Approaching cyber security with a hacker’s mindset

Organisations today need security experts who use the unpredictability of ethical hackers to build constantly evolving, next-generation cyber security programs for greater business resilience.

Relentless, highly intelligent, computer whiz, remarkable understanding of human psychology – these are some descriptors commonly associated with hackers. Their motivation is to find increasingly unique ways to worm into computer networks and in human behaviour. They exploit this information to their favour, mainly for large sums of money on the dark web. 

For security teams, understanding the hacker’s mindset can be quite tricky and a tall order. It requires a 360-degree perspective – a put-myself-in-his-mind kind of approach to create a robust and agile cybersecurity strategy. With cybercrime growing to a highly organized and global level, the only way to counter an army of malicious hackers is with an army of ethical hackers. 

Ethical hackers or white hat hackers put themselves in the minds of bad actors, and hack into an organization’s system with official permission. They do this to discover any vulnerability and fix it, before it is discovered by malicious hackers.

Wealth of information online – a hacker’s paradise

cybersecurity -hackers

EC-Council, which provides Certified Ethical Hacker (C|EH) credentialing, a respected and trusted ethical hacking program in the industry says this in their tag line – Hackers are here. Where are you? 

As per EY’s global information security survey, the top five most valuable types of information for cybercriminals are customer information (17%), financial information (12%), strategic plans (12%), board member information (11%), and customer passwords (11%). When it comes to major cyber threats, phishing and malware emerged as the biggest threats. This is followed by cyber-attacks to disrupt business, cyber-attacks to steal money, fraud, cyber-attacks to steal IP, and spam.

There’s no doubting that cybersecurity has emerged as one of the top risks for companies to deal with. 

What makes companies prone to cyber-attacks?

There are two aspects to gaps in security programs. 

The first is that most customers are primarily focused on the functional aspect of the application they are trying to build. With tight deadlines, only a few look into the security aspect.

The second is that several companies, large ones at that, have security systems, internal security teams, automation solutions. Despite this, the thing that they can’t predict is the creativity and intelligence of malicious hackers. 

The key, therefore, is to look at the enterprise as a hacker would – with a methodical, yet no-holds-barred approach. This is possible by adopting an outside-in perspective along with rigorously-honed technical skills to create innovative security strategies.

In fact, threat hunters are an important part of the security operations center. They are expert hackers who analyse the whole context and user behaviour to detect abnormal patterns of data usage are becoming critical in ensuring security. When cyber security incidents cannot be explained by tools and general analysis, experienced ‘Threat Hunters’ combine their knowledge of the organisation, the threat landscape, and behavioral insights to solve the problem. 

What are the right skillsets to be an ethical hacker?

Of late, threat actors’ patterns have become increasingly unpredictable. The attack surface has broadened, thanks to emerging tech and digitalization. Security by design has never been more crucial.

The most important aspect is to cultivate a hacker’s mindset. This means combining human psychology and economic motivations, the current cybercrime landscape, and the knowledge of the system. Based on this, they asses absolutely everything as a threat to become aware of how a hacker would approach vulnerabilities. This approach and mindset are the ultimate weapons to properly understand the system and try to put in security controls wherever accurately required. 

As the first link to a secure system, developers can look at a certified ethical hacker (CEH) course. Most development teams don’t have a basic level of understanding when it comes to identifying the entry points into the system. This has emerged as a big challenge. As an example, the username and password fields are provided to authenticate a user. These could be brute-forced. CEH has a curriculum that raises understanding of brute force attacks and SQL injections. Once a person is certified, they become aware of the popular methods used in brute force attack or SQL injection and be able to fortify the code with requisite security controls to prevent them. The developer will strengthen the username and password fields section with the validations, using best – they will have acquired this sort of thinking and mindset.

CEH courses will provide the foundational awareness of a hacker’s mindset and remedial steps at a generic level. This will give you the thinking to understand the different ways an attacker can compromise a system. The next step is to build the controls around those particular vulnerabilities. In order to do this, you have to refer to security standards such as the OWASP top 10 and programming stack-specific coding standards.

What’s better – an ethical hacker on your internal team or an external expert?

While having an internal security team is a no-brainer for large organisations, periodic audits by a third-party security vendor can bring an ethical hacker’s valuable external perspective, which is exactly the edge that malicious hackers have. Security firms such as Entersoft who employ military standards with qualified white hat security professionals, certified as ethical hackers, can help you sharpen your strategy and strengthen your security posture. SMEs, they can offer the right guidance periodically to protect nascent systems, while adhering to security standards.