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The Ethical Hacker’s Role in Cybersecurity
Our understanding of computer hacking has come a long way from blockbuster spy movie tropes (i.e. someone typing furiously on a computer in a dark room, suddenly exclaiming, “I’m in!”). Many of us have now seen dramatic consequences of hacking, whether it’s our personal details that have been breached or whole systems (like public transit or grocery stores) being held for ransom. With more and more critical information being stored and shared digitally, hacking has become a serious issue. 


However, not all hacking is done with malicious intent. In fact, there is such a thing as an ethical hacker ( sometimes referred to as a white hat hacker), who works with companies and organizations to identify weaknesses in digital systems. As we’ll see in this blog, ethical hackers play a vital role in today’s digital world, helping to develop and strengthen cybersecurity to ultimately protect from malicious hackers ( sometimes referred to as black hat hackers).  


The Importance of Ethical Hacking  

Ethical hacking is an important part of building effective cybersecurity, as it anticipates actions malicious hackers could take. In other words, ethical hacking uses hacking skills proactively, helping to identify vulnerabilities in digital systems before they can be exploited by bad actors. This is critical in the establishment of online and digital systems that are secure and can keep valuable or sensitive information protected.  


This type of hacking is known as ethical hacking because the hackers follow a code of ethics (in some cases this code is formalized by groups like the International Council of E-Commerce Consultants). According to IBM, there are four main principles that ethical hackers always adhere to: 
  • They always have permission from an organization to hack into its systems. 
  • They do not damage or harm the systems they are infiltrating. 
  • They do not leak or share information about the systems they are hacking and any vulnerabilities they may find. 
  • They do not break the law in their hacking or associate with malicious hackers.  
In short, ethical hackers help to protect websites, networks, and other digital systems from data breaches, ransomware, blackmailing, and other harmful cyberattacks. They can also help organizations and their employees understand the risks of hacking and keep them one step ahead of unethical hackers.  

The Key Functions of Ethical Hackers 

An ethical hacker is still very much a hacker. This means they have the same skills and knowledge that criminal hackers have. Rather than use these skills to access sensitive information or upload malware, ethical hackers work on the side of organizations and companies to prepare for possible cyber threats or compromises. 
Ethical hackers are trained to think like cybercriminals. They are tasked with figuring out what information is most at risk within a digital system, what a hacker might want with that information, and where vulnerabilities may exist in systems, networks, and software programs. From there, they put that into action by trying to hack into systems to simulate a cyberattack. This process is known as a security audit. Wherever the ethical hackers are successful in getting through, digital defenses are improved.  
In some cases, ethical hackers are hired as independent consultants who perform these security audits without any knowledge of the company or organization they are evaluating. In this approach, called a pen test, the ethical hacker is given basic information, such as a web or IP address, and is invited to try and break into the digital system.  
For a more thorough security audit, ethical hackers are given access to the group’s entire system, including source code. This in-depth cybersecurity evaluation, while very time consuming, ensures that there are no vulnerabilities anywhere in the code. Typically, ethical hackers work in cooperation with an organization’s cybersecurity or IT team, reporting on vulnerabilities and system flaws and offering solutions or suggestions. 


The Benefits of Ethical Hacking  

Now that we’ve seen what ethical hacking is and what ethical hackers do, let’s focus on the  benefits of ethical hacking. The main advantages of ethical hacking are:  


  • Identifying vulnerabilities in digital systems 

One of the primary benefits of ethical hacking is that it helps to identify weaknesses and vulnerabilities in digital systems before they are exploited by bad actor hackers and can thus help protect valuable data.  


  • Strengthening cybersecurity 

As we’ve seen, ethical hackers help establish a certain balance between organizations with digital footprints and malicious hackers by using hacking skills for good. Ultimately, ethical hacking strengthens cybersecurity and minimizes the risks of cybercrime. 


  • Staying on top of new hacking threats 

The best ethical hackers have their finger on the pulse of cybercrime threats and trends. They can therefore help companies and organizations stay ahead of evolving cyberattacks and keep security systems updated. 


  • Raising employee awareness 

Ethical hacking can be used alongside cybersecurity awareness programs amongst employees. For example, ethical hackers can simulate a cyberattack, through phishing or social engineering tests, which demonstrates to employees how their actions can create vulnerabilities to cyberattacks. 


  • Meeting data protection regulations 

Ethical hackers can help organizations ensure that they are meeting data protection regulations in the region(s) they operate in. Compliance to these regulations is important and if unmet organizations could face penalties, including fines or even sanctions. 


Becoming an ethical hacker starts with STEM 

As cyber threats come to have more devastating impacts, the need for highly trained ethical hackers grows. While it’s unlikely to find an “ethical hacker” degree at a university (for now), there are several pathways that students can take if cybersecurity is a career that interests them. The most important thing is to first become a skilled programmer and an expert in programming languages.  
This all starts in the classroom, and specifically in STEM subjects, where an introduction to coding can lay the foundation for a future ethical hacker. Sphero’s coding robots, including Sphero indi and BOLT, offer an accessible and fun introduction to computational thinking and coding principles that can be the first step in creating the ethical hackers of tomorrow. Furthermore, students can deepen their understanding of cybersecurity in Sphero's cybersecurity labs for Sphero BOLT, providing a practical application of their coding skills in a security context. 



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The Sphero Team

The Sphero Team is comprised of current and former educators, education content and curriculum writers, product designers, engineers, executive leadership, and other experts in their fields. Learn more about who we are and what we do at

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