Attacking one’s own self defence systems to check for vulnerabilities was considered to be a major war strategy even 1500 years ago. Attacking
one’s own systems to check for resilience against attacks may have helped many of our ancestors win wars by fortifying their weak spots. The trend continues to this day in the name of ‘ethical hacking’ where in vulnerabilities in cyber systems are sniffed out and systems are fortified against attacks.
A new kind of battle is being waged upon us this day, not in the battlefield but in the digital world. Cybercrime is the fastest growing area of crime and nobody is safe. The internet has brought a lot of anonymity to its users and hackers and cyber criminals take advantage of this anonymity to perpetrate crime. Ethical hacking was created out of a need to proactively counter cyber threat, and improve defences to protect the interests of vulnerable parties.
Ethical Hacking is big business today. Google, Facebook, Twitter and other big companies spend millions on ‘white hat hacking’ to sniff out vulnerabilities in their systems. Bug bounty programs, where hackers will be compensated for reporting vulnerabilities, will be a norm in the future. Organizations trust individuals who have been certified as Ethical Hackers as they are aware of the code of conduct to be followed during ethical hacking courses. But even the sincerest ethical hacker may stumble and get into situations that may harm the hacker or the organization. Even certified ethical hackers need to understand some rules before practising white hat hacking.
• You are a white hat hacker but you still need permission before hacking into a user’s system:
White hat hacking may be ethical but hacking into a user’s system without explicit permission from them will land you in trouble. In fact hacking, even for ethical purposes without explicit permission from the owners is a criminal offence in most countries.
• Understand your client’s business and organizational set up: Before you start off on ethical hacking it is important that you understand your client organisation’s business and system. This will give you a background on the sensitivities of their network and how you need to handle any sensitive information that you might encounter.
• Do not exceed limits imposed by the client: Even if your client has given you full access to their network, there might still be a limit to how much you can dig. Do not dig deeper than you have been told to as you might be breaching client trust.
• Make sure you do your job properly so that you do not compromise the client’s defence systems: Your job is to sniff out holes and ensure that those holes are fixed to strengthen the IT security system. Give a detailed report of your findings and ensure that you do not overstep any limits or violate any laws or regulations.Plan out before you perform ethical hacking tests as time and patience are of utmost importance for sensitive results.
• Be transparent with your clients: Open communication with your client will not only help your client but also you, by increasing your trustworthiness. You must disclose all discoveries that you have made to your client so that they can take necessary precautions to safeguard their systems. Your client should be aware of what’s going on at all times.
• Be confidential and ethical: You should maintain confidentiality during and even after the job is done. You are an ethical hacker and work ethics come topmost for you and this includes client confidentiality. Disclosing secrets of your clients to third parties will defeat the very purpose of ethical hacking. Uphold the values and goals of the company and respect their privacy.
• Cover your tracks: You have penetrated the systems and you have suggested detailed clean-ups. But as you exit, you must ensure that you do not leave any footprints and thus protect the system from future attacks.
Ethical hacking is a sensitive and sometimes dangerous job. But every ethical hacker must follow the commandments of ethical hacking as there is a very thin line between black hat and white hat hacking. Stay focused and true to yourself and you will be successful