When we look at the news, there are frequent occurrences of data leaks, money theft, digital attacks, and cyber espionage. All of this is enabled by the fact that people with malicious intent can now orchestrate these activities in the comfort of their homes, from behind a computer screen. With the widespread access to the Internet across the world, this convenience incentivizes an exponentially greater number of hackers to attempt cyber crimes. Naturally, this phenomenon has led to an increased demand for skilled Ethical Hackers and other Cybersecurity professionals.
In this blog, we will go through the most important Ethical Hacking topics:
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What is Ethical Hacking?
When we talk about Ethical Hacking, it is explicitly implied that we are talking about hacking that is based on ethical or moral values, without any ill intent. Ethical Hacking is defined as any form of hacking that is authorized by the owner of the target system. It can also refer to the process of taking active security measures to defend systems from hackers with malicious intentions.
From a technical standpoint, Ethical Hacking is the process of bypassing or cracking security measures implemented by a system to find out vulnerabilities, data breaches, and potential threats. It is only deemed ethical if the regional or organizational cyber laws/rules are followed. This job is formally known as penetration testing. As the name suggests, this practice involves trying to infiltrate the system and documenting the steps involved in it.
To sum it up, an Ethical Hacker hacks the target system before any harmful hacker can. This allows the security team of the organization to apply a security patch in the system and effectively eliminate an opening for the attacker to enter the system or execute a hack.
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Types of Hacking
Hacking is a broad concept. There are various forms of hacking, and they are categorized according to their legality and intent as follows:
- Black Hat Hacking
- Grey Hat Hacking
- White Hat Hacking
Black hat hacking is the form of hacking where the intent is malicious in nature and is the furthest from Ethical Hacking. If a person decides to hack a social media account or the personal storage of an individual and obtain personal information or private media content, or if a person decides to hack a bank account and perform an illegal transfer of funds into his own account, the person can be termed as a Black Hat Hacker. There is always a victim in such attacks, and these hacks are illegal in most countries as per their cyber laws. If you are caught perpetrating a black hat attack, there will be strict legal actions against you.
Grey hat hacking is based on the grey area in hacking. There is a vague line between ethical and unethical hacking, and grey hat hacking is any form of activity that is situated on that line. Grey Hat Hackers do not necessarily have malicious intent behind their hacks but are often financially motivated. Being financially motivated isn’t an issue as long as you take permission from the owner of the target you are trying to hack, but Grey Hat Hackers don’t do that. Normally, a Grey Hat Hacker will find vulnerabilities in a system first and then will inform the owner, usually demanding some form of financial incentive to reveal or fix it. Now, this can turn out in two ways: The owner may reward the hacker for his efforts, or the owner may decide to call the police or pursue legal action against the hacker for his unauthorized actions.
White hat hacking is also known as Ethical Hacking. It is the legal way of hacking, and you can base your entire career as a Cybersecurity professional in this particular domain. Contrary to what a Black Hat Hacker does, a White Hat Hacker either takes on a full-time or part-time contract or a bug bounty to find out the security flaws, exploits, and vulnerabilities of the employer’s system. This is an extremely lucrative domain for skilled and seasoned Ethical Hackers.
Importance of Ethical Hacking
Let’s understand why Ethical Hacking or penetration testing is such an important field. For this, we need to understand some of the many use cases and types of Ethical Hacking. Here are a few of them:
- Testing password strength
- Ensuring security settings and privilege levels in the domain account and database administration by testing out exploits
- Penetration testing after every software update/upgrade or after adding a new security patch
- Ensuring that data communication channels cannot be intercepted
- Testing validity of authentication protocols
- Ensuring security features in applications, which protect organizational and user databases
- Defense against denial-of-service attacks
- Network security and testing of anti-intrusion features
As you can see, the aforementioned tasks are important to protect the integrity of a digital lifestyle and work environment. If you do not hire Ethical Hackers to deter the threat of unethical hackers, then you are setting yourself up for disaster.
