Ethical Hacking is a legal process of Hacking systems to find vulnerabilities. It helps in preventing or overcoming cyber-attacks by malicious intruders. Former IBM Vice President of Internet Technology, John Patrick, coined the term, which is important in the information technology sector.
Ethical Hacking aims to evaluate the information security of target systems, networks, or operating system infrastructure and identify vulnerabilities. The procedure involves locating and attempting to exploit vulnerabilities to determine whether unauthorised access or other malicious actions are possible. For this purpose, the systems are knowingly hacked
With cyber security threats and data theft crime increasing at an alarming rate, information security has become a cause of concern in Australia, especially for the banks and financial sectors.
Ethical hacking, therefore, helps in securing systems and promotes information privacy.
Importance of Ethical Hacking
At the onset of international conflicts, terrorist organisations fund cybercriminals to compromise security systems, either to compromise national security features or to extort massive sums by injecting malware and denying access. Consequently, cybercrime is growing steadily. Before falling victim to a hacker, organisations face the challenge of updating their hack-prevention strategies and installing multiple technologies to safeguard their systems.
The proliferation of new worms, malware, viruses, and ransomware creates a need for ethical hacking services to protect the networks of businesses, government agencies, and the military.
Stages of an Ethical Hacking Process
To gain authorised access and test the organisation’s strategies and network, an ethical hacker follows a malicious attacker’s steps and thought process.
An attacker or ethical hacker uses the same five-step hacking process to hack a network or system. The ethical hacking process starts with finding different ways to hack the system, then moves on to exploiting vulnerabilities, maintaining consistent access to the system, and clearing one’s tracks.
Reconnaissance, or the footprint or information-gathering phase, is the first step in the ethical hacking methodology. This preliminary phase aims to gather as much information as possible.
The hacker gathers all necessary information about the target before launching an attack. The data will likely contain passwords, employee information, etc.
An attacker can gather information about an individual by using tools like HTTPTrack to download an entire website or by using search engines like Maltego to research the individual through various links, job profiles, news, etc.
There are two types of footprinting in ethical Hacking:
This footprinting method involves gathering information directly from the target by scanning the target’s network with Nmap tools
The passive footprinting method collects information without gaining direct access to the target. Attackers or ethical hackers can obtain the report via social media accounts.
Footprinting collects information from places such as – TCP and UDP protocols, vulnerabilities, a network’s Host, specific IP addresses, public websites, etc.
Reconnaissance is an important step in ethical Hacking, and it assists in determining which attacks can be launched and how vulnerable the organisation’s systems are to those attacks.
Scanning is the second step in the hacking methodology, in which attackers try to find different ways to obtain the target’s information. The attacker searches for data such as user accounts, credentials, IP addresses, etc. This ethical hacking stage entails locating quick and easy ways to access the network and skim for information. In the scanning phase, tools such as dialers, port scanners, network mappers, sweepers, and vulnerability scanners are used to scan data and records. There are four types of scanning practices used in the ethical hacking methodology, which are as follows:
1) Vulnerability Scanning:
This scanning practice identifies and attempts to exploit a target’s vulnerabilities and weak points. It is carried out using automated tools such as Netsparker, OpenVAS, Nmap, and others.
2) Port Scanning:
It entails listening to open TCP and UDP ports and running services and live systems on the target host using port scanners, dialers, and other data-gathering tools or software. Penetration testers or attackers use this scanning to find open doors to an organization’s systems.
3) Network Scanning:
This technique detects active network devices and discovers ways to exploit a network. It could be an organisational network that connects all employee systems to a single network. Ethical hackers use network scanning to strengthen a company’s network by identifying vulnerabilities and opening doors.
3. Obtaining Access
The next stage of Hacking is when an attacker employs any means to gain unauthorised access to the target’s systems, applications, or networks. An attacker can access and enter a system using various tools and methods. This hacking phase attempts to gain system access and exploit it by downloading malicious software or applications, stealing sensitive information, obtaining unauthorised access, demanding ransom, and so on. Metasploit is a popular tool for gaining access, and social engineering is a popular attack to exploit a target.
Hackers and penetration testers can help organisations protect themselves from cyberattacks by securing potential entry points and infrastructure with the help of a firewall.
They will ensure that all applications, computer programs and systems have password security.
They can send bogus social engineering emails to employees to see if they are vulnerable to attack.
4. Sustaining Access
Once the attacker gains access to the target’s system, they make every effort to keep that access. The hacker continuously exploits the system, launches DDoS attacks, uses the hijacked system as a launching pad, or steals the entire database at this stage. Backdoors and Trojans are tools used to exploit a vulnerable system and steal credentials, vital records, and other information. The attacker’s goal during this phase is to maintain unauthorised access until they complete their malicious activities without the user discovering it.
