

There are no industry standards for becoming an ethical hacker. You can take an undergraduate or graduate degree in computer systems, information security, or mathematics to start a career in ethical hacking.

However, if you want to showcase your skill and knowledge as a white hat hacking professional, you may choose one or more of these certifications –

  • CompTIA A+ – It demonstrates your core skills in information technology, from security to cloud to data management.
  • CompTIA Network + – It prepares you to securely establish, maintain, and troubleshoot networks on any platform.
  • CompTIA Cloud+ – This certification gives you the skills to deploy and automate secure cloud environments for high availability.
  • CompTIA Security + – It shows that you possess core knowledge in cybersecurity which is a stepping stone for intermediate-level positions.
  • CompTIA PenTest + – This is best suited for professionals aiming for penetration testing and vulnerability management to test the resiliency of a network against attacks.
  • CompTIA CySA+ – The cybersecurity analyst certification applies behavioral analytics to networks and devices. This helps prevent, detect, and combat threats through continuous monitoring.

As you grow, you can either have a vendor-neutral credential or specialize in a specific product or service. If you have a background in computer forensics, it will give you additional leverage in a white hat hacking career.

White Hat Hacker Salary Information

White hat hacker salary information
The salary of an ethical hacker depends on the level of their experience and skill. According to a survey, those with 0-1 year of experience earn a median wage of $78,998. Those with an experience of 7-9 years earn a median wage of $105,776.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the overall median pay for information security analysts in the US in 2021 was $102,600 ($49.33 per hour).

There were 141,200 jobs for information security analysts in 2020, growing by 33% up to 2030. This growth rate is faster than the average of all other professions in the US.

Conclusion

Large organizations do not compromise on protecting sensitive information and systems. A certified ethical hacker with proven skills in protecting computer networks and systems is in high demand, and companies are willing to pay a good wage.

You get a significantly higher wage if you hold a professional certification instead of a degree in computer science.

To get started, you can choose from one of the certifications for ethical hackers mentioned above and enter the profession at a beginner or intermediary level. As you gain more experience in white hat hacking, you can work with specialized government organizations or even go freelance.

Frequently Asked Questions

Who Are Some Famous White Hat Hackers?

There are many famous white hat hackers in the industry, some of which are –
Kevin Mitnick – Once a most wanted cybercriminal in the US, Kevin got arrested and served five years in jail for hacking. He then became a white hat hacker and now runs a security consulting firm.
Marc Maiffret – He is known for exposing security vulnerabilities such as the Code Red worm in Microsoft products. Marc is currently the chief technology officer at BeyondTrust.
Robert ‘RSnake’ Hansen – Robert is a well-known white hat hacker who is now the chairman of OutsideIntel, a company that works in corporate discovery and business intelligence.
Charles Miller – Miller is a computer security researcher who worked as a white hat hacker for the National Security Agency for five years.

Is It Illegal To Be a White Hat Hacker?

No, as compared to a black hat hacker who exploits all the vulnerabilities for personal gains, white hat hackers work after getting permission from the system’s owner. White hat hackers work within the specifications of the client, and their work is completely legal.

What Are Some Drawbacks to Being a White Hat Hacker?

The only two drawbacks of being a white hat hacker are that you will have limited time to do the work and work within a limited test scope. Your work will focus only on infiltrating an asset for stress testing.
Other than this, it is a highly lucrative career path.

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