How to Test Cybersecurity with Real (Ethical) Hackers

The best cybersecurity software in the world won’t guarantee that you’re safe from a data breach. You could invest millions in training and software solutions, but experienced hackers only need a single employee that forgot to update their laptop to compromise an entire network.

The best way to ensure that your network is really safe is to hire an expert hacker to attack you — an ethical hacker — and see what vulnerabilities they find.

Let’s take a look at ethical hacking and whether your business should hire one to test your network and systems.

What is Ethical Hacking?

Ethical hackers, or white hat hackers, attempt to bypass security systems and identify vulnerabilities that could be exploited by malicious hackers, or black hat hackers. The goal is to identify these weaknesses and address them before they lead to costly data breaches or other cybersecurity incidents.

Many companies hire ethical hackers to attempt to penetrate their networks or offer bug bounties for ethical hackers that identify vulnerabilities. For example, Facebook’s bug bounty program paid out more than $1.1 million in 2018 and its largest ever single bounty of $50,000 in 2019.

Unlike white hat hackers, grey hat hackers lie somewhere in the middle of the road. They may participate in hacktivist protests against groups that they are ideologically opposed to, such as companies with questionable ethics. They are often erroneously referred to as ‘ethical hackers’ in the media.

Most ethical hackers are motivated by curiosity and the potential to earn money — much like black hat hackers. The difference is that black hat hackers use illegal means to profit, while ethical hackers attempt to make an honest living by testing security systems for companies.

Certified Ethical Hackers

The EC-Council offers a Certified Ethical Hacker designation for skilled professionals that know how to look for weaknesses and vulnerabilities in a target system and use the same tools as malicious hackers, but in a lawful and legitimate manner to assess the security posture of a target system.


Download our free Cybersecurity Readiness Checklist to see if your business is ready for an attack.

The rigorous four-hour certification exam includes 125 multiple-choice questions delivered through ECC EXAM or VUE. Depending on the exam form, the passing scores range from 60 percent to 80 percent. The costs to take the exam include a $100 prep fee, $950 exam fee and an $80 per year renewal fee.

The training program behind the certification immerses professionals into a hacker mindset independent of vendors, technologies or equipment. They learn how to conduct reconnaissance, gain system access, enumerate, maintain access and cover their tracks following an attack.

The training course includes over 140 labs that mimic real-time scenarios in a five-day hands-on class led by a certified EC-Council instructor. In addition, the course provides access to over 2,200 commonly used hacking tools to immerse students in the hacker world rather than just teaching in the abstract.

Should You Hire a Hacker?

Most businesses are aware that they should have cybersecurity software installed, including anti-virus, anti-malware and firewall software. They may also recognize the importance of training employees on how to recognize phishing scams, use strong passwords and keep backups of sensitive data.

But even with these measures in place, data breaches have become alarmingly common — even in small businesses.

Ethical hackers can help improve cybersecurity defenses by simulating an actual attack. They may notice that one employee forgot to use a strong password or that your router’s firmware isn’t up to date. These issues are difficult to identify without someone actively trying to break into your systems.

That said, hiring an ethical hacker should be the last step in the process. They shouldn’t be able to immediately walk into a completely insecure network! You should already be following cybersecurity best practices in your business and use ethical hackers to button up any hidden vulnerabilities.

Cybersecurity best practices include:

  • A dedicated person should be in charge of ensuring that cybersecurity systems and trainings are kept up-to-date.

  • Networks should be secured with a firewall or another form of active network protection as a first line of defense.

  • Every device should be secure with anti-virus, anti-malware, encryption and automated backups.

  • Every employee should be familiar with cybersecurity protocols and use unique strong passwords.

  • There should be regular training sessions in place to ensure that employees are kept up to speed on the latest attacks.

Jungle Disk provides a cybersecurity suite that’s specifically designed for small businesses with two to 250 employees. In addition to active network protection, the cybersecurity suite includes secure cloud backup, team password management and other tools to help keep your small business secure.

How to Hire an Ethical Hacker

There are many different companies offering ethical hacking and penetration testing services. While many of these companies are inexpensive, there’s little point to hiring an inexperienced hacker to evaluate your network since you’ll be experiencing attacks from expert black hat hackers in the wild.


Download our free Cybersecurity Readiness Checklist to see if your business is ready for an attack.

Certified Ethical Hackers have met the minimum requirements to conduct cybersecurity audits. Many companies offering penetrating testing services may also employ individuals with this certification. It’s a good idea to look for this or other industry certifications to ensure expertise.

When seeking out ethical hackers, staff developers are often a good resource for recommendations since they may have worked with ethical hacking groups at other organizations. You may also check out freelance platforms, such as Upwork, to find individual contractors holding the certification.

When hiring an ethical hacker, it’s important to have a confidentiality agreement in place that ensures any contractor won’t use data obtained in the course of testing except for the benefit of the client. You should also discuss with them whether you want to be used as a reference or testimonial.

The Bottom Line

Ethical hackers, or white hat hackers, are a great resource for testing the security of your IT assets. The key to success is ensuring that you have already met other cybersecurity best practices and hire ethical hackers that have true expertise that mimic actual hacking attempts seen in the wild.

Sign up for Jungle Disk’s small business cybersecurity suite and ensure that your network is protected today!

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