The rise of ethical hacking

Image: The rise of ethical hacking

Although the phrase ‘ethical hacking’ sounds like an oxymoron, due to negative connotations of the word ‘hacking’, it can actually be used ethically and to the advantage of businesses. How? We find out…

However, not all hacking is necessarily the criminal, destructive act that we see featured in the media. Businesses have started using ‘hacking’ as a method of testing its cyber-security defences. This first began in the 1970’s when the United States’ Government gave permission for a team of experts to attack its own computer systems to assess their level of security robustness.

Fast-forward to the present day, and the term ‘ethical hacking’ is common within many business’ IT departments to ensure that its own security system is operating at a high level.

How did ethical hacking begin?
In 2011, there was a breach in the online security framework related to Sony Networks: a database containing more than 77 million customer records was released online.

With the unstoppable rise of the digital age and the constant presence of the internet, governments, businesses and even individuals have growing concerns about cyber security. Despite the best security protocols and rigorous encryption methods, there was no way of truly knowing if a business’ confidential information was truly safe.

In order to better protect that information, companies could hire an actual hacker. This hacker would attempt to penetrate the security systems and take advantage of the weak spots. They would then report back to the company with advice on how to rectify the problems and upgrade the company’s IT security protocols before the ‘real’ hackers could infiltrate its systems.

The ethical hacking industry
Ethical hacking is perhaps a more informal term for a raft of specialists that should be referred to as ‘computer security experts’. They are sought after by companies and provide a business with information and analysis that couldn’t be sourced from anywhere else.

In America, ethical hacking represents an industry worth more than $4 billion. The analyst firm, Frost and Sullivan, estimate the industry is growing at 21% a year, with nearly 2.3 million security professionals providing internet security across the globe.

Governments are also known for sourcing talented individuals. In 2011, MI5 launched a hacking challenge as a way of launching a recruitment drive targeting the most talented hackers in the county. GCHQ has also announced several new groupings of intelligence personnel purely focused on fighting cyber-attacks.

Businesses that frequently need the service of ethical hackers are often those with a lot of confidential information to protect, such as banks and public sector establishments (i.e. social services, hospitals, councils etc.)

Ethical hacking is an overall response to the threats offered to cyber security from the other, less palatable face of hacking. Back in 2010, Government pledged to spend £650million to bolster cybersecurity. With the country as a whole facing in excess of 50 million cyber-attacks each year, it is no wonder institutions are turning to the hacking community in a bid to strengthen defences.

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