Are you a fan of science fiction movies where you get the look and feel of the next great tech innovations? Don’t all such movies show a character wearing a black hoodie – the one whose eyes are fixed on a computer screen displaying some falling green matrix. They usually hack a company’s systems and gather all the sensitive information. Well, they seem to do a really cool job. In reality, such people are called hackers. Based on their intent, hackers can be malicious or ethical. The ones whose intent is to save a company’s digital assets from a cyberattack are called white hat hackers or ethical hackers. On the other hand, ill-intended hackers are called black hat hackers.
Ethical hacking may not have been a serious concern two decades ago. Today, however, it has become a basic necessity of all organizations, irrespective of their size. This is because we are generating an unprecedented amount of data every day. Companies collect such data and analyze it so as to make more informed business decisions and stay afloat in the technologically advancing market. Malicious hackers use this opportunity to gain access to the confidential data of millions of customers and harm the company. This not only causes companies to face financial loss worth thousands of dollars but also affects their reputation in the market. So, there is a dire need for ethical hackers who can beat ill-intended hackers and prevent any cyber attack early.
Now, many have a fuzzy idea of what exactly is involved in ethical hacking. So, this article explores the concept of ethical hacking in simple terms.
Ethical Hacking – An Introduction
Ethical hacking is basically the act of intruding on a company’s systems and networks to find vulnerabilities, open ports, and other loopholes that can be exploited by black hat hackers. Ethical hackers use the same tools and techniques used by evil hackers to gain access to the system, with the only difference being that they do it with the permission of the concerned authority. The purpose of ethical hacking is to enhance the security of networks and systems by identifying and fixing all the vulnerabilities found during testing.
Ethical hackers are expected to work behind the scenes, thwart viruses, malware, trojans, etc. quickly, and proactively uncover the system’s weakness so as to keep the data protected and services running. By hiring seasoned ethical hackers, companies have a reliable security team in place that can better test their defenses and recommend if any new policies, firewalls, or tools need to be introduced.
Usually, there are five phases of ethical hacking. The description of these phases is as mentioned below:
It is the starting point of many data breaches. In this first phase, ethical hackers gain information regarding the system to be accessed, with an aim to identify flaws and vulnerabilities. Also known as footprinting, this phase allows hackers to understand which attacks can take place and how strong is the target system against an attack. Search engines like Maltego and Google, Recon-NG, Censys, and Spiderfoot are the top tools used for reconnaissance.
When the information regarding the target system is gathered, ethical hackers look for different ways to penetrate it. All the potential attack points are explored and information like IP addresses, operating systems, user accounts, and device names is sought. Pre-attack, sniffing, and information extraction are the general three methods involved in the Scanning phase. The tools used in this phase are Nmap (network mapper), Netsparker, port scanners, dialers, and ping sweeps.
This phase is where the actual intrusion starts. The loopholes that were found in the former phases are now exploited to gain access to the target system, network, application. By gaining access, the hacker may steal confidential data, install malicious software or application, or may ask for ransom. Gaining access means hackers having entire control over the system. Some popular tools used in this phase are Cain & Abel, fgdump, pwdump7, Metasploit, and rainbowcrack.
Once the access is granted, wouldn’t a malicious hacker try to maintain it and cause as much harm as possible? They may exploit the system continuously, steal credentials, launch DDoS attacks, and so on. For an ethical hacker, this phase would involve checking the security defenses at the rootkit level and prevent any serious harm.
A smart hacker would be someone who leaves no clues to help the organization detect anything. So, this phase involves activities like deletion of logs, corrupting registry values, uninstalling any application used, avoiding potential IDS alarms, steganography, etc. tools like CCleaner, MRU-Blaster, clearlogs.exe are used in this phase.
Willing to Validate your Ethical Hacking Skills?
Learning about ethical hacking simply won’t help you land a job in this field. So, if you are serious about becoming an ethical hacker, you should add industry-recognized certifications to your portfolio. One of the most trusted credentials includes the Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) administered by the EC-Council. Passing a rigorous exam will help employers understand that you are ready to beat the hackers in their own game and are familiar with the latest tools and techniques used for strengthening an organization’s defenses.