CompTIA Project

Before delving any deeper, it's important to clear up any misconceptions of what an ethical hacker is, rather than making judgements on what's morally right and wrong.

Jeff Schmidt, global head of business continuity, security and governance at BT, describes an ethical hacker as a computer security expert. They must specialise in penetration testing (i.e. working out how easy it is to break into computer systems) and other testing methods to ensure infrastructure is sufficiently secured against potential hacks.

However, another expert in the field of cyber security, Conrad Constantine, a research team engineer at AlienVault, thinks the description of any role as a "hacker," whether ethical or not, is irrelevant.

"Nobody says they are going to go see an ethical locksmith or an ethical lawyer do they?" he told IT Pro.

But what the role is called is simply semantics. It could be we decide to refer to them as a white hat hacker or penetration tester. The important differentiator between an ethical hacker and a criminal hacker is that the former carries out security testing with the full consent of the company they are working on behalf of.

If they did not have permission, the offence would be punishable under the Computer Misuse Act.

Read more: comptia project plus

Ian Glover, chairman of CREST, prefers the penetration tester label and his definition goes a little further in that it recognises you need to be more than just a techie in order to truly fulfil the role. He believes you need to have consultancy skills as well.

A penetration tester, he says, has to be able to "communicate the results of the tests at a level tailored to the audience" Glover says, and "provide technical consultancy and recommendations to customers as to how any reported vulnerabilities could be mitigated".

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