Is Ethical Hacking Legal?

Is Ethical Hacking Legal?

Ethical hacking is the unauthorized access of a computer network, application, or server, with the company's approval. It aims at testing the systems' defenses and finding vulnerabilities for the sake of strengthening their security. Companies hire ethical hackers to perform penetration testing, permitting them to perform the activity. To better understand the legality of ethical hacking, you need to understand the various types of hackers. Read on to find out more about hacking, why ethical hacking and circumstances under which it goes against the law.

Types of Hackers


Hackers come in three types depending on the motive of their actions; white-hat hackers, black-hat hackers, and grey-hat hackers.


White-hat Hackers


Also known as penetration testers or ethical hackers, white-hat hackers gain access to networks or applications to find vulnerabilities and fix them. They usually have the organization's approval to carry out the exercise. Ethical hacking is one of the most lucrative professionals in the tech field.


Black-hat Hackers


Black-hat hackers gain unauthorized access to systems and networks for malicious purposes, including stealing sensitive information, disrupting operations, and destroying data. Black-hat hackers are usually responsible for malware and viruses and are sometimes known as crackers.


Grey-hat Hackers


These types of hackers are comprised of both black hat and white hat hackers. They hack into systems and networks to find out their vulnerabilities without the owner’s permission. Usually, they do it for fun and may ask for compensation from the system owners for finding out weaknesses. Regardless of the findings, ethical hacking is still illegal as it doesn’t have the owner's consent.

Ethical hacking is, therefore, legal. However, any unauthorized hacking that does not come with permission from the owners is against the law.

When is Ethical Hacking Legal?


The difference between ethical hacking and its counterparts is the motive and permission from the owners. Since companies hire ethical hackers and permit them to break into their systems, ethical hacking is legal. Ethical hacking is lawful as companies need penetration testing to protect their businesses and boost their cybersecurity. Some forms of ethical hacking include:


  • Bug bounty where huge companies offer rewards to individuals who can find bugs in their systems.
  • Penetration testing. It may include testing of web and mobile applications, as well as mobile applications. It also applies to infrastructures such as servers, PCs, routers, and switches.
  • Research purposes. This type of hacking seeks to find out how hackers conduct their activities.

Importance of Ethical Hacking


With the rise in cybersecurity threats and most companies going digital, ethical hacking is increasingly becoming a necessary investment for companies and institutions for the following reasons.

1. Software Development


Companies that focus on developing software need to ensure that their products are secure and ready to use. Ethical hacking allows companies to identify loopholes that may jeopardize the security and quality of their software. Therefore, ethical hackers work with the software development team to ensure the end product is impenetrable before releasing it for public use.

2. Assessing Vulnerability


Regular testing and evaluation of networks, applications, and systems is a cybersecurity best practice that reduces and minimizes cyberattack effects. Companies use ethical hacking to evaluate their systems and seal any weaknesses that may expose them to attacks. It also gives organizations insight into cybersecurity risks for better planning.

3. Ensuring Compliance


Besides identifying loopholes, ethical hacking includes analyzing a company's security measures to ensure compliance with laws and regulations governing their operations. For example, financial institutions need to ensure their clients' information remains private. To guarantee compliance, organizations need ethical hackers to ensure their security measures are effective against data breaches.

Situations When Ethical Hacking is Illegal


Ethical hacking can turn out to be illegal despite having the full permission of the owner. Below are some of the circumstances where ethical hacking goes against the law.

(i) Exposing Confidential Information.


Most companies that hire ethical hackers have confidentiality agreements as the exercise gives ethical hackers access to sensitive information. Since it is impossible to know what you find out during the process, you should maintain confidentiality. Once you share your findings with third parties and go against the confidentiality agreement, the company can sue you.

(ii) Misuse or Destruction of Company Data


As an ethical hacker, you are not supposed to change or destroy any data or information once you break into the systems. Any manipulation of data that may affect the system's integrity or company operations can earn you a lawsuit.

(iii) Modifying the Systems for Later Access


While you may have permission to infiltrate an organization’s systems, creating backdoors that allow you access after the job is illegal. Always leave everything as it is and never try to use your privilege to modify the systems for your benefit.

The legality of ethical hacking relies on the conduct of the ethical hacker. Any deviation from the set agreements with your employer can deem the exercise illegal and put you at risk of lawsuits.

Organizations will always need the services of ethical hackers as they are an essential part of cybersecurity. If you are involved in a security breach case, it is crucial to contact an employment lawyer for advice and guidance.

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