Ethical hacking explained

With the advancement and our newfound reliance on technology, protecting our businesses, personal assets, and valuable information from cyber threats is paramount. As technology advances, so do the dangers that lurk in the dark corners of cyberspace. How do we protect ourselves from cyber threats? There are a few ways, but ethical hackers are one of our most valuable assets. Ethical hacking is crucial in tackling cyber threats and maintaining peace within cyberspace. We at Cybernews Academy will take you through the mechanics of ethical hacking and how to pursue a degree and career in ethical hacking.

Different types of hackers

There are various types of hackers that work towards different goals. Some work for organizations, and others are free agents. Specific hackers may be malicious, and others may be ethical.

White hat

White hat hackers are the good guys, they check for vulnerabilities and security issues in a system with the consent of the owner, business, or organization. White hat hackers engage in legal hacking activities, allowing organizations to address their system's vulnerabilities to avoid malicious attacks.

Black hat

Black hat hackers directly contrast white hat hackers, as these hackers are malicious agents who exploit vulnerabilities within systems belonging to companies, businesses, individuals, and organizations. Black hat hackers are otherwise known as cyber criminals.

Grey hat

As the name suggests, grey hat is a middle ground between black and white hat hackers. Grey hat hackers often hack systems without the consent of organizations, individuals, or businesses. However, they don’t always exploit vulnerabilities within a system.

Red hat

Red hat hackers are the vilginates of the cyber world. They are ethical hackers who seek out black hat hackers to destroy them. However, red hat hackers are digital activists who hack to reveal information for political, social, ideological, or religious reasons. According to NordVPN, red hat hackers are also known as hacktivists who may team up with white hat hackers if they share a common objective.

Blue hat

Blue hat hackers are external agents employed to locate bugs, vulnerabilities, or security issues. These hackers may be outsourced to identify insecurities before launching a primary website or new software.

What’s an ethical hacker?

The fundamentals of ethical hacking and malicious hacking are no different. The only difference between the two is the intent behind the hack. Ethical hackers don’t aim to exploit the vulnerabilities within a systems infrastructure. Instead, they look