What is Ethical Hacking?

Ethical Hacking, sometimes called Penetration Testing, is an act of intruding/penetrating system or networks to find out threats, vulnerabilities in those systems which a malicious attacker may find and exploit causing loss of data, financial loss or other significant damages. The purpose of ethical hacking is to improve the security of the network or systems by fixing the vulnerabilities found during testing. Ethical hackers may use the same methods and tools used by malicious hackers but with the permission of the authorized person to improve the security and defend the systems from attacks by malicious users.

Ethical hackers expected to report all the vulnerabilities and weaknesses found during the process to the management.

Who is an Ethical Hacker?

An Ethical Hacker is a skilled professional who has excellent technical knowledge and skills and knows how to identify and exploit vulnerabilities in target systems. He works with the permission of the owners of networks. An ethical Hacker must comply with the rules of the target organization or owner and the law of the land and their aim is to assess the security posture of a target organization/system.

Roles of Ethical Hacker

Ethical hackers have various roles in the organization they work in an organization. Because ethical hacking adopted by public and private organizations alike, goals may end up being diverse, but they can boil down to a few key points –

  • Protect the privacy of the organization the ethical hacker is working for
  • Immaculately report any sort of discrepancy in the system to the corresponding division with the responsibility of mending the vulnerability
  • Update hardware and software vendors regarding any sort of vulnerabilities found in their product that use to orchestrate business

Why is Ethical Hacking Important?

Data has become an invaluable resource. Accordingly, the preservation of privacy and integrity of data has also increased in importance. In essence, this makes ethical hacking extremely important today! Hackers are primarily since almost every business out there has an internet-facing side.

Furthermore, hackers of the present age, have proven themselves to be creative geniuses when it comes to penetrating a system. Fighting fire with fire might not work in the real world, but to fight off a hacker so smart, an organization needs someone who has the same train of thought. Recent hacking outages have to lead to losses amounting to millions of dollars. These incidents have cautioned businesses around the globe and made them rethink their stance on the importance of ethical hacking and cybersecurity.

Having laid down the grounds for ethical hackers after specifying their roles and importance to an organization, let us move forward and discuss some critical elements of ethical hacking in this ethical hacking tutorial.

What is a Security Threat?

As an ethical hacker, your daily routine includes dealing with a bunch of security threats.

Any risk that has the potential to harm a system or an organization as a whole is a security threat. Let’s go over the types of security threats.

Types of Security Threats

Threats are of two types:

Physical Threats

Physical threats can be divided into three categories.

  • Internal, e.g. hardware fire, faulty power supply, internal hardware failures etc
  • External, e.g. floods, fires, earthquakes etc
  • Human, e.g.  vandalism, arson, accidental errors etc

Non-Physical Threats

Non-physical threats include every threat that has no physical manifestation. They are also known as legitimate threats. An ethical hacker generally deals with non-physical threats daily, and it is his responsibility to come up with preventive measures for these threats.

Preventive Measures for Security Threats

While most preventive measures adopted by ethical hackers tend to differ for every organization due to customized needs, they can be boiled down to some critical methodologies that are ubiquitously followed – 

  • Every organization must have a logical security measure in place. This could also include cognitive cybersecurity measures adopted by an organization that operates on an incident response system.
  • Authentication can be improved and made more efficient by using multi-factor authentication systems. Authentication methods can be in the form of user IDs and strong passwords, smart cards, captchas, biometric, etc.
  • For protection against entities like worms, trojans, viruses, etc. organizations sometimes use specially curated anti-viruses that are made keeping the company’s individual needs in mind. Additionally, an organization may also find it beneficial to use control measures on the use of external storage devices and visiting the website that is most likely to download unauthorized programs onto the target computer.
  • Intrusion-detection/prevention systems can be used to protect against denial of service attacks. There are other measures too that can be put in place to avoid denial of service attacks.

Skills for an Ethical Hacker

An ethical hacker is a  computer expert who specializes in networking and penetration testing. This generally entails the following skillset –

  • Expertise in various operating systems, primarily Linux and its various distribution. This is because a good portion of vulnerability testing includes invading the target system and sifting through their system. This is impossible without a good grasp of operating systems.
  • In-depth knowledge of networking is also key to a successful ethical hacking career. This involves packet tracking, packet sniffing, intrusion detection & prevention, scanning subnets, etc.
  • Programming: Now, programming is a vast topic with nuances in every language. As an ethical hacker, it is not expected of you to be a master-coder, but rather be a jack-of-all-trades.

Below is a table of the significant/commonly used programming languages. Knowing these help you as an ethical hacker:

LanguageDescriptionReason to learn
HTMLUsed for creating web pagesHTML forms are used to enter data all over the internet. Being able to construct your forms for analyzing vulnerabilities helps to figure out security issues in the code
JavascriptClient-side scripting language. Also used for writing backend servicesJavaScript code is executed on the client browser. Knowledge of JS can be used to read saved cookies and perform cross-site scripting etc.
SQLUsed for interacting with databasesUsing SQL injection, to by-pass web application login algorithms that are weak, delete data from the database, etc.
PHP/RubyServer-side scripting.PHP is one of the most used web programming languages. It is used to process HTML forms and perform other custom tasks. You could write a custom application in PHP that modifies settings on a web server and makes the server vulnerable to attacks.
BashCreating small batch files and handy scriptsThey come in handy when you need to write your shellcodes, exploits, rootkits or understanding and expanding on existing ones.

Why Is Programming Important?

Whenever I’ve mentioned that programming is an ethical hacking essential, I’ve been asked why. This is mostly because people do not have the slightest clue about the roles and responsibilities of an ethical hacker. Here are a few reasons that make programming  knowledge crucial for an ethical hacking career:

  • Ethical hackers are the problem solver and tool builders, learning how to program will help you implement solutions to problems.
  • Programming also helps automate tasks that would generally take up precious time to complete
  • Writing programs can also help you identify and exploit programming errors in applications that you will be targeting
  • Programming knowledge also helps customize pre-existing tools to cater to your needs. For example, Metasploit is written in Ruby, and you can add a new exploit to it if you know how to write one in Ruby.

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