What you need to know about Ethical Hacking

by Lucia Danes - -

Hacking skills can be put to good use as well

Ethical hacking

Over the years, the term “hacking”[1] has gained a negative connotation, not surprisingly. Hacking is often used for malicious purposes, such as a way to identify and exploit system vulnerabilities, in order to gain unauthorized access or compromising the security, resulting in data or financial losses and other major damage.

However, as experts from Reviewedbypro and other sources claim, hacking skills can not only be used for malicious acts. Hackers are often employed by the security services to use their skills to increase their security and to keep malicious attackers out of their systems, servers, networks or other software.

In addition, Ethical Hacking is not just a hobby, it can become a full-time job or profitable activity. For example, a 19-year old, self-taught hacker made his first million from Bug Bounty awards.[2] So, what do you need to know about “Ethical Hacking”.

What is “Ethical Hacking”?

Have you ever heard the term “Ethical Hacking”? Ethical Hacking, also known as “Penetration Testing” or “White Hat Hacking”[3], is a process of intruding into a system or a network in order to find malware samples and vulnerabilities that can be found by malicious actors and exploited, resulting in major damages in lost data.

The main purpose of ethical hacking is to increase the level of security. Malware samples and vulnerabilities found by ethical hackers are often patched during testing. Even though ethical hackers often apply the same tools and methods used by cyber criminals and malicious hackers, ethical hackers have the permission of the authorized party to perform hacking. In addition, all the vulnerabilities found are expected to be reported during the testing process to the management. 

Who is an Ethical Hacker?

Ethical Hackers, commonly referred to as penetration testers or white hat hackers, are skilled hacking professionals who identify and exploit weaknesses and vulnerabilities in target systems/networks. In contrast to malicious hackers, rather than taking advantage of found vulnerabilities, ethical hackers work with the permission of the authorized management and must comply with any rules of the management and any law of the land.

It is worth mentioning that it is not uncommon for ethical hackers to became white hats after being malicious hackers, deciding to use their skills and techniques for positive intents. However, it is not also uncommon for white hat hackers to switch their hats to black.

CIA or AIC Triad

Ethical hackers often work under a guideline of three main principles, including Confidentiality, Integrity and Availability. These three principles draw up the CIA Triangle. These are used to achieve the harmony of three principles to increase the security level of the organization. Originally the CIA Triad was developed to guide policies for information security within an organization. This model is also referred to as AIC triad.

Qualifications and training required

If you ever considered becoming an ethical hacker, it is important to find out about the skills and qualifications necessary for this job. According to founder and chief executive of DrPete Technology Experts Peter Chadha,[4] ethical hackers have to have “a vast amount of technical knowledge of IT systems and software and, in particular, how to exploit their vulnerabilities”. There are a number of certifications such as the most common EC-Council Certified Ethical Hacker Certification or Communication-Electronics Security Group (CESG) approval. This is also required if you want to perform any kind of penetration test on an organization.

There are also various entry-level testing certifications that are developed for those who wish to work in a testing team and be managed by a team leader. Meanwhile, the senior testing certifications and courses are for more advanced hackers that are willing to work on their own or lead their team.

In addition, you can check for certifications and online courses yourself. For example, Udemy often offers deals on Ethical Hacking Courses that include courses for beginners and more advanced users. EcCouncil also provides students with training and courses for those who want to become a certified ethical hacker. Courses include Core, Advanced and Expert certifications.[5]

According to PrepAway, top 7 Ethical Hacking Certifications[6] include Certified Ethical Hacking Certification (CEH), GIAC Penetration Tester Certification (SANS GPEN), Offensive Security Certified Professional (OSCP), CREST, Foundstone Ultimate Hacking, Certified Penetration Testing Consultant (CTPC), and Certified Penetration Testing Engineer (CPTE). The certifications qualify an individual as a certified ethical hacker and provide various benefits for individuals as it helps to understand risks and vulnerabilities affecting the organizations, shows the tools of the trade, tech hackers various types of foot-printing, countermeasures and footprinting tools and much more.

