Contrary to popular belief, not all hackers are malicious. Hackers use their skills to help protect against attacks are called “white hat”, while hackers looking to take down networks steal data, or compromise systems are called “black hat.”  White hat hackers work to proactively find security weaknesses in order to fix them before they can be exploited by attacks.

White Hat Hackers and Cyber Security

To protect common services or special interests against attack, they are often behind the scenes, thwarting attacks in real-time, or proactively exposing weakness to try to help keep services running and data protected. Additionally, they are often employed by businesses to help assess and improve security.

White Hat Penetration Testing

In the enterprise space, white hat hackers have traditionally provided penetration testing (pen testing) services. In typical pen-testing engagements, white hat hackers are employed by organizations to “hack their way” into private networks, applications, and endpoints. By using talented hackers to proactively find gaps, security teams can better test their defenses—hopefully before a real attack occurs.  Weaknesses that are identified via pen testing can then be addressed with new policies, configuration, or tools, to stop real threats before they start.

However, penetration testing often focuses on infiltrating or breaking into, a corporate environment.  This of course, is only one phase of the cyber kill chain.  Moving around within networks and systems, and then exfiltrating (stealing) data back out are also key parts of attacks, not typically covered by pen testing, due to the impact it may have to the organization.

White Hat Hacking Tactics

White hat hackers use the same tools and techniques as real attackers.  This can range from simple public “rootkits” with proven tools, to complex and sophisticated campaigns involving social engineering, endpoint vulnerabilities, protocol spoofing, attack decoys, and more.  Where true black hat attackers and white hat hackers differ is primarily in a single way: Time.

White hat hackers hired to test security might have anywhere between 8 hours and a few weeks to get all the findings they can. Black hat attackers, however, have been known to take months, or even years to successfully execute campaigns. This gives attackers a major advantage: they can try dozens or hundreds of different attack techniques to successfully breach networks.

Automating the process

Using real attack techniques to proactively find weakness is the best and only way to truly prove the effectiveness of security defenses.  But attackers are relentless and have increasingly more and more time to successfully execute their attacks, while traditional white hat pen tests are limited by cost, time, and staffing concerns.  These limitations mean that despite the knowledge and skill of the white hat hackers involved, penetration tests are often limited by:

  • A limited set of techniques can be applied in a short timeframe.
  • A primary focus only on infiltration.
  • Environment updates and changes, which make findings quickly outdated and irrelevant

This high cost of pen testing also means that many companies simply don’t use them, and instead just hope that their security controls will be effective against attack.  Companies that can afford penetration testing, or for whom it’s a mandatory requirement to meet compliance regulations, often only perform testing once a year.

Breach and Attack Simulation vs. White Hat Hacking

Today, Breach and Attack Simulation technologies are building upon the talent of white hat hackers and automating their techniques. Rather than relying on a small team of humans to validate defenses in a short period of time, Breach and Attack Simulation executes thousands of proven attack techniques at scale, continuously, and automatically.  In this way, enterprises can now be as relentless as real attackers, to truly find the “unknown unknowns” in their security architecture.

Unlike traditional attack techniques, Breach and Attack Simulation can also be 100% safe for production environments. The best solutions only run attack simulations on and between simulators, and never put sensitive data at risk. This way, even the most sensitive production networks can have security validated continuously to stay ahead of real attackers.

SafeBreach uses it’s own dedicated team of white hat hackers, called SafeBreach Labs, to constantly build new attack techniques, and maintain thousands of proven attacks.  In this way, enterprises can harness the power of the hacker to validate their security continuously. SafeBreach weaponizes the power of human creativity—automated, and at scale—to stop tomorrow’s attacks, today.