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It’s hard to not imagine hackers as hooded, shady figures typing away on unintelligible code in a dark room. But not all hackers are malicious. Some are even working for the benefit of humanity under the umbrella of “ethical hacking.”
Are these hackers operating legally? And if so, how do they keep things above the law?
What Is “Ethical Hacking?”
It may seem like an oxymoron, but ethical hacking is very much real. If “regular” hacking is cracking security protocols without the owner’s permission, then ethical hacking is cracking security with permission.
It may seem odd that someone would permit you to hack them; it’s like someone asking you to burgle their home. However, there are two good reasons why someone would ask you this; for educational purposes, and security purposes.
What Is Educational Ethical Hacking?
Educational hacking is when someone permits you to hack their security to teach you something. This is usually a website you can hack, so you can learn the basics of cracking network security.
At first glance, these may seem like websites that teach malicious skills. While it’s true that someone can use the knowledge they gain from these websites for immoral purposes, that’s not the intent of the service.
The website will often state that their exercises are to teach website developers on how to hack. This educates them on how hackers can exploit their code, and gives them the knowledge to defend against these tactics.
What Is Security-Based Ethical Hacking?
In this modern era, everything takes place across the internet. The need for a reliable cybersecurity solution is now higher than ever. As such, companies either hire security firms to set up defenses for them, or they’ll code something in-house to defend themselves.
Once the company’s security is ready and deployed, they need a way to put it to the test. The best way to ensure everything is secure is to perform a dummy attack and see how the security holds up. This use case is a “hire a thief to catch a thief” situation, where the only way to know is to hire a hacker to attempt to crack the system.
Should Hacking Be Taught as a Class?
If you’ve taken a look around the educational space, you may have discovered classes and courses related to ethical hacking. How can these courses take place from a legal standpoint? Surely they’re teaching people how to crack people’s accounts and systems?
These courses, however, have one focus; to teach people how to hack ethically. Of course, someone can very quickly take what they learn and use it for their own needs, but these classes aren’t to teach people to commit cybercrime. They’re set up to teach people how to fight cybercrime so that they can go on to be professional, ethical hackers.
How Do People Make a Living From Hacking?
You may have noted that we said “professional” ethical hackers. Hacking isn’t just a hobby for some—it’s a livelihood. You can take a course and earn certification as proof to employers that you’re fit for the job.
Businesses often pay ethical hackers to test their security, and the pay isn’t bad either. Information security educator and evangelist Infosec reports that ethical hackers earn an average of $71,000 a year, which is an excellent way to turn a hobby into a paying job!
Of course, the hacker doesn’t crack the system and then ask for payment; that’s a one-way trip to jail. Instead, the company will advertise the job, and ethical hackers will apply and hack with permission. The company may ask the hacker to attempt to breach their defenses, or they may post bug bounties that pay out as people discover flaws in the security.
We went into more detail on how to earn a living as an ethical writer, so be sure to take a look if this sounds like something you’d like to do.
Will Malicious Hackers Fade Without These Classes?
Let’s assume that some students in a hacking class will, eventually, use their skills for malicious purposes. If we stop teaching people how to hack ethically, will it also reduce the number of malicious hackers in the world?
The problem with this idea is how malicious hackers get their information. Yes, getting rid of ethical hacking classes will also remove the hackers that turn to the dark side. However, you won’t final all malicious hackers sitting behind a desk in class. There’s a thriving dark web community where people can trade tricks with one another, forming their own kind of hacking classes.
So, as a result of canceling ethical hacking classes, those with malicious intent can head to the dark web to get their lessons. Meanwhile, those who do want to learn for defensive purposes would have nowhere safe to learn. They’ll have to do their jobs with weak training, which means they’ll be less efficient in defending companies from well-versed hackers.
Why Ethical Hacking Has to Be Legal
People may feel uneasy about teachers educating people on how to crack security, but it’s a necessary evil. Without these classes, the people wanting to protect and help businesses will be ill-equipped to tackle the methods that underground hackers will try.
Businesses have a unique need for ethical hackers. They can hire people to test their security, creating a culture of hackers that work tirelessly to report any flaws they find directly to the company for fixing. As such, in a way, ethical hacking has to stay legal.
Otherwise, good-intentioned hackers are unable to do their job correctly and can’t demonstrate their skills with recognized certification.
Learning How to Hack Legally
While people typically imagine shady, malicious people when they think of hackers, not all of them want to do damage. Some want to use their skills to assist companies by testing their security with their permission. Such people need the courses and lessons available; else they’ll be left behind by malicious agents who distribute information around the dark web.
If you like to think of yourself as a potential white-hat hacker, why not enroll in an ethical hacking online class?