Here’s a controversial opinion: Hacking is bad news.
Maybe that seems obvious and indisputable. If so, then it may surprise you to learn that a lot of businesses disagree. Recently, organizations big and small have found real value in hiring people to break into their systems. It’s called “ethical hacking,” and has become a surprisingly popular security tool.
How does it work? There are certifications they need first, but essentially these experts play the role of the infiltrating hacker to discover weaknesses in your security system. Then these ethical hackers walk whomever hired them through patching these problems before their software or update goes live. Paying someone to hack into your system and tell you what you’re doing wrong is better than waiting for the criminals to figure it out themselves. These days, businesses are fighting hacking with hacking.
Why Ethical Hacking Is Important
If you were trying to break into a secure network, then you’d want to pick the time that they’re most vulnerable to launch the attack. That’s why zero-day attacks are a popular choice for hackers. Zero-day threats refer to cybercrimes launched within a certain window. When new software gets developed, and hackers discover an opportunity to exploit the business using it, there’s a window of vulnerability that follows until the security team can close that weak point and release a more secure version.
Ethical hacking takes a preventative approach to cybersecurity. Before updates go live and up against ruthless criminals in the field, companies can give their hired hacker a chance to check for weaknesses first. This person goes through the system just like if they were a bad actor: Find the vulnerabilities, enter the network through backdoors and pretend to perform malicious activities. They might send test phishing emails, see what folders they can access, or even set up denial-of-service attacks to actually affect the system. This also gives employers an opportunity to test their security protocols and train employees on the proper way to respond to suspicious activity and messages.
The point of all this is to gain inside knowledge into the system’s weak points, so that the business can shore up its defenses before release. Ethical hackers not only tell you what they managed to exploit, but how, the patches necessary to fix these issues, and anything else you’ll need to prevent a real attack later on. Knowledge is the first step to a strong defense.
Why wait until someone actually does your business harm? Ethical hacking is a chance to catch vulnerabilities before they’re exploited in earnest.
Is This the Future of Cybersecurity?
As its popularity has grown, the ethical hacking industry surpassed $4B annually. It’s still growing, too. This sector is expected to provide millions of jobs in the coming years, accelerating at four times the average pace of most industries. There’s vast potential in the field, especially as the whole world becomes increasingly digitized. The more we rely on technology, the more chances that criminals have to exploit businesses through personal and professional devices. The Internet of Things, for example, provides plenty of opportunity for breaches.
Thus more companies are seeing the value in ethical hacking, despite its downsides. Forms of ethical hacking stretch back decades, though its eruption into the private sector has made it much more commonplace as well as more widely-known as an available option. Although the practice has made great strides in the field of preventative security, this method won’t catch everything. For starters, ethical hackers aren’t really trying to steal from your company, and it can be very disruptive to the work environment to have someone setting up approved denial-of-service attacks or malware. Thus many companies will instruct their hired hackers to avoid certain activity during their testing stages, because of the massive inconvenience and the impact it could have on productivity. This unfortunately prevents the company from testing the full scope of its defenses.
Another drawback is timing. Ethical hackers are given a set schedule to complete their assessment. Maybe you’re launching next week and can’t afford to slow it down or push back the release date. Meanwhile, real-world hackers aren’t constrained in the same ways. They have however long it takes to break into and exploit your system.
Prevention is great, but education is the best tool against cybercriminals. Train your employees to recognize and respond to cyberattacks so your systems are ready when crisis strikes.