What is Footprinting in Ethical Hacking
Updated on 20th Jun, 22 138 Views

Over the years, this technique has been known to have helped cyber security experts in identifying vulnerabilities in the systems. Also, a majority of hackers find Footprinting as their favorite tool while gathering information about the security configurations of the targeted systems. In this blog on “ What is Footprinting in Ethical Hacking?”, we dig deeper into Footprinting, various tools involved, sources, uses in ethical hacking, types of Footprinting, etc.

Whether it is about testing a Web Application or getting a diagram of the security framework of an organization, the data gathered with the help of Footprinting forms the mainstream for hackers including ethical hackers.

In this blog, we will cover the following:

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Footprinting – Definition and Meaning

The act of gathering information about a targeted system and creating a network and systems map of an organization is known as Footprinting. It falls in the preparatory pre-attack phase, where all the details regarding an organization’s network architecture, application types, and physical location of the target system are collected. Post Footprinting, the hacker gets a better understanding and picture of the location, where the desired information is stored, and how it can be accessed.

What is Footprinting in Ethical Hacking

Footprinting in Ethical Hacking is basically the ethical and legal use of Footprinting to safeguard the systems from hacking or any cyber attack. You can hack into the system to identify the vulnerabilities, open ports of the system, and many more. Knowing these reduce the chances of an attack, even though the threats always exist.

Types of Footprinting

There are 2 types of Footprinting:

  • Active Footprinting
  • Passive Footprinting

1- Active Footprinting– When the hacker tries to perform footprinting by getting directly in touch with the targeted system, it is known as Active Footprinting.

2- Passive Footprinting– On the other hand, when the attacker gathers information about the target system through openly available sources, it is known as Passive Footprinting. There are many such sources available on the internet from where hackers can get the necessary information about the organizations or individuals.

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Types of Information Collected through Footprinting

Following are the various types of information that are generally aimed at by the hackers through Footprinting:

  • IP Addresses
  • Whois Records
  • Types of Applications used
  • Presence of a Firewall
  • Security Configurations
  • Domain Names
  • Network Numbers
  • Authentication Mechanisms
  • E-Mail addresses and Passwords

Forms of Footprinting

There are various forms and varieties of Footprinting. Some of them are as follows:

  • E-Mail Footprinting
  • Google Hacking
  • Social Engineering
  • Whois Footprinting
  • Network Footprinting
  • Website Footprinting

Tools for Footprinting

Hackers use various tools and methods for Footprinting. Some of them are explained below:

Google Hacking

‘Google Hacking’ is not technically hacking Google as the name suggests. Instead, it means smartly collecting the required information from the Google Search Engine. Hackers use very specific search results to get this information. Using advanced operators, they can get access to the organization’s servers and eventually harm the target systems.

Who is Lookup

Hackers use Whois Lookup to extract information from basic database queries like IP Address Block, Domain name, Location, and other critical data of the organization. Whois Lookup also acts as a pathway to Website Footprinting for hackers. The below steps form the initial phase of Whois Lookup:

  • Open your browser and search for http://whois.domaintools.com/
  • Feed the IP address or name of the organization to be targeted and click on ‘Search’
  • The final output will display the details of the organization’s online presence

Following is an example of Whois Lookup:

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Social Engineering

Social Engineering is one of the most talked-about techniques in Footprinting. It refers to the carrying out of cyber-attacks through human interactions. Social engineering is carried out in multiple steps. Firstly, an investigation is carried out to gather the desired background information about the target victim.

Secondly, psychological manipulation is used to trick the victim into leaking confidential details and sensitive information. Social Engineering is usually carried out to get access to the weak points and vulnerabilities of the systems.

NeoTrace

A popular Graphical User Interface course tracer program, NeoTrace is one of the most used techniques for Footprinting in Network Security. It shows all the information regarding IP addresses, location, contact data of hubs, etc.

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Importance of Footprinting in Ethical Hacking

As discussed earlier, the importance of Footprinting in Ethical Hacking is worth mentioning. Following are some of the benefits of performing Footprinting :

  • Identification of Vulnerabilities- If an Ethical Hacker is able to get access to sensitive data or is able to breach into the system, he/she can identify the open ports, vulnerabilities and can also figure out the type of attacks that the system can be prone to.
  • Knowledge of Security Framework– Footprinting helps in knowing about the security stance of the organization. It tells about the security configurations, presence of a Firewall, etc. This helps the ethical hackers to know the threat aversion level of the system.
  • Prediction of Attack type– Footprinting helps in studying the types of vulnerabilities and specific areas of the security framework to analyze the types of attacks that the system can be prone to.

Conclusion

In this article, we learned about Footprinting, the process, and its importance in Ethical Hacking. Even though it is practiced by ethical hackers to safeguard the system from multiple threats and attacks, it is equally important for individuals and organizations to take measures to protect their data. Using VPNs, erasing all the important data available online, etc., can help a lot in securing confidential information from hackers. Any data available online forms a possible weakness in the security of your systems.

Since the techniques of Footprinting are ever-evolving, ethical hackers should keep themselves at pace because the hackers are possibly a step ahead.

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