Chadha also adds that “It also helps to have a reasonable general background and experience alongside certifications such as a Masters in Information Security”. So keep in mind that relevant experience in hacking is also highly appreciated in the industry. 

More characteristics and information about hacking

Even though an ethical hacker does not have to follow certain steps while hacking, there are five main phases, including reconnaissance, scanning, gaining access, maintaining access and clearing tracks.

Phases of hacking:

  1. The first phase of hacking is Reconnaissance also known as Footprinting or information gathering. In this phase, a hacker has to gather as much information as possible. Information is collected about the network, host and the people involved.
  2. The second Scanning phrase includes the three types of scanning: Port Scanning, Vulnerability Scanning, Network Mapping.
  3. The third, Gaining Access phase reflects the phase where a hacker enters into the targeted system or network. Once a hacker breaks into a system, permission from the administrator is required in order to install programs and tools needed to adjust or hide data.
  4. Once the access is gained, the Maintaining Access phrase follows. An attacker who hacked the system might only want to show that it was vulnerable or he also wants to maintain and persist the unauthorized connection in the background. In order to do so, hackers often use malicious software such as Trojans, Rootkits or other malware. Access needs to be maintained until the tasks are an accomplishment.
  5. The last phase is Clearing Track. A malicious hacker does not want to get caught, that is why it is necessary to clear all evidence and traces that can lead to him. This stage consists of modifying, corrupting and/or deleting logs, registry values, used applications, etc. Even though every hacker chooses his own phases of hacking, these are the main five recommended and the most commonly used stages.

The common types of attacks

It is worth mentioning that there are different types of attacks. The attacks include:

  • Operating System Attacks
  • Misconfiguration Attacks
  • Application Level Attacks
  • Shrink Wrap Code Attacks.

Let’s talk a bit more about each of the attacks. Operating System Attacks are referred to finding and exploiting vulnerabilities and weaknesses in operating system. For instance un-patched system or buffer overflow.

Misconfiguration Attacks often are results of the misconfiguration of the deployed device or system. These attacks are targeted towards databases, servers, software or networks. Application Leyer Attacks are targeted towards the programs and applications. Some of the examples are SQL injection, cross-site scripting, and similar attacks. Shrink Wrap Code Attacks are performed using default or off the shelf components if the code or script is not well-tuned.

These are the main types of the attacks that are commonly performed due to weaknesses, vulnerabilities, misconfiguration and other bugs in systems, networks, software or codes/scripts. 

Vulnerability assessment

One of the most popular jobs for ethical hackers is vulnerability assessment.

Vulnerability assessment is an act of identifying, quantifying, and prioritizing vulnerabilities in systems, networks and communication channels. The process is performed as a part of auditing and aims to defend the targeted systems from attacks. The detected vulnerabilities are identified, classified and reported to the management in order to patch them and increase the security of the organization. 

Penetration testing

Another important task in the ethical hacking industry is penetration testing. The penetration testing is an act of evaluation of the security level of the organization. During penetration testing, a hacker exploits the detected vulnerabilities in a similar manner that potential attackers would. An ethical hacker defends and documents the process of attack.

There are several types of penetration testing, including Black Box, White Box, and Grey Box. Black Box is a type of penetration testing when the tester is not provided with any details pertaining to the network and/or infrastructure of the network/organization to be tested. White Box is a type of penetration testing when the tester is provided with complete details of the network and/or infrastructure of the network/organization to be tested.

Grey Box is a type of penetration testing when the tester is provided with a piece of limited information and details of the network and/or infrastructure of the network/organization to be tested. As you can see evaluating the security of an organization and exploiting its vulnerabilities is one of the main jobs for the ethical hacker. 

Final thoughts

As you can see hacking is not a negative act if you do it for a good purposes. Ethical hacking is a significant part of the security-level of the organization. Ethical hacking allows organizations to increase the level of security, by identifying and minimizing weaknesses and vulnerabilities, as well as patching bugs and more. There are many courses for training available on the internet, if you ever considered becoming an ethical hacker. 

About the author

Lucia Danes
Lucia Danes - Virus researcher

Lucia is a News Editor for 2spyware. She has a long experience working in malware and technology fields.

Contact Lucia Danes
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