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What Is White Hat Ethical Hacking? How Does It Work?

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20th Sep, 2023
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What Is White Hat Ethical Hacking? How Does It Work?

The digital landscape, the by-product of technological advancement, is an evolving field with innovative ideas emerging daily. However, as we know, with pros comes its fair share of cons. Similarly, technological advancements brought the dark world of cyber threats that strive to exploit the fabric of our interconnected society. Thus, the need for an ethical guardian to safeguard our digital domains from malicious hackers was felt. As a result, white hat hacking came into the picture. 

As the name suggests, white hat ethical hackers stay on the right side of the law and use their hacking abilities for defensive purposes. They find security flaws in devices, networks, and programs only when legally permitted. 

This blog will unravel and dive deep into the fascinating world of white hat ethical hacking

Who Is a White Hat Hacker? 

The job of a white hat hacker perfectly illustrates the old saying, “It takes a thief to catch a thief.” Someone who understands a thief’s tactics and thought processes is best equipped to catch them. That’s why the best line of defence against black hat hackers is an army of white hat hackers. 

Governments and organisations hire white hat hackers to find flaws in their defence systems and patch them up before black hat hackers can exploit them to their advantage. The term “white hat” in their name indicates their role as protectors working within ethical boundaries. 

White hat hackers use their hacking skills to identify vulnerabilities in software, hardware, or networks by conducting attacks with prior permission from their employers. They can work under roles like cybersecurity analyst, IT engineer, penetration tester, etc. 

Understanding White Hat Hacking 

Ethical hacking involves a systematic approach to identifying vulnerabilities in a system before malicious hackers spot them. The entire process, from planning to analysing and reassessing the software, ensures that no malicious attacker can exploit it. 

This lawful process starts with gathering the required information about the target organisation. To identify open ports and services, security experts then perform vulnerability assessments, including exploitation, to gauge the impact of the weaknesses. The process concludes with a comprehensive report detailing all findings, including vulnerability descriptions and recommendations for mitigation. 

Organisations then remediate identified issues by applying patches or reconfiguring systems. Ethical hackers often perform follow-up assessments to confirm successful remediation and enhance the cycle of adaptability to evolving threats. White hat hackers adhere to strict ethical and legal guidelines throughout this process. 

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White Hat Hackers vs. Black Hat Hackers vs. Grey Hat Hackers: A Comparative Study

In the world of hacking, there are predominantly three types of hackers. Although they have similar skills, what separates them is their intention. Apart from white and black hat hackers, there are also grey hat hackers. Let us know about the three of them through the table given below. 

AspectWhite Hat HackerBlack Hat HackerGray Hat Hacker

Aim to identify and fix vulnerabilities


Exploit vulnerabilities for personal gain


Intentions shift between ethical and unethical

PermissionAuthorised by the organisation for whom they work.Unauthorised,

Mainly work for their own good.

May or may not have consent,

Action falls in a legal grey area

LegalityOperates within the rules of lawOften engages in illegal activitiesMainly operates in a legally ambiguous manner
Tools and TechniquesUse tools to identify and mitigate vulnerabilities of a networkEmploys hacking tools to exploit vulnerabilities Use hacking tools but may dispose of findings responsibly
Ethical GuidelinesFollow strict ethical guidelines Disregard ethical principlesHave a mixed ethical stance
Outcome Enhance cybersecurity system and protection against threatsDisrupt systems by inflicting harm and stealing dataOutcomes vary depending upon the intention of the hacker
Community PerceptionHighly respected for their body of workCondemned by everyone, including the law enforcementMixed perception 

Tools and Techniques Used by White Hat Ethical Hackers

White hat hacking employs several tools and techniques, resembling black hat hacking, but only to enhance the organisation’s security posture. 

1. Penetration Testing

Through this testing, ethical hackers simulate real-world attacks to identify and exploit vulnerabilities. They then try to penetrate the organisation’s exposed network. 

Hackers use tools like Metasploit to execute known exploits, Nmap for network scanning, and Wireshark for packet analysis to run such tests. 

2. Email Phishing 

Phishing attacks are a trap that aims to lure targets into divulging sensitive information just by clicking on malicious links. However, to protect an organisation from such an attack, white hat hackers automate email phishing campaigns with the help of tools like SET (Social-Engineer Toolkit).

3. Denial-of-Service Attack

A denial-of-service (DoS) attack on a system can temporarily disrupt its performance, rendering it unavailable to users. This is done by flooding a system with excessive traffic or requests. However, a response plan prepared to deal with such attacks can protect the organisation from greater losses. A white hat hacker simulates this attack to help the organisation develop a DoS response plan. White hat hacking tools, like intrusion detection/ prevention systems, can also be used. 

4. Social Engineering

White hat hackers tailor social engineering exercises that use behavioural techniques to assess the organisation’s level of security awareness. Tests like these help prevent an actual attack by educating the organisation’s employees on attack strategies. 

5. Security Scanning

Identifying vulnerabilities is one of the key roles of white hat hackers. Ethical hackers use tools like Nessus and OpenVAS to perform complex vulnerability scans. They also use Nikto, which focuses on web server security. Identifying weaknesses in a system helps resolve the issue before it can cause a large-scale impact. 

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Guide To Become a White Hat Hacker

To become a white hat hacker, one must be technically sound with hands-on experience in cybersecurity. However, not all businesses demand the same educational requirements. Here’s a comprehensive roadmap to being a white hat hacker. 

