RIVERSIDE, Calif. -- “White hat” hacker.

That’s how University of California Riverside computer science doctoral candidate Fatemah Alharbi refers to herself.

What is a “white hat” hacker?

Well, rather than hack to say -- steal personal information or spread viruses -- Alharbi does the opposite. She hacks to find weak spots and then improve network security.

“I have always been fascinated by the topic of security. And to expand and strengthen my background in this field I wanted to work on projects that are related to security for my doctoral dissertation,” said Alharbi.

Much of her work centers around coding, something that’s pretty complicated for the average person.

But in a project dating back to 2015, Alharbi made a big discovery that could affect anyone. By hacking herself, she found a security flaw that would allow a bad hacker to make web users who thought they were going to one website go to another under the hacker’s control; potentially enabling the malicious hacker to steal things like personal information and passwords that protect livelihoods.

“Honestly, I think this doesn’t apply to just me. It applies to any person on this planet. We always want to do an impact. And for me personally I wanted to do something that the computer and systems security community would benefit from,” says Alharbi.

Protecting the misuse of the Domain Name System, which links IP addresses, landed Alharbi huge props. Apple itself released a security update that featured Alharbi’s name and she presented her paper on the subject in April at the International Conference on Communications in Paris.

But just as important as her discovery, is her story.

She’s a first generation college student from Saudi Arabia and in a field dominated by men, she’s empowering women to make an impact in the industry.

“I really wish that someday I can help to raise the awareness of women in computing around the world,” said Alharbi.

By using her hacking powers for good, of course.