The expression "computer hacking" carries images of unscrupulous techies who use their skills to copy sensitive information, steal customers' identities and disable vital computer networks. However, some companies have employed so-called "ethical hackers" to explore their own computer systems and find potential weaknesses. These "white hat" hackers can demonstrate how their "black hat" counterparts can damage vulnerable systems, while offering advice on how to protect their clients from such dangers.
Testing Security Measures
The primary advantage of having ethical hackers on a company's payroll is that the hackers are allowed to test a company's security measures in a controlled, safe environment. These hackers can help companies determine which of their computer security measures are effective, which measures need updating, and which ones pose little to no deterrent to dangerous intruders. The data from these tests allows management to make informed decisions on where and how to improve their information security.
Finding Vulnerable Areas
When the white-hat hackers finish exploring the company's system, they turn in a report on the system's vulnerable areas. These areas can be related to the technology, such as a lack of sufficient password encryption, or in human-based systems, such as administrators who give out passwords to unauthorized personnel. The exposure of these vulnerabilities allows management to install more secure procedures to prevent attackers from exploiting either the computer networks or the mistakes of their own personnel.
Understanding Hacker Techniques
White hat hackers can also demonstrate the techniques used by unethical invaders. These demonstrations serve to show management how thieves, terrorists and vandals can attack their systems and destroy their businesses. When management has a firm grasp on the concepts that black hat hackers use, they can also learn how to prevent those invaders from using those techniques to penetrate their vulnerable systems.
Preparing for a Hacker Attack
Businesses that handle sensitive data must understand that they serve as potential targets of a hacker attack. Smaller companies that lack the resources for adequate network security present black-hat hackers with tempting targets of opportunity. These attacks can cripple or destroy small businesses as much as a fire or a natural disaster. The use of white-hat hackers can show these companies how vulnerable they are to an attack and how devastating the consequences of such an attack can be.