What Is Ethical Hacking and How Can It Benefit Your Business?

what is ethical hacking

The term “hacking” comes with its good share of negative connotations. After all, it refers to the unauthorised access to a computer or a network, usually for some kind of illicit purpose. In its current sense, the term was first coined in 1959 by MIT member and pioneering computer scientist Peter R. Sampson.

Sampson defined hacking as “a project without constructive end or undertaken on bad self-advice”. In a way, that definition still holds true more than 60 years later. However, the world of IT security has greatly changed since the mid-20th century. Nowadays, cyber-security experts gain unauthorised access to systems on a daily basis in order to identify flaws and learn how to solve them. This is what we call ethical hacking.

But what does this process exactly involve? Read on as we dig deeper…

What is ethical hacking?

Whereas regular hacking involves unauthorised access to a system or network, ethical hacking refers to authorised attempts to gain unauthorised access. If that sounds confusing, extrapolating the main gist might help.

Let’s say a worried homeowner wants to know if there are any potential flaws in their security system. It sounds counterintuitive, but one of the easiest ways to find out if something’s wrong would be to hire an experienced former burglar. The burglar would try to break into their home – without actually stealing anything, of course – and then point out where there is room for improvement. That way, the homeowner would be able to draw a clear action plan to resolve all potential vulnerabilities.

Replace the home with a computer or network and the burglar with a hacker and you’ve got ethical hacking in a nutshell. Ethical hackers use their expertise to put organisations to the test by looking for potential security holes. In the cyber-security world, this is also called Penetration Testing – which is why ethical hackers are often referred to as Pen Testers. Once the vulnerabilities have been identified, the ethical hacker can help the organisation to resolve them.

This doesn’t mean that any hacker can become an ethical hacker overnight. Never trust a Pen Tester who is not part of a fully cyber-accredited body such as CREST. Cyber-security experts who want to work in Penetration Testing need to subscribe to

a strong ethical code and obtain proper approval from the companies they help. In order to stay legal, it is compulsory for ethical hackers to obtain written permission to breach an organisation’s security systems.

Now that we have learnt what ethical hacking is, let’s have a look at how you can benefit from it.

Benefits of ethical hacking

With companies tightening up on cyber-security more than ever, ethical hacking is becoming more popular by the minute. Here are three ways in which it can positively affect your business.

1. Avoid economic catastrophe with proactive security measures

When it comes to cyber-security, there are two ways to go about it. You can wait for an attack to happen and then fix the holes in your system or you can take a proactive approach towards cyber-threats. Penetration Testing is a perfect example of proactive security measures because it pushes organisations to implement defensive procedures that diminish the chances of an attack.

With cyber-criminals finding new ways to breach systems every day, the average cost of a cyber-attack in the last 12 months has risen to £4,200. To put it bluntly, most businesses can’t afford to suffer a cyber-attack. That is exactly why it is more important than ever to make sure that your security measures are proactive and not reactive.

2. Learn how to think like the enemy with manual testing

Let’s admit it – most hackers are incredibly smart. Unfortunately, so are the technologies they use – these days, even a fridge can be hacked. That’s why learning how to think like a hacker is an essential part of protecting your business from cyber-attacks. When they put on their evil hacker hat, Pen Testers will be as ruthless as the real enemies – except they won’t cause any actual damage. To start with, they will know where to look – all the secret alleys and backdoors where weak spots are likely to be hiding.

This is the main reason why manual Pen Tests are a lot more effective than automated tests. While manual Pen Tests are performed by a human being, their automated counterpart relies on specific software that can run on its own. The biggest drawback of automated Pen Tests is that they’re known to miss sensitive

flaws hiding in computer systems. It’s as simple as this – if the software is not optimised to find a certain security hole, then it won’t find it.

Ethical hacking is the rare human-vs-machine battle where flesh, bones and grey matter come out victorious. However, that is not to say that automated Pen Tests are of no use whatsoever. In fact, combining both automated and manual forms of Pen Testing is recommended practice in the cyber-security industry.

3. GDPR compliance

Article 32 of the current GDPR legislation states that organisations must implement certain measures to prevent cyber-attacks and data breaches. Lack of compliance with article 32 can lead to disastrous monetary consequences. Companies that don’t comply with GDPR can face penalties of up to 4% of their worldwide annual turnover. With such a high-stakes financial impact, protecting data has become more important than ever.

Unfortunately, hackers are well aware that data has become a very valuable commodity. Nowadays, it is common practice for cyber-attackers to access sensitive information and then ask companies for a ransom in order not to divulge it. Performing a manual Pen Test goes a long way toward protecting your organisation from this kind of attack.

Don’t wait until it’s too late

At CyberGuard, we offer bespoke and CREST-accredited Penetration Testing services that will uncover the flaws in your system and organise an effective defensive plan. To make security even tighter, our expert team can perform Pen Tests remotely or on-site according to your needs.

It might be a cliché but it’s true – prevention is always better than cure. The old saying also holds up when it comes to cyber-security, so start taking action and get a quote for a Pen Test today.

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