Is ethical hacking a good investment for SMEs?

Dakota Murphey
Business Growth Consultant
7th January 2022

Many business owners see the term ‘ethical hacker’ and see only a contradiction in terms. After all, how can hacking be ethical? Almost all of the news and reporting around hackers refers to criminals stealing personal information or money from businesses and individuals. As such, it can be challenging for some to understand that ethical hacking could be a smart investment for their business. 

Businesses of all sizes make use of ethical hacking, although it is more commonly associated with larger companies with big cybersecurity budgets. However, increasingly SMEs are becoming interested in using ethical hacking to help keep their websites and web infrastructure secure. 

This article will look at the term ‘ethical hacking’ – asking whether it’s a contradictory term, what it actually means, and how it can help small businesses. 

Ethical hacker vs hacktivist 

First of all, it is important to clear up a common misconception around ethical hacking. This is the confusion between the terms ‘ethical hacker’ and ‘hacktivist’. These terms have come rapidly to the foreground in recent years, and perhaps it is not surprising that many people assume they are synonymous, but they actually mean something completely different. 

Ethical hacking is something carried out by cybersecurity professionals to help businesses measure the effectiveness of their current cybersecurity measures and to check for vulnerabilities across the system. 

Hacktivists are social or political activists who use hacking and other cybercriminal techniques to further political causes. Unlike ethical hackers, some of the activities of hacktivists can be classed as criminal behaviour. 

Can hacking be ethical? 

Cybersecurity specialists Redscan define ethical hacking as “the identification and exploitation of security vulnerabilities for the purpose of improving an organisation’s cyber security. An ethical hacker, also commonly referred to as a white hat hacker, is a cyber security professional entrusted to perform ethical hacking assessments.” 

But how can hacking be ethical? In truth, while the name might sound daunting, ethical hackers are dedicated professionals with years of experience. They might use the same tools and techniques as criminal hackers, but their goal is on uncovering vulnerables before they can be exploited by cybercriminals. 

Ethical hackers are specifically employed by businesses to do this work - so there is no nefarious element. 

How do you know if you can trust your ethical hackers?

Business owners might, understandably, have reservations around trusting anyone who has the term ‘hacker’ in their job title. So, how can you be sure that your business can trust the ethical hacker you are looking at working with? Well, the truth is that you do need to take precautions. Whether you are a start-up or an established firm, protecting your company from cyber criminals should be a priority

It is not advisable, for example, to take at their word an ethical hacker who contacts you offering their services if they don’t have any credentials to back themselves up. Of course, it is unlikely that a criminal hacker would be so blase, but you do need to ensure that you are working with a professional with high level skills and experience. 

It is a great idea to work with recognised cybersecurity specialists who offer ethical hacking services. This helps you to ensure you are getting certified ethical hackers who know exactly what they are doing.

Do SMEs benefit from ethical hacking? 

It is the job of ethical hackers to use the same tools, techniques and tactics as criminal hackers in order to attempt to breach a business’ system. This is extremely important for businesses that feel confident in their current cybersecurity infrastructure, as it can help to uncover vulnerabilities that can then be fixed.

However, it should be noted that some SMEs have not yet put the investment that they need into their cybersecurity. Ethical hacking will be most useful if the cybersecurity professional is going up against a system that the company believes is secure.

“SMEs that are new to cybersecurity practices may regard it as an expensive exercise that can further stretch increasing overheads,” explains Alexandre Francois on Hakin9

Would other forms of cybersecurity be better?

Ultimately, if you don’t currently believe that your system is properly protected against hackers, it is a better use of an SME’s budget to invest in quality cybersecurity. If you already know that there are elements of your business that can be compromised, then you won’t learn much from an ethical hacker finding and exploiting them. 

Naturally, there is a very wide variety of options when it comes to investing in cybersecurity, and it can depend a lot on the specifics of the business itself. It is a great idea to speak with experienced cybersecurity specialists, who will be able to provide you with insight into the kind of investments that would be best for your SME. 

Ethical hacking can be extremely effective for businesses of all sizes. But before you invest in it, you should feel confident that your system is secure and that you don’t know of any ways that it can be compromised. It is then the ethical hacker’s job to find the weaknesses in your system and explain how they can be mitigated. 

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