The term "white hat" in Internet slang refers to an ethical hacker, or a computer security expert, who specializes in penetration testing and in other testing methodologies to ensure the security of an organization's information systems. Ethical hacking is a term coined by IBM meant to imply a broader category than just penetration testing. White-hat hackers are also called "sneakers", red teams, or tiger teams.
One of the first instances of an ethical hack being used was a “security evaluation” conducted by the United States Air Force of the Multics operating systems for "potential use as a two-level (secret/top secret) system." Their evaluation found that while Multics was "significantly better than other conventional systems," it also had "... vulnerabilities in hardware security, software security, and procedural security" that could be uncovered with "a relatively low level of effort." The authors performed their tests under a guideline of realism, so that their results would accurately represent the kinds of access that an intruder could potentially achieve. They performed tests that were simple information-gathering exercises, as well as other tests that were outright attacks upon the system that might damage its integrity. Clearly, their audience wanted to know both results. There are several other now unclassified reports that describe ethical hacking activities within the U.S. military. The idea to bring this tactic of ethical hacking to assess security of systems was formulated by Dan Farmer and Wietse Venema. With the goal of raising the overall level of security on the Internet and intranets, they proceeded to describe how they were able to gather enough information about their targets to have been able to compromise security if they had chosen to do so. They provided several specific examples of how this information could be gathered and exploited to gain control of the target, and how such an attack could be prevented. They gathered up all the tools that they had used during their work, packaged them in a single, easy-to-use application, and gave it away to anyone who chose to download it. Their program, called Security Analysis Tool for Auditing Networks, or SATAN, was met with a great amount of media attention around the world in 1992.
While penetration testing concentrates on attacking software and computer systems from the start – scanning ports, examining known defects and patch installations, for example – ethical hacking, which will likely include such things, is under no such limitations. A full blown ethical hack might include emailing staff to ask for password details, rummaging through executive’s dustbins or even breaking and entering – all, of course, with the knowledge and consent of the targets. To try to replicate some of the destructive techniques a real attack might employ, ethical hackers arrange for cloned test systems, or organize a hack late at night while systems are less critical.
Some other methods of carrying out these include:
§ Social engineering tactics
§ Security scanners such as:
§ Frameworks such as:
Such methods identify and exploit known vulnerabilities, and attempt to evade security to gain entry into secured areas.
Struan Robertson, legal director at Pinsent Masons LLP, and editor of OUT-LAW.com, says “Broadly speaking, if the access to a system is authorized, the hacking is ethical and legal. If it isn’t, there’s an offence under the Computer Misuse Act. The unauthorized access offence covers everything from guessing the password, to accessing someone’s webmail account, to cracking the security of a bank. The maximum penalty for unauthorized access to a computer is two years in prison and a fine. There are higher penalties – up to 10 years in prison – when the hacker also modifies data”, Unauthorized access even to expose vulnerabilities for the benefit of many is not legal, says Robertson. “There’s no defense in our hacking laws that your behavior is for the greater good. Even if it’s what you believe.”
The United States National Security Agency offers certifications such as the CNSS 4011. Such a certification covers orderly, ethical hacking techniques and team-management. Aggressor teams are called "red" teams. Defender teams are called "blue" teams.