When you think of the term hacker, what comes to mind? Criminals plotting to destroy multinational corporations, derail governments, or simply spam your inbox? The phrase doesn’t usually have positive connotations.
We think of people hunkered down in basements, anonymously threatening to change our world for the worse. But the reality is in 2022, hackers aren’t always the bad guys.
A new breed of hacker, ‘white hat hackers,’ are the people protecting our data, safe-guarding our favorite charities and NGOs and making the web a safer place. But how do they do it? Well, here’s everything you need to know.
What exactly is a white hat hacker?
We’ve all heard of the old saying “Fight fire with fire.” That is essentially what a white hat hacker does. They use their skills and knowledge to hack into an organization’s systems and databases — but only hypothetically of course.
By staging a variety of different ‘fake attacks,’ they can spot the weaknesses in a company’s cybersecurity system. This includes anything from performing vulnerability assessments to running deep scans of networks for malware.
Often referred to as ethical hackers, white hats are instrumental in protecting organizations and stopping disruptive scenarios such as website crashes or data leaks. Often ‘black hat hackers,’ or hackers who break into networks with malicious intent, will purposely stay away from multinational companies because they know they’re being protected by white hats.
When did this profession begin?
White hats have been around in some shape or form since the start of the internet. For example, way back in the 1970s, governments across the globe set up “tiger teams.” These teams were tasked with finding faults in telecom and computing systems.
The term ethical hacking however was first used by IBM Vice President John Patrick in 1995. Since then, the profession has gone from strength to strength.
In the past, many white hat hackers were bad guys turned good. For example, Apple hired jailbreak app developer Peter Hajas and Microsoft employed Nintendo Wiimote hacker Johnny Chung Lee.
Today, most white hats have been strictly above board for their whole careers. They simply work nine to five jobs like everyone else. While you probably won’t see job advertisements for white hat hackers, you will see roles posted under information security analyst, cyber security analyst, network security analyst, or intrusion detection analyst.
What skills do you need to be successful?
As you can imagine, the skills you need to become a white hat hacker are very similar to the skills you need in any cybersecurity role.
Ability to code
The first key skill that all white hats need is a proficiency in coding and programming. Formal training in analyzing and reading code is best.
Attention to detail
If you want to defend an organization against cyber breaches, you need to be meticulous. White hats need to be highly vigilant in order to detect any risks or vulnerabilities.
Computer networking skills
Understanding networks like DHCP, Supernetting, Subnetting, and more will give white hats the best opportunities to both predict security threats and also handle them.
In any cybersecurity role, you’ll need excellent communication skills. On a day-to-day basis you’ll be working with other departments to explain threats, concerns and also implement solutions.
Knowledge of operating systems
Another important skill that ethical hackers need is knowledge of operating systems like Linux, Ubuntu, Red Hat etc so they can check for cyber breaches.
What are the career prospects?
The average salary for a white hat hacker is an impressive €68,094 per year, according to Indeed’s salary calculator.
On top of a pretty great pay packet, ethical hacking is an exciting and growing field with plenty of opportunities for career growth. According to a study published last year, experts predict that the global penetration testing market value will reach $4.1 billion by 2027.
Every single organization in the world is in danger of cyber attacks. As we move to a remote workforce — where all information is stored online — the threat is only increasing. We’re also seeing an increase in state sponsored cybersecurity attacks as countries like Russia, China, and Iran deploy cyber military operations against European countries and the US.
As a result, white hat hackers will continue to be in extremely high demand for the foreseeable future.
Where is the highest demand?
According to the Cybersecurity guide, there are more than 3,000 cybersecurity technology companies in the world. Large corporations and government agencies, all of which are hiring cybersecurity specialists, are spread out across the globe too. Therefore, it’s impossible to choose just one location as a cybersecurity hub.
Our advice is, look for companies that you believe in, factor in your salary versus the cost of living in that area and make your decision based on that. The sky’s the limit for white hat hackers so you really can have your pick of the best roles around.
To find your next white hat hacker position, check out the House of Talent jobs board.
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