What is a White Hat Hacker?

What exactly do these "good guy" hackers do and how can you become one? Read this article to find out!
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While the term “hacker” is often associated with illegal activity, White Hat Hackers are considered the “good hackers” who work to expose vulnerabilities in systems for companies and create solutions to combat those weaknesses with appropriate system updates. A White Hat Hacker is a master of computer security and is committed to ethical practices. The term stems from old western films where the “good guys” often wore the white hats in contrast to the black hat-wearing criminals. Notably, many “black hat hackers” are often recruited to use their knowledge for good and join the white hat ranks.

One of the first documented cases of ethical hacking was within the United States Air Force. They worked with the Multics operating system to predict possible weaknesses in the system that could invite intruders into confidential information. 

Later, Dan Farmer and Wietse Venema worked to create a systemic approach to ethical hacking. In 1992, they packaged their work into the Security Administrator Tool for Analyzing Networks program which was a downloadable tool aimed to increase internet and intranet security.

What Do White Hat Hackers Do?

By using penetration tests, white hat hackers work ethically to expose weaknesses in security networks. White hat hackers use tools such as worms, viruses, trojans, and other cyber-attack mechanisms in a regulated manner to work steps ahead of their malicious counterparts. 

Their elite skills protect security networks by finding weak areas and fixing them before a cyber attack can take place. They work to reduce risks in systems and upgrade systems as needed by predicting where malicious hackers would be able to penetrate, or compromise, a system. These cybersecurity professionals are indispensable in the computer and networking world as they work to keep information and systems secure as both programs and threats regularly change.

Famous White Hat Hackers

Below are a few of these cybersecurity specialists that have become famous white hat hackers.

Tim Berners-Lee

Founder of the world wide web, Berners-Lee is now the director of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) which is responsible for determining standards for the security of the world wide web.

Dam Kaminsky

Kaminsky co-founded WhiteOps, where he is now Chief Scientist. The company utilizes JavaScript to detect malware. Kaminsky also worked on Domain Name System (DNS) cache spoofing, or poisoning, which added another tool to the hacker’s toolbox for computer security. His discovery of this DNS flaw led to a speedy patch for the weakness, which was important since most internet services utilized DNS at the time.

Tsutomu Shimomura

Shimomura worked for the National Security Agency and became famous when he assisted the FBI in capturing hacker Kevin Mitnick. Interestingly, Mitnick has now “switched sides” and is now a well-known white hat hacker.

Interested in learning more about the contributions of the “good hackers?” Other famous white hat hackers that have notably improved cybersecurity include Charlie White, Marc Maiffret, Richard Stallman, Greg Hoglund, Linus Torvalds, and Jeff Moss.

How to Become a White Hat Hacker

White hat hackers require both hard and soft skills in order to be successful in this cybersecurity branch. Cybersecurity knowledge, familiarity with Windows and Linux operating systems, and information technology knowledge are all crucial for anyone in this field; however, the following soft skills are equally important for success.

  • Problem solving skills
    • In order to find threats and risks to systems and networks, these specialists must navigate through mazes and puzzles of coding and hacking methods. This requires a high level of problem solving and critical thinking skills.
  • Communication skills
    • Along with penetration testing, hackers often work in groups to identify vulnerabilities. This requires teamwork and effective communication. White hats must also clearly articulate where the problems exist for other coders to work to fix or patch the problems and create updates where required.
  • Ability to work under pressure
    • Since these specialists must combat attacks, they are often under time constraints and are also working to protect large amounts of valuable technology and secure information.
  • Strong moral compass
    • Since white hat hackers utilize the same methods as the black hats, it is critical that they maintain a level of moral and ethical behavior when working to expose system weaknesses.

Are you interested in becoming one of these elite cybersecurity professionals? Companies and organizations vary greatly on what they require for a white hat hacker. This is largely due to the fact that this position is always evolving and organizations’s hacking needs vary.

There are multiple pathways to achieve a spot in this profession. Bachelor degrees in Mathematics, Computer Science, or Information Security can provide the skills needed for this career. Intelligence experience from the military is also well-regarded. 

The EC-Council also offers a respected certification course that deems successful completers “Certified Ethical Hackers.” Another way is by becoming a cybersecurity specialist. Here are  5 Steps to Becoming a Cybersecurity Specialist in 2022

One way to enter this way of ethical hacking is to attend a cybersecurity bootcamp. A list is compiled for you here, so that you can compare bootcamps and find the one that fits your needs and will help you reach your goals.

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