What Is Ethical Hacking and How Can It Help Protect Your Business?


If you are keenly interested in cyber security and are looking for ways to improve the safety of your company’s computers and any information stored on them, you should take the time to learn more about ethical hacking.

We understand that ethical hacking as a term appears to be an oxymoron, because hacking is more or less always associated with unethical behaviour and activity.

What Is Ethical Hacking?

To help clear up the misunderstanding of the title – ethical hacking refers to the activity carried out in a similar way to normal hacking with criminal intent. An ethical hacker would try to find vulnerabilities in a company’s computer and security systems to get hold of sensitive documents and pose a threat to the business and its staff. However, and this is where they differ from hackers with criminal intent, the purpose of ethical hacking is to identify via real world testing whether a computer system, server or cyber security system is really secure and safe enough.

Some people are unsure whether ethical hacking can ever be referred to as being ethical however. Because even a breach in digital security designed to improve that system is still a breach. There is also the worry that having ethical hackers working alongside your company, who may have had a background in criminal hacking is counter-productive and could lead to greater problems and issues with your systems being made even more vulnerable.

However, there are solid ways to identify when an ethical hacker is doing his or her job ethically. Such as:

  • They have been given permission to try and hack the system to identify vulnerabilities
  • They report back to you the vulnerabilities they found and why they are problem areas
  • They offer help and advice about how to fix those vulnerable areas and strengthen them to keep out criminal hackers
  • They respect the privacy and data of your business or organisation
  • They have some form of official ethical hacking certification, like CEH.

The aforementioned points will let you know if an ethical hacking professional is doing the job professionally or not. However, the best way of making sure that a professional is working ethically is by certifications. Ethical hacking certifications, like CEH Certification, not only mean that a professional knows about ethical hacking but it also means that the professional adheres to the ethical means while doing the job. Due to the negative connotations that often come with the terms hacking and hackers, there are many people who prefer to refer to them as penetration testers.

Due to the negative connotations that often comes with the terms hacking and hackers, there are many people who prefer to refer to them as penetration testers.

How Does It Work?

Basically, as briefly touched upon, ethical hacking is when an individual or team of hacking specialists have been hired and given permission within a particular set of guidelines, to attempt to hack their way into a business.

The individual or team will then do all they can, taking on the role of a criminal hacker, to try and break through whatever security protocols a company has in place, to do damage (though they will not actually do real damage to anything sensitive or important).

They would then report back to the company regarding their findings and present an outline of how the weak spots could be strengthened.

Who Could Benefit Most From Ethical Hacking?

The trouble with hackers and their various methods and techniques is that just like the technology, hardware and software they are trying to break into and compromise is constantly evolving and being upgraded; so too are their skills. Hackers have to move with the times to try and stay one step ahead or at least know of ways to get one step ahead of security measures that are put in place.

This means that most computer networks and systems are constantly facing potential threats and breaches to their security. With this in mind, it is mostly the larger scale businesses and organisations that benefit most from the services of ethical hackers. Mainly because they are often responsible for the storage of huge volumes of sensitive information and in turn, are ideal targets for hackers.

Take IBM for example, they have their own team of ethical hackers who work for them in-house. These ethical hackers carry out penetration tests regularly to help keep the company and its computer networks protected.

Although the debate will rage on about the validity of ethical hacking and its place in a company’s security, it is not far-fetched to think that there might be a time when ethical hacking is a commonplace security measure used by other larger companies and possibly even medium sized organisations too.

What Does The Future Hold For Ethical Hacking?

While there are computer systems, networks and other digital hardware and software utilised by businesses, there will always be criminals who try to compromise those systems to get what they want. As a result, the need for more intense and robust security will only increase.

Companies may even start setting aside more of their budget to invest in ethical hacking, in a similar way to IBM.

You could consider ethical hacking in the same way as the police and other security firms employing the skills of reformed burglars and thieves to help them increase physical security on properties. If you haven’t already used ethical hacking services and are worried about the safety of your systems, it may be time to reconsider and make use of penetration testing.