  • Education

Start with a strong education foundation, especially in computer science, networking fundamentals, and information technology. Obtaining a bachelor’s degree in a related field like cybersecurity from a reputed institution can be more fruitful. 

  • Cybersecurity Training

Acquire specialised training or opt for a white hat hacker course in cybersecurity. Get familiar with network protocols, IP addressing, and cryptography, and learn ethical hacking techniques. Additionally, learn programming languages like Python, C/C++, Java, and other scripting languages.

  • Hands-on Experience

Earning quality experience by working under reputed organisations can be beneficial, even leading to employment opportunities. However, interning with notable companies might be challenging, so practise your skills in a controlled environment like virtual labs. Also, engaging in such practices with tools and techniques can sharpen your skills for real-world scenarios. 

  • Legal and Ethical Understanding

Understanding the legalities they work in is of utmost importance for white hat hackers. Awareness of the legal boundaries, seeking authorisation for testing, and prioritising the responsible disclosure of vulnerabilities is paramount.

It is also the job of ethical hackers to adhere to a strict code of conduct while serving their duty. Thus, maintaining the highest ethical standards while working is mandatory for this job. 

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Some Renowned White Hat Hackers Around the World

Several well-known white hat hackers have made a name in history through their remarkable contributions to cybersecurity. Below are some of the notable figures who can inspire you to pursue a career in white hat hacking

  • Kevin Mitnick

Mitnick has greatly transformed his life from being a notorious black hat hacker to a white hat consultant. His extensive experience in social engineering and security led him to become a respected consultant and author of several notable cybersecurity books. 

  • Dan Kaminsky

In his 42 years, Kaminsky has co-founded a computer security company and is also well known for discovering critical DNS vulnerabilities. He was and continues to be a respected figure in the cybersecurity community. 

  • Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek

These security researchers shook the automotive industry in 2015 by remotely hacking a Jeep Cherokee’s system, leading to a massive vehicle recall. Now, they work in the automotive security industry. 

  • Mikko Hyppönen

Hyppönen is a Finnish computer security expert widely known for his work on analysing and combating malware and cyber threats. He is also known for the Hyppönen law for IoT security, which refers to the fact that whenever an appliance is described as “smart”, it is vulnerable.

  • Keren Elazari

She is a cybersecurity analyst, writer, and global speaker on platforms like TED Talk. Elazari’s area of research includes cyberwarfare and politics. Also, her speeches reflect her keen interest in engaging hackers to improve cybersecurity.

  • Jeff Moss

When discussing the greatest white hat hackers, we cannot forget to name Moss, the founder of DEF CON, a popular computer security conference. He is mainly known as Dark Tangent in the computer world. 

Legalities and Limitations of White Hat Hacking

Despite its ethical purpose, white hat hacking is also subject to legal considerations and limitations. Some of them are listed below.

  • Authorisation

Ethical hackers must obtain explicit permission before securing their target organisation. Unauthorised hacking can lead to criminal charges and other legal consequences as well. 

  • Data Protection Laws

Obeying the data protection laws is foremost for white hat hackers as serious legal penalties exist for not following them. Laws like GDPR or HIPAA are crucial when running security assessments.

  • Scope

Before conducting any scanning, the testing scope should be clearly defined. Ethical hackers should not go beyond the agreed boundaries to avoid legal complications. 

  • Contractual Agreements

In any job involving the interests of two parties, it is important to have a contractual agreement between them. Therefore, a non-disclosure agreement or terms of engagement should be in place beforehand to protect both ethical hackers and the organisation. 

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In today’s digital landscape, white hat hackers are sentinels against cyber threats. They use hacking skills ethically to uncover vulnerabilities legally with explicit permission. They follow a structured process, using tools and white hat hacking techniques to identify a network or system’s weaknesses. 

All in all, these ethical guardians protect our digital world with their expertise and commitment to cybersecurity. They stand as the white hat heroes against malicious forces, ensuring a safer digital space for all. 

You can become a part of this exciting world by registering for a cybersecurity course, ensuring innovation can thrive securely. 


Pavan Vadapalli

Blog Author
Director of Engineering @ upGrad. Motivated to leverage technology to solve problems. Seasoned leader for startups and fast moving orgs. Working on solving problems of scale and long term technology strategy.
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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1Why are they called white hat hackers?

The white hat hackers are named after the traditional Western symbolism, where “white hat” refers to heroes or good characters. In cybersecurity, these ethical hackers protect companies or people from getting exploited digitally. Although the white and black hat hackers have similar skills, the term “white hat” and their lawful intentions make all the difference.

2What language do white hat hackers use?

White hat ethical hackers use a variety of programming languages for penetration testing, developing security tools, and assessing vulnerabilities. Although the use of language depends on their specific tasks, some commonly used programming languages are Java, Ruby, Python, C/C++, and JavaScript.

3What are the benefits of white hat hackers?

Having white hat hackers protect your system or defend you from cyber threats gives you enhanced security. Also, early detection of such vulnerabilities prevents costly data breaches. It also helps safeguard a company’s reputation with continuous improvement in encouraging security measures and awareness.

4What is the salary of a white hacker?

The average salary of a certified ethical hacker in India is approximately INR 5.19 lakhs per year. However, your education and experience can greatly impact the roles you get.

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