The work environment experienced advances with the advent of computers and the internet. Technology has made it easier for people to access data. The downside is that this also makes it easier for malicious actors to target organizations and individuals, making security a top priority for businesses of all sizes.
As cybercrime continues to evolve, so does the need for ethical hacking – a practice used by IT professionals and computer security experts alike to simulate malicious attacks and identify vulnerabilities in a system’s security.
A U.S. official projected in December 2022 that hundreds of American government personnel, including diplomats from multiple nations, may be victims of spyware hacks on their devices – painting a worrying picture as an investigation into the scale of cyber espionage in the states continues to unfold.
But there are also other types of hackers who can help secure a system from the threat of malicious attacks. Ethical hacking uses legal and legitimate methods to identify potential cyber security flaws in wireless networks or computer systems – hence why it’s sometimes referred to as “white hat” hacking.
What are Hackers?
Breaking into computer systems is a cybercrime known as “hacking.” Hackers do it for nefarious or honorable purposes. Black hat hackers and gray hat hackers typically hack systems for personal gain.
Malware installation, data theft, destruction, and service disruption are all examples of malicious hacking motives by black hat hackers. They perform hacking for financial gain. On the other hand, a certified ethical hacker aims to expose and help fix security vulnerabilities to improve system security. The goal is to discover flaws before malicious hackers can exploit them.
How Do Hackers Work?
Hackers penetrate security measures to acquire unauthorized access to computers, tablets, phones, IoT gadgets, or networks. They can also access entire computing systems. Hackers exploit any weak points in the company’s network; these can be either technical or social vulnerabilities.
- Technical Weaknesses – Cybercriminals can take advantage of software vulnerabilities or exploit poor security protocols to gain unauthorized access to a system and install malicious code.
- Social Weaknesses – Through the artifice of social engineering, cybercriminals can persuade those with special access to protected systems to tap on malicious links, open hazardous files, or part with confidential data–thus compromising highly defended computer networks.
What Is Ethical Hacking?
Ethical hacking is authentically emulating a malicious attacker to gain access to computer systems, applications, and data. By doing so, network security flaws become exposed to help organizations correct them before cybercriminals take advantage of them. Certified ethical hackers strive to secure these digital assets from potential harm or exploitation without infringing on users’ rights or privacy.
Popularly known as “white hats,” ethical hackers are cyber-security experts who conduct security assessments with the prior consent of an organization or IT asset owner. Their preemptive work helps to improve a company’s overall protection level, which is in stark contrast to malicious intent among elite hackers who want to bypass intrusion prevention systems. The ultimate mission of ethical hackers is not for personal gain but rather for securing and protecting digital systems from security breaches.
Key Phases Of Ethical Hacking
Ethical hackers rely on a well-structured methodology to find vulnerabilities. The system hacking phases involve Reconnaissance, Scanning, Gaining Access, Maintaining Access, and Clearing Track steps which are not necessarily followed in exact order but offer an efficient way of getting desired outcomes. Here’s a detailed discussion of these hack phases to ensure you’ll appreciate the value they provide for ethical hackers.
Reconnaissance is the foundation of hacking. The phase is also called footprinting and information-gathering. This initial step is where you acquire as much data about the target as possible to build a comprehensive profile.
Ethical hackers meticulously investigate the system and scour for all the data available. Through reconnaissance, they craft a plan of action by taking note of the organization’s requirements before locating valuable configuration details and login credentials while probing a target network.
An ethical hacker tests the networks and machines to discover possible penetration surfaces during this step. They employ automated scanning tools to compile data about the network’s users, services, and security systems. Three main types of scans are needed for a successful penetration test:
- Port Scanning – Using automated tools allows ethical hackers to pinpoint any exposed ports on the network quickly. This technique enables them to enumerate all services and live systems in a given network, allowing for an effortless connection with these components.
- Vulnerability Scanning – During the scanning phase of ethical hacking, an assailant works on identifying vulnerabilities that a black hat hacker can abuse. Automated tools often come in handy to reveal these susceptibilities, which could subsequently lead to cyber-attacks. Here are a few popular ones utilized routinely: SNMP sweepers, ping sweeps, network mappers, and vulnerability scanners. These options will help you detect security holes within your target system efficiently and accurately!
- Network Mapping – To get an in-depth understanding of the host network, ethical hackers must first create a map showing all its intricate details, such as host information, servers, routers, and firewalls. This will give them a clear view of their next steps for successful penetration testing.
After ethical hackers have uncovered potential vulnerabilities through the initial and second stages of hacking, they must now exploit them to gain administrative access. During this third phase, malicious payloads are sent to the application via a connected computer or across the network/adjoining subnetwork.
Hackers rely on an array of hacking tools and ethical hacking techniques to break into a system, such as buffer overflows, injection attacks, phishing attacks, and XML external entity processing. When successful in their mission to gain unauthorized access, they can cause further damage through data breaches or Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) assaults – putting your business at risk.
In the fourth stage of ethical hacking, white hat hackers endeavor to guarantee that they can access the application again in the future. They probe relentlessly for different susceptibilities and attempt to increase their control beyond what is allowed by security clearance. Additionally, some assailants may try concealing themselves by deleting any signs of infiltration or setting up a secret entranceway for later use.
To evade detection of their malicious activities, hackers employ tactics that make it look like they were never there. Clearing tracks involves:
- Erasing all evidence by uninstalling scripts/programs used to carry out attacks.
