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White Hat Hackers: The Government’s Embrace of Technology

Updated: Jan 31

A white hat hacker woman at a computer featuring a coding program

When anyone hears the word “hacker”, they normally think of those with malicious intent whose purpose serves to exploit vulnerabilities in hardware, software, and networks and use them for their own gain. Most companies would turn away from the idea of working with any sort of hacker, as the norm for hackers is painted as only a threat to the security of a company’s networks. However, there are types of hackers who are hired to detect these vulnerabilities and disclose them to the product owner in order to fix them - these are called white hat hackers. These individuals are sought out and hired by different companies and even the United States government in order to improve their cyber security and protect their data.

Ethical hacking

There are big differences when it comes to types of hackers. There are the white hat hackers, who are considered ethical hackers, and then there are the black hat hackers, who are unethical. The names are based on terms from old Western movies, where the good guys wore white hats and the bad guys wore black hats. Both types of hackers do what they do best, but for different purposes.

White hat hackers look for vulnerabilities in software and networks when they are legally permitted to do so, and they report their findings to the company or product owners so that they can fix these security issues. They use the same tools and techniques as black hat hackers, such as pen testing, email phishing, and social engineering, among others. The difference is, though, that they have good and legal intent.

Rewards for Justice

The United States government utilizes the benefits of white hat hackers to make sure their networks are secure and protected against black hat hackers. Last year, the U.S. State Department implemented a new program called “Rewards for Justice”, which offered rewards in cryptocurrency for anonymous information relating to the activity and operations of enemy state-backed hackers or suspected terrorists. According to CoinTelegraph, “Former Director of the U.S. National Counterintelligence and Security Center William Evanina described the initiative as the U.S. government’s most public foray into crypto assets ever made.” This program was made to prevent cyberattacks, such as a previous one that was made against the Colonial Pipeline System where officials recovered about $2.3 million in cryptocurrency that was used to pay a ransom. Preventing these occurrences by assistance from white hat hackers through their skills and expertise is a very appealing idea for the U.S. government.

Hack the Pentagon

The Department of Defense has also been working with the white hat community in securing the networks and software of the Pentagon. They have created the Cyber Crime Center Vulnerability Disclosure Program to partner with white hat hackers following their “Hack the Pentagon” event. During this event, a few hackers were invited to participate in scanning a limited set of systems in the Pentagon’s networks for vulnerabilities. According to the DoD, “in addition to finding 138 vulnerabilities, they also uncovered a need for DOD to have an enduring open door for hackers to report the vulnerabilities they find.” Their Vulnerability Disclosure Program has become the largest disclosure program in the world, and has saved over $65 million by preventing cyberattacks. The U.S. government has displayed the trust that they put in white hat hackers, and made known the benefits they bring forth.

Working with white hat hackers provides invaluable benefits to many companies, big and small. Cybersecurity attacks are certainly not a minor issue, so it is important to be aware of spots in a network where black hat hackers can get past defenses. The United States Government has embraced the many possibilities that technology provides in preventing cyberattacks, even hiring their own hackers to seek out their vulnerabilities. Through Rewards for Justice and Hack the Pentagon, these individuals have shown how highly beneficial they are in helping companies keep their assets secure.

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