Ethical hacking is when a security expert has permission to try to hack someone’s computer system, application, or data storage. Ethical hacking is a common practice in security circles. It helps developers and system engineers identify and fix security vulnerabilities before a malicious attacker can exploit them.
Can an ethical hacker strengthen your company’s security and stop you from being hacked? The answer is yes! Ethical hackers are the backbone of the fight against cybercrime. They’re often very passionate about keeping the internet, applications, and systems safe.
Ethical hackers – also known as White Hat hackers – are security experts that perform security assessments with prior approval from the organization. They use their knowledge to improve the client’s security. An ethical hacker’s job is to put himself in the shoes of a malicious hacker to try and come up with new ways to attack a seemingly impervious system.
Ethical and malicious hackers use similar methods and tools, but the difference is in their intent and accountability.
Ethical hackers have permission to search for vulnerabilities. They report problems and may advise the organization on how to fix the issue. It’s sometimes an iterative process, with the ethical hacker re-testing systems to ensure that the vulnerabilities are fully resolved and that the patches haven’t led to further problems.
Malicious hackers – also known as Black Hat hackers – use the same methods and tools as ethical hackers, but their intention is quite different. Their actions are not authorized and are kept secret. Their motive is to gain unauthorized access and turn it into financial gain. But some do it for fun, such as crashing servers and defacing websites for bragging rights and enhancing their reputation or street cred. Others do it out of spite, while some get paid by competitors to cause damage to other companies. Their methods and the vulnerabilities they discover remain unreported because they are not interested in improving security. If they don’t use the exploits themselves, they sell such secrets to other hackers.
Ethical hackers have permission to emulate attackers to look for ways to penetrate a system. It’s an ordered process, and it may never be undertaken without respecting the key protocol concepts of ethical hacking. They generally follow four main steps:
● Perform reconnaissance to understand the setup and get as much background information as possible.
● Look for vulnerabilities using various tools to perform automated and manual testing.
● Attack the vulnerabilities using exploits. The aim is to demonstrate the weakness and how it can be bypassed. Some examples of common vulnerabilities that hackers can discover are injection attacks, security misconfigurations in systems or the cloud, broken authentication in apps, or the use of hardware or other components with known vulnerabilities.
● Report back on the steps they took to compromise the vulnerabilities and suggest steps to mitigate or patch them.
This process allows companies to find and close security flaws before malicious hackers do.
Ethical hackers work to make the technology safer. That’s why they adhere to four key concepts:
● Stay legal and get approval first. Always get proper approval before attempting to perform a security assessment.
● Define the scope. The client may set hard boundaries beyond which the ethical hacker may not go. That helps the hacker to stay legal, even if it can hinder the outcome. In such cases, ethical hackers may point out attack potential that lies outside of the client’s boundaries.
● Report vulnerabilities. The report should include meticulous documentation of each vulnerability, its possible impact, and advice to assist with remediation.
● Respect sensitive data. Ethical hackers may come across highly sensitive data that could severely damage an organization if it ever gets out. Therefore the client may impose terms, conditions, and a non-disclosure agreement on the ethical hacker.
There is a vast difference between a qualified ethical hacker and someone just starting in the cybersecurity field. Security specialists start with a wide range of computer skills and then specialize in a particular area within the ethical hacking domain.
Their background must include proficiency in operating systems, keen knowledge of networking, expert skills in scripting languages, and a solid knowledge of the principles of information security. They can get certified by organizations that ensure that students receive a solid grounding in the principles of ethical hacking. The EC Council’s Certified Ethical Hacking Certification, CompTIA Security+, and Offensive Security Certified Professional (OSCP) Certifications are among the most reputable qualifications.
Ethical hackers may run into time and resource constraints. They often face tight deadlines and need a lot of computing power to crack some of the more obstinate systems. If the client doesn’t allow sufficient time and budget, researchers may miss something a malicious hacker could spot. Some organizations also impose a narrow scope, which may prevent the researcher from discovering some problems.
It’s not unheard of for semi-skilled malicious hackers (often known as script kiddies) to solicit ransom fees by using social engineering to try and pass themselves off as ethical hackers. They might send their target a message saying that they’d discovered security flaws and insist on a reward to help the company to fix it. That is regarded as unethical behavior and does not align with the key principles of ethical hacking.
Fortunately, the cybersecurity industry is not so large that such interlopers can get away with it. But still, it’s best to stick with well-known cybersecurity research companies that can check credentials and manage research processes properly. They have everything to lose if they were to shield malicious hackers.