Author: Jeslyn Guo

Ethical hacking is an authorized attempt to gain access to a computer system, network, or device. Ethical hackers, commonly known as white hat hackers, attempt to replicate the methods and actions of malicious hackers and help to identify vulnerabilities in a system. These security experts assist in identifying areas of a system that can be improved before a malicious hacker can take advantage of any vulnerabilities.

The mission of white hat hackers is very different from those of malicious hackers, who are also known as black hat hackers. White hat hackers will work together with an organization and obtain approval to perform a security assessment or hack, making their work legal and beneficial. Organizations will determine an appropriate scope or set of boundaries that an ethical hacker must work in, usually in order to protect sensitive information. The white hat hacker will then identify and report any vulnerabilities that they find within a system, and suggest solutions to the issue. Some of the common vulnerabilities often detected are sensitive data exposure or broken authentication.

While ethical hackers do their best to replicate the actions of malicious hackers in order to improve systems, there are some limitations to ethical hacking. Ethical hackers must work within a defined scope for security measures, while malicious hackers certainly do not follow any of these rules. Additionally, there is the possibility for resource limitations; while malicious hackers don’t have time restraints, ethical hackers are sometimes limited by time or budget.

There are some key differences that separate white hat hackers from black hat hackers. Black hat hackers act illegally and will often steal data, spread malware, or get money or credit cards. They do not have approval to hack into a system, which is one of the crucial differences between ethical hackers and malicious hackers.

As with anything else, hacking is not just black and white – there is an in between. Grey hat hackers are a hybrid of both sides of the spectrum. Unlike white hat hackers, they will often hack into a system without permission to test the security of the system. However, unlike black hat hackers, they do not take money or information from the system, nor do they attempt to damage the system. Oftentimes, grey hat hackers will notify the administrator of the system about a vulnerability and may ask for a fee in return. Other times, they simply may be curious about hacking into a system. While this is technically illegal as they do not have permission to hack into a system, their intent is not as malicious as black hat hackers.