Ethical Hacking Series: Who Performs the Test?

Ethical hacking is an integral part of Info Sec, but it is often misunderstood and overlooked. It’s the process of hacking for good, a testing process for a business’ new product or feature to ensure the code is secure and stable. But if this process isn’t taught to many programmers or info sec folks, how can a business owner know what to look for in an ethical hacker? How can they determine the right person for the job? Once you know what to look for in an ethical hacker, contracting the right person or team for the job won’t seem quite so ominous, so here’s what to look for in an ethical hacker.

Mindset

The elite of this world have security teams. The people hired for those positions are selected because they can put themselves in the shoes of an attacker, an adversary who has ill intentions for their target. Often because they have been in those shoes in the past, for instance, raiding a building, so they know what an attacker is likely to have planned and what methods they would have used. This is how your ethical hacker must think, they must know how to build a bomb and how to dismantle a bomb.

What you are looking for, as a business owner, is someone who can mock attack your systems to ensure they are secure. Law enforcement, military branches and high security facilities have been practicing this for years, trying to anticipate and depict what an adversary might do to hurt them. The result of ethical hacking will yield a list of any weaknesses found, giving business owners a list of vulnerabilities to fix. You are looking for contractors with the offensive mindset of an invader, aggressor or adversary.

Thought Process

The vast majority of what exists in Info Sec is based on ethical hacking, but actual hacking is different. When you’re looking at hiring an expert or bringing someone in to do ethical hacking for your company, you need to find out how this person thinks. They need to think like a bad actor, like a hacker trying to do actual damage. They need to take on the mindset of someone who is on a mission to destroy you and your company. It’s important that they do this because it will yield the best results. They need to be willing to go the extra mile to be successful in their objective. This person is not looking to check boxes on a list, but to achieve a goal that might take 3 weeks or 3 months of incremental research and methodical escalation.

Knowledge

It is extremely important, when you contract ethical hackers, for them have a deep understanding of coding, software and even hardware. They understand how the code works, not just how to write it and get and output. They will be reviewing code for weaknesses to exploit if a White Hat, or targeting common weaknesses in how code operates as a Black Hat.

When you’re releasing something that’s going to face the internet, it is vital for an ethical hacker to have hacked it before the real hackers have a chance. It is far better for you to hire someone to look for these weaknesses and find that they can ruin you than to be ruined. The practice of ethical hacking isn’t mysterious or abstract. It’s a based on a practical set of skills. Even just the introduction of this practice can be learned by a lay person, and that lay person can take away beneficial information from it.

Knowing how and being able to execute makes all the difference. Professional ethical hackers are your best bet in protecting your business from being the next headline for a breach from a known vulnerability. Ensure the safety and security of your business, your clients, your customers and any sensitive data by getting ethically hacked at least once a year.

About the Author

Pieter VanIperen, Managing Partner of PWV Consultants, leads a boutique group of industry leaders and influencers from the digital tech, security and design industries that acts as trusted technical partners for many Fortune 500 companies, high-visibility startups, universities, defense agencies, and NGOs. He is a 20-year software engineering veteran, who founded or co-founder several companies. He acts as a trusted advisor and mentor to numerous early stage startups, and has held the titles of software and software security executive, consultant and professor. His expert consulting and advisory work spans several industries in finance, media, medical tech, and defense contracting. Has also authored the highly influential precursor HAZL (jADE) programming language.

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