Ethical Hacking Code of Ethics: Security, Risk & Issues

Ethical hacking code of ethics or conduct, legal risks, professional issues, pros and cons
Ethical hacking can be used to improve the security and integrity of the IT assets of organizations. However, it has notable advantages and disadvantages, as well as professional and legal issues. (Photo: Public Domain)

Ethical hacking provides ways to determine security vulnerabilities and risks in systems and networks. These vulnerabilities and risks are especially significant in the case of systems and networks of organizations where sensitive or confidential information are used on a regular basis. Organizations must find solutions and measures to protect information technology assets. In this endeavor, organizations can use ethical hacking. Ethical hacking is a hacking role that business organizations can exploit for security purposes. Ethical hacking presents advantages to increase the capabilities of organizations to protect their IT and information assets. Ethical hacking sheds a positive light on hacking. Nonetheless, any organization that implements ethical hacking must consider the potential negative impacts and issues arising from the practice.

Ethical hacking combines hacking expertise and ethics to help protect information systems and computer networks. The ethical aspect of this activity requires that ethical hackers follow codes of ethics and carefully consider legal risks and professional issues.

What is ethical hacking?

Ethical hacking is the intentional penetration of a system or network for the purpose of discovering vulnerabilities and evaluating the security of the system or network. An organization hires an ethical hacker to hack into the organization’s system or network. The ethical hacker is responsible for discovering the security issues and vulnerabilities of the system or network. The business organization allows the ethical hacker to take the necessary steps or actions to do his job.

The ethical hacker is typically an outsider hired to hack into the organization’s system. Hiring an outsider is usually preferred because it ensures that the ethical hacker uses an organic and natural approach from scratch. This simulates possible external hacking attacks.

Ethical Hacking Pros and Cons

The advantage of ethical hacking is that it supports business efforts to gain more comprehensive knowledge about the organization’s IT security. Through ethical hacking, the organization identifies security vulnerabilities and risks. This knowledge helps improve organizational efforts to strengthen security measures.

However, the main disadvantage of ethical hacking is that it presents risks of information disclosure. As an outsider, the ethical hacker could intentionally or unintentionally disclose the company’s confidential information to other parties.

Legal Risks of Ethical Hacking

The legal risks of ethical hacking include lawsuits due to disclosure of personal or confidential information. Such disclosure can lead to a legal battle involving the organization and the ethical hacker. It is very easy for ethical hacking to result in a legal battle if it is not performed properly. It is also possible for the ethical hacker to commit errors to the point that the organization’s profitability is negatively affected.

In such a case, the organization could sue the ethical hacker for failing to perform properly. An ethical hacker could be at legal risk if proper care and precaution are not seriously taken. To address these legal issues, it is imperative for the ethical hacker to always perform his job defensively to minimize compromising the client’s system or network. Defensive performance emphasizes prevention and extra caution in ethical hacking.

Ethical Hacking Professional Issues

The professional issues of ethical hacking include possible ineffective performance on the job. Ethical hacking may be limited by the sensitivity of information involved in the client organization. Clients tend to impose requirements and limits on the activities of ethical hackers.

For the ethical hacker to perform properly, access to the entire system or network might be needed. Because of the need for professionalism, the ethical hacker must not violate the limits imposed by the client so that professional issues are minimized.

Designing the Ethical Hacking Code of Ethics or Conduct

Codes of ethics or conduct for ethical hacking are focused on the duties, responsibilities, and limits of the ethical hacker in doing his job. The ethical hacker makes sure that the client’s system or network is properly evaluated for security issues and vulnerabilities. Because of the nature of ethical hacking, it is not surprising that the ethical hacker could come across sensitive, personal, confidential or proprietary information. In this regard, the ethical hacking code of ethics should guide the actions of the ethical hacker in handling such information. The code of ethics must focus on the protection of the client’s system or network, as well as the effectiveness of the ethical hacker in doing his job.

Code of Ethics for Ethical Hackers (An Example)

  1. Before performing any ethical hacking, ensure that you know and understand the nature and characteristics of the client organization’s business, system, and network. This will guide you in handling sensitive, confidential or proprietary information you might encounter during ethical hacking.
  2. Before and during ethical hacking, determine the sensitivity or confidentiality of the information involved. This should ensure that you do not violate laws, rules, and regulations in handling sensitive personal, financial or proprietary information.
  3. During and after ethical hacking, maintain transparency with the client. Communicate all relevant information you find while ethically hacking the client’s system or network. Transparency ensures that the client knows what is going on. Transparency enables the client to take necessary actions for security of the system or network.
  4. While performing ethical hacking, do not go beyond the limits set by the client. In ethical hacking, it is possible for you to have access beyond the target areas that the client signed up for. Stay within the target areas of the system or network specified in the work agreement. Do not go to other areas or components of the system or network that are not specified in the agreement. Minimize exposure of sensitive information. Increase your trustworthiness and reliability as an ethical hacker. Ensure the overall effectiveness of ethical hacking activity.
  5. After performing ethical hacking, never disclose client information to other parties. Ensure the protection of the client. Ethical hacking is done for the security of the client’s system or network. Disclosure of the client’s confidential information renders ethical hacking ineffective. Private information must be kept private, and confidential information must be kept confidential.


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  • NIST – Computer Security Resource Center – Cybersecurity Framework.
  • NIST – Information Technology Laboratory – Responding to a Cyber Incident.
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