What Is a White Hat Hacker and What Do They Do?


‘What is a white hat hacker’ is a confusing question to someone not up to date with their cybersecurity terminology.

The same might apply if we were to ask you how extensive your knowledge is of black hat and gray hat hackers (the other two members of this unique trio).

While important, our main focus in this post will be on white hat hackers specifically, with information on the other two included whenever we need to highlight the differences, because there are differences despite both including the h-word.

When you think of the term ‘hacker,’ you might think of someone looking to do no good, you know, shadowy types that want to do nothing but cause you and your organization harm in some way.

White hat hackers are one of the only exceptions to this rule.

You can find out why by reading on.

What is a White Hat Hacker?

A white hat hacker – otherwise known as an ethical hacker – is an individual that uses their skills to identify security vulnerabilities in a range of sources, from hardware, to software, to networks.

White hat hackers are just as skilled as black hat hackers/gray hat hackers as far as their skills are concerned. Only these hackers use these skills for good instead of anything nefarious – such as to hold your organization to ransom.

It’s quite common for organizations to actually hire white hat hackers directly, as a means to constantly identify gaps in its cybersecurity posture.

Charlie Miller is a great example. Miller earned his hacking credentials by finding vulnerabilities at Apple, later going on to work for the US National Security Agency.

Jeff Moss is another name that comes to mind, who also has experience with high-level cybersecurity due to his experience as a white hat hacker.

It’s not uncommon to find that some white hat hackers were once black hat hackers at one point in time — meaning they used to be hackers with less honorable intentions.

person transferring information from device to device

What Does a White Hat Hacker Do?

White hat hackers employ the same methods as black hat hackers, only they do it with full permission from the owner of the system first. This makes whatever they do next completely legal in the eyes of the law.

Organizations will do this for a number of reasons, the most obvious being:

The best way to test the strength of your cybersecurity is to test its strength in a legitimate real-world scenario, whereby a hacker is holding nothing back in their attempts to infiltrate.

We’ve put together a list of what a white hat hacker does, specifically, for reference:

Another service white hat hackers offer is training. When they aren’t trying to infiltrate your organization, they might be educating your staff members on how to bolster their cybersecurity skills.

White hat hackers can either be hired full time and implemented within your security team, or can act as independent contractors that come in, do what needs to be done, and leave.

The latter, of course, comes with a level of risk, which is why many organizations choose to go with established security companies, like TLR, who tend to do everything a white hat hacker can, minus any potential complications.

person plugging key into laptop

The Differences Between White Hat Hackers and Black Hat Hackers

White hackers might have a similar skillset to black hat hackers, but they couldn’t be any different in terms of intent. You see, black hat hatters are only out for themselves, and out to cause a lot of damage.

Black hat hackers will take advantage of vulnerabilities within your system, not to highlight them for your gain, but to fully exploit them for financial gain, or any other reason they deem motivating.

In other words, the work of white hat hackers is to keep the black hats at bay, in an attempt to plug any holes that they might have taken advantage of for their own needs.

One of the main differences between white hat hackers and black hat hackers is the legality of their actions.

As mentioned, white hat hackers are given permission to do what they do – making everything they do completely legal. Black hat hackers, on the other hand, operate illegally as they often act independently, and with harmful intentions.

To recap, here are the main differences between white hats and black hats:

Black Hat Hackers

  • Intentions are selfish and seek to cause harm
  • What a black hat hacker does is illegal
  • They act without permission/authorisation
  • Take advantage of users lack of awareness

White Hat Hackers

  • Intentions are to benefit or protect others
  • What a white hat hacker does is legal
  • They act with permission/authorisation
  • Educate teams to ensure total understanding

Gray Hat Hackers Aren’t White Hat Hackers

While gray hat hackers make up an important third of this trio, it’s black hat hackers that are often used as a direct comparison of white hat hackers.

This is due to gray hat hackers blurring the lines between the other two hackers in the trio.

The best way to understand this is with an example. Let’s say, for instance, that an individual wants to hack a government institution – something that they believe to be ‘doing good’ for whatever reason.

Without permission, and without full foresight, this individual would be hacking unethically, and therefore wouldn’t be categorized as a white hat hacker. They wouldn’t fit the black hat group either, given their good intentions.

This is why they are placed in the gray hat category, as they don’t fall on the black hat or white hat side.

cyber threat actors on computers

What is a White Hat Hacker and What Do They Do

By this point, you should have a pretty good idea of what a white hacker is, what they do, and how important their actions are when it comes to making your cybersecurity posture as straight as possible.

We might know a lot about them, but let’s make this clear:

TLR Global aren’t white hat hackers – although the work we do has a similar impact. We are a dedicated specialist, one that is fluent in the ever-expanding language of cybersecurity.

From network penetration testing, to email phishing, to vulnerability scanning, we help shield you from threats of all kinds – both internal and external. We might not wear a white hat, but our results are just as potent.

Simply get in touch to find out more about our unique approach to cybersecurity and the services we offer to help strengthen you and others around you.

White Hat Hacker FAQs

Below we have outlined some frequently asked questions relating to white hat hackers, mostly to act as a summary for what we’ve covered above.

What is a White Hat Hacker?

A white hat hacker is an individual that hacks ethically, doing it to highlight vulnerabilities/weaknesses that can later be strengthened by whomever they’ve hacked. White hat hackers typically have permission to hack an organization.

How Can I Become a White Hat Hacker?

To become a white hat hacker you will need to demonstrate a complete understanding of cybersecurity systems/infrastructure, and maybe even have a degree in a relevant field. That said, the majority of white hat hackers are self-taught.

Who is the Most Famous White Hat Hacker?

There are many notable white hat hackers to look into, for those interested. Tim Berners-Lee, Charlie Miller, Jeff Moss, Steve Wizniak, Kevin Mitnick, and Jon Lech Johansen are names that come to mind.

What are the Three Types of Hat Hackers?

Hackers are usually categorized in one of three groups, each represented by a different coloured hat:

  1. Black Hat Hackers
  2. Gray Hat Hackers
  3. White Hat Hackers

Become cyber resilient

Get in touch today to see how we can make you more cyber resilient. Empowering you to lead from the front.

Written by

Dave Roberts