Ethical hackers or penetration testers can take advantage of this phase by scanning the entire organization’s infrastructure for malicious activities and determining the root cause to prevent the systems from being exploited.
5. Clearing track
As no attacker wants to be caught, the final stage of ethical Hacking requires hackers to clear their tracks. This step ensures that the attackers leave no traces or evidence that can be traced back to them. It is critical because ethical hackers must remain connected to the system without being detected by incident response or the forensics team. It includes the modification, corruption, or deletion of logs or registry values. The attacker also deletes or uninstalls folders, applications, and software or ensures that changed files are reverted to their original value.
Ethical hackers can use the following methods to cover their tracks in ethical Hacking:
- Making Use of Reverse HTTP Shells
- Erase the digital footprint by deleting cache and history.
- Using ICMP (Internet Control Message Protocol) Tunnels
These are the five steps of the CEH hacking methodology that ethical hackers or penetration testers can use to detect and identify vulnerabilities, identify potential entry points for cyberattacks, and mitigate security breaches to secure organisations.
Benefits of Ethical Hacking
- Discovering computer threat and vulnerabilities from an attacker’s perspective allows weak points to be patched.
- Implementing a network that is secure and prevents security breaches.
- Managing and protecting data from terrorists to protect national security.
- Gaining the confidence of customers and investors by safeguarding their products and data.
- Real-world assessments aid in protecting networks.
Who is an Ethical Hacker?
An ethical hacker is a security expert who performs these security tests to help organisations’ improve their security posture thus safeguarding computer security. They are either certified in Ethical Hacking by EC-Council or hold a bachelor’s or Master’s degree in computer science.
What are the types of Ethical Hackers?
There are three types of Ethical Hackers – White Hat Hackers, Black Hat Hackers and Grey Hat Hackers
Who can perform Ethical hacking?
An Ethical Hacker, who has done professional certification courses from a recognised university, and has taken hands-on industry experience. The respective person has the knowledge and skill required to protect computer networks from any external cyber security threat. Education and a career in ethical hacking are in demand.
How to choose a suitable ethical hacker?
An organisation should look out for the following skills while choosing a suitable ethical hacker:
1) Knowlege of Programming Languages
2) Knowledge of Hardware
In addition to software knowledge, ethical hackers may need a basic understanding of the physical components of a computer. These hardware components include the monitor, mouse, keyboard, central processing unit, speakers, sound card, and motherboard. This can help them understand how an organization’s machines work in order to evaluate potential threats or vulnerabilities. For example, they may assess how a USB transfers data or how a motherboard operates, which necessitates an understanding of both software and hardware features.
3) Computer Forensics
Computer forensics skills may be used by ethical hackers to assist law enforcement professionals in collecting criminal IT information and evidence. These professionals may break into a suspect’s device to aid in a criminal investigation, and lawyers may use the information ethical hackers gather as evidence during a trial. When assisting a client with security analysis, ethical hackers may also use computer forensics skills.
4) Database Management
These professionals may use their database management skills to assess the database where an organization’s information is stored to ensure that it is secure from hackers and other cyber threats. This may necessitate knowledge of various data schemas and database engines. This ability is critical for ensuring that databases remain secure and that only authorised professionals have access to the information they store.
5) Problem solving
Ethical hackers use problem-solving skills to assess vulnerabilities and pinpoint the source of a problem within a network or computer system. Being a critical thinker can assist these professionals in developing innovative solutions to the flaws they discover and assisting a company in improving its cybersecurity. Problem-solving may entail an ongoing desire to learn and develop one’s understanding of potential causes of a security breach. It may also include devising novel ways to break into a system in order to protect an organisation from all potential threats.
Cryptography, which includes encryption and decryption, is a useful skill to have for ethical hackers. Because most businesses encrypt their network traffic or private data, hackers typically gain access to a system by circumventing the encryption with techniques such as algorithm keyword searches, ciphertext analysis, and brute-forcing. An ethical hacker may need this same knowledge to test a system and determine how well it is protected against cyberattacks and security breaches. Understanding cryptography may also be advantageous to these professionals because it is a necessary component of ransomware, which is a tool they can use to investigate and highlight a system’s vulnerabilities.
7) Reverse Engineering
Ethical hackers may use reverse engineering to ensure that a computer system is free of major flaws, errors, or vulnerabilities. By analysing a product’s code, you can recover its requirement specifications, design, and functions. Individuals can improve their understanding of a system in order to make maintenance and repairs more efficient. By making a system more robust, reverse engineering can assist ethical hackers in protecting it from spyware and hackers. Ethical hackers may use this to hack the systems they design to ensure that any potential vulnerabilities are addressed.
Our Cyber Security consultants will be happy to guide you!