- Modifying registry values.
- Deleting folders created during the attack.
If they seek to stay under the radar, hackers may employ tunneling or stenography techniques to conceal their identity.
How To Become An Ethical Hacker?
An ethical hacker can work as a freelancer and join a firm specializing in offensive cyber-security services. Companies can also hire ethical hackers to become internal employees tasked with maintaining the security of company applications and websites. While they must all possess technical knowledge of current attack strategies and tools, those employed by one organization may be expected to have extensive knowledge regarding only their proprietary digital assets.
Despite having just been introduced to the security sector, an in-house security consultant may have a significant advantage: they are likely more familiar with how their systems and applications function than independent consultants. This insider knowledge gives them a unique edge that would take malicious attackers years to replicate!
Not only does this provide for better protection, but it is also typically much cheaper than regularly hiring a consulting firm. As long as they don’t become too narrow-minded in their approach, the advantages of an internal unit should not be underestimated.
Acquire the Necessary Skills
Offering ethical hacking services necessitates a comprehensive knowledge of wired and wireless network systems. Proficiency in operating systems like Windows and Linux is also essential. Additionally, aspiring ethical hackers must have expertise in firewalls and file permissions, as well as an understanding of the basics of computer science, such as servers and workstations.
To be a successful ethical hacker, you must have extensive knowledge of coding and direct and manual attack methods. Furthermore, it is essential to possess the ability to anticipate adversaries’ moves one step ahead to imitate them effectively. With enough defending experience across many assets, this should become second nature for any proficient ethical hacker. You can look for ethical hacking courses to help you gain the hacking skills and knowledge you need to become a white hat hacker.
Earn Ethical Hacking Certificates
If you are interested in ethical hacking, your best bet is to obtain either the Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) or Offensive Security Certified Professional (OSCP). Both certifications will provide a comprehensive overview and skill set for this purpose.
If you’re looking to embark on a career in cybersecurity, having a bachelor’s degree in computer-related fields, such as computer science or network engineering, will give you the best chance of success. When selecting your program and school, prioritize those with an interdisciplinary focus built into their offering. The focus can provide invaluable insight for working within security operations if you want to learn ethical hacking. A good ethical hacking course can also help accelerate your path to becoming a white hat hacker.
Gain Ethical Hacking Experience
To become an ethical hacker, you must gain years of experience as a security team member providing defensive measures. To gain access to a select offensive group, one must usually progress through various positions such as security specialist, administrator, or software developer. Having strong programming skills and experience in network protocol analysis and reverse engineering is also essential.
Know Different Types Of Ethical Hacking
Cybersecurity practices involve a range of abilities, tactics, and approaches to assess the safety of an enterprise’s computer systems. Ethical hacking is particularly intricate in that it encompasses multiple types of hacking. Here are some types of ethical hacking activities.
- System Hacking – System hacking involves taking advantage of vulnerabilities in computer systems, allowing the hacker to gain access and steal sensitive data. By exploiting these weaknesses, hackers can acquire personal information and escalate their privileges on the said network—all while remaining undetected.
- Social Engineering – Social engineering techniques aim to obtain confidential information from people by manipulating them into trusting the attacker and disregarding their knowledge. There are three types of social engineering: human-based, mobile-based, and computer-based. With tight security policies no longer in place and limited tools available for detection, it can be challenging to stop these malicious attacks.
- White-box Testing – White-box testing assesses a system’s security while being informed of its inner design and weaknesses. Developers often conduct this to ensure their products are secure enough before releasing them into active environments, where malicious hackers may attempt access. White-box testing equips creators with confidence that their systems will remain unbreached in case an attack ever arises.
- Black-box Testing – When performing black-box testing, hackers operate without details about the system being tested and must take a brute-force approach to penetrate it. For example, when assessing a website from an outsider’s perspective, one has no insight into what server or programming languages were used in its development.
- Gray-Box Testing – By combining white-box and black-box testing principles, testers must use their technical knowledge combined with analytical skills to uncover potential vulnerabilities in a system or network. Since they do not have full access to all information about the target environment, deductive reasoning is paramount for success.
Pros And Cons Of Ethical Hacking
The benefits of ethical hacking are immense and include improved security, more efficient operations, and the ability to prevent data breaches. Ethical hackers can help identify weak points in an organization’s network infrastructure before malicious attackers exploit them.
Despite its usefulness, however, ethical hacking comes with certain risks that organizations must consider before implementing it on their systems. Some of these drawbacks include the potential for mistakes, which can lead to significant damage. Additionally, ethical hacking requires extensive technical knowledge and resources that may not be available depending on the organization’s size. Lastly, ethical hackers must adhere to strict regulations, such as those outlined in GDPR or CCPA.
Overall, ethical hacking can be a double-edged sword. With proper knowledge, resources, and safeguards in place, it can be an effective way to protect your organization and thwart malicious attackers. On the flip side, if ethical hacking is done irresponsibly or without sufficient training, it could lead to disastrous consequences that may take years to undo. Ultimately, only you can decide if it is the right solution for your organization.
Understanding its benefits and potential risks allows you to make the best decision for your company’s security needs. Whether you hire an ethical hacker or implement automated tools, remember that no system is ever completely secure from malicious attacks. The only surefire way to protect yourself from cybersecurity risks is to stay vigilant and remain informed.