Let’s take a scenario that is very much based on real-world cases in the past. If you are running an e-commerce or social media website, you need to create databases for your web application to save the details of your customer accounts. These details and data can range from birthdays, addresses, likenesses to private multimedia content, privileged messages, payment information, hashed passwords, etc.
As you can probably figure out, any successful attack or exploit on your website, which leads to this data being leaked to an attacker or to the public, can prove to be a huge problem. There would be legal repercussions from the customers who had entrusted you with their private data, which could lead to a hefty fine in court. After that, there would be a lack of trust in your website’s security, which would lead to drastically reduced traffic. All of this will be a big liability for your organization.
Based on the above case, you can probably understand the importance of Ethical Hacking.
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Phases of Ethical Hacking
There are multiple phases involved in any elaborate hacking process. Let’s go through them one by one.
Reconnaissance: Before executing any hack, you need to gather some preliminary information about the target system. This information could be pertaining to the people or organizations associated with the target, details about the host system, or the target network. The primary intention of this step is to engineer a hack based on the exact technology and security measures implemented by the target system.
Scanning: Most of the time, hacking is done through network access. Most of our devices, whether in an organization or at home, are connected to a network. The common form of this network is Wi-Fi or WLAN. In offices, ethernet connections are also laid down to ensure maximum efficiency. As a hacker, you can take advantage of this factor and focus on gaining unauthorized access to the network of the target host. In this process, the network topology and vulnerable ports are revealed.
Gaining Access: The two aforementioned steps complete the information gathering phase. Now, based on that information, you need to start your hack. This step involves breaking into the target system by cracking the password or bypassing the security measures.
Maintaining access: After gaining access, you need to ensure that once you are done with your first session, you are able to retain access to the target system. This is done through a backdoor. A backdoor is an exploit or a hack that is left in the target system for future access. If you don’t leave a backdoor, the target system may implement a newer security patch or reset its security measures, and you may have to execute or craft the hack once again.
Clearing tracks: After finishing up with the attack or hack, it is important to remove the traces of your incursion. This step involves removing any backdoors, executables, or logs that may lead to the attack being traced back to you or found out in the first place.
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Ethical Hacker: Roles and Responsibilities
Let’s talk about Certified Ethical Hacker responsibilities:
- Meeting with your client to go through the security systems currently put in place
- Verifying the organization’s system, network topology, and vulnerable entry points
- Performing penetration testing on the system(s)
- Identifying and documenting security flaws and vulnerabilities
- Testing the level of security in the network
- Finding out the best security solutions
- Creating penetration test reports
- Performing penetration testing after the implementation of suggested or new security features
- Finding out alternatives to security features, which are not working
Below is an example of how Ethical Hacking job descriptions look like on job portals:
How to become an Ethical Hacker?
If you’re interested in the role, Ethical Hacking can turn out to be one of the most innovative and interesting career paths. This is partly due to the fact that the hacking landscape changes on a weekly basis. There are new viruses and exploits in the market that you constantly need to research and keep up with. This effort doesn’t go unnoticed because the more efficient and experienced you are, the higher the demand is for you, and you’d be compensated accordingly as well.
In the aforementioned job description, we can see that jobs in Ethical Hacking and Cybersecurity require you to be a ‘Certified Ethical Hacker.’ This isn’t just any certification; it refers to the CEH (Certified Ethical Hacker) certification by the EC-Council. But the catch is, you cannot appear for this certification without training. You need to get this training from the EC-Council itself or through an accredited training center.
If you are interested in the certification, you can go through Intellipaat’s definitive guide on How to Pass the CEH Exam.
You can forgo the training and appear for the exam directly only if you have 2 years of experience in the Cyber Security domain, which needs to be certified through experience letters.
If you’re looking for an affordable option to clear this certification, then look no further than Intellipaat’s Ethical Hacking course. Intellipaat has partnered up with the EC-Council to provide you with the accredited training required to appear for and clear the CEH exam. Once you attain this certification, with proper qualifications, you can freely apply for jobs in the Cybersecurity domain that require you to be a Certified Ethical Hacker.
You can go through Intellipaat’s active Community in the Cyber Security domain to clear any further queries.