With new cybersecurity breaches in the news on a regular basis, Cybercrime seems to be at an all-time high. This was bound to happen, as the internet became more and more prevalent as a tool for conducting business and exchanging valuable information. While this may seem like just an unfortunate but understandable condition of the information age or another reason to shake your head as you watch the evening news, it’s actually a problem that affects most, if not all of us in some way.
In 2014, McAfee funded a study that indicated that hackers cost the global economy over $445 billion dollars annually. Take a minute and let that sink in. That’s an astounding amount of money. What’s more, according to the Ponemon Institute of Cyber Crime, hackers cost the average firm 15.4 million per year. Each dollar that goes into the pockets of scammers and thieves hurts cybercrime victims (both businesses and individuals) and those who do business with them. So why on earth would any upstanding business or principled person feel any degree of affection toward a hacker? Because some hackers have been using their skills to prevent, rather than perpetrate crimes.
White Hat vs. Black Hat Hackers
They’re called white hat hackers (as opposed to their malicious counterparts – black hat hackers) and they have created an entirely new dimension in the cybersecurity world – ethical hacking. Have you ever heard that quote about the “devil you know”? It basically asserts that it’s better to fight against an enemy you know than the one you don’t. That’s the idea behind white hat hacking. Rather than fighting hackers blindly, companies have now resorted to hiring them, so that they have on hand a “devil [they] know.”
When you think about the amount of effort (and money) that is often spent on cybersecurity measures – and breaches are still rampant – this approach is not surprising. Imagine if you worked for a company that had gone all out creating a high-end, integrated security setups with network monitor solutions and all kinds of bells and whistles. With all of the time and resources that had gone into cybersafety, wouldn’t you want to be certain your system was airtight? That’s where white hat hackers come in. They do what malicious hackers would do – try to penetrate the defenses – only they do it with the intent to identify and correct vulnerabilities before it’s too late.
This security simulation of sorts allows companies with white hat hackers the benefit of seeing things from a hacker’s perspective. This is especially useful since much of what informs the way hackers approach their “work” is related to tricks and trends that develop in the cultural environment of their underground hobby. Thus, having an insider can make all the difference.
This approach has proved to be so advantageous that some companies are even taking it a step further. Since cybersecurity breaches can be so incredibly costly for companies (in terms of resources and reputation alike), some have started rewards programs for hackers, presumably good guys, who provide them with information that leads to the prevention of a cyber attack. These rewards are offered almost like bounties or “lost dog” rewards. They are posted for hackers to respond to with money sometimes in the tens-of-thousands range on the line. This model is in contrast to corporate hackers, who are employed full-time by companies to identify cybersecurity pitfalls with the comfort of a generous salary and benefits.
It’s easy to think of hackers as heartless internet scammers who seldom leave their dark computer caves which are lit only by the glow of their LED monitors. This image is consistent with what the word has come to mean in our culture. With cybercrime on the rise, it’s nice to know that there are “good guys” out there who are fighting fire with fire. It almost elicits the excitement of a battle between good and evil, or rather, white hat vs. black hat.
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