What are the key differences between each type of ethical hacker?

Published on: 13 Feb 2023

Over the last several years, ethical hacking has evolved into one of the most efficient ways for organisations to measure their defences against cyber criminals and determine how vulnerable they are to malicious attacks. This is achieved by hiring ethical hackers, who attempt to penetrate the company’s networks and systems, highlighting weaknesses and presenting their findings to senior leaders.

There are three main types of ethical hackers. From black box to white box, each area of the field has its own benefits and drawbacks for businesses. As such, it’s crucial to understand how each role varies before a company can decide which type of hacker is best for its specific needs.


Black box testing

A black box tester has no prior knowledge of the network or system they are testing. They’ll attempt to breach using brute force approaches. It’s considered a highly dangerous form of hacking and can expose security deficiencies that an attacker would exploit. This is the same way in which criminals gain access to financial information which they later sell or use illegally for fraud or identity theft.


White box testing

White box testing, conversely, is where the ethical hacker knows everything about the system they’re going to attempt to breach. A very common example of this is when a developer wants to see if their project will hold up under stress before being exposed to environments where malicious hackers might try to gain access.

These ethical hackers work collaboratively with an organisation’s existing IT department and work to ensure systems are as safe and secure as possible. Data flow analysis, code inspections and design reviews are all examples of white box testing.


Grey box testing

In this type of ethical hacking, the expert has some knowledge of the system or network they’re attempting to breach, but is required to use analytical and deductive reasoning, as well as their extensive technical knowledge, to identify weaknesses.

An example of grey hats acting maliciously would be creating computer viruses to gain entry to highly classified information, such as stealing sensitive company information or money. However, ethical grey box hackers will perform actions including usability tests, security tests and performance tests.

To find the latest cyber security roles in ethical hacking, take a look at our vacancies a find the next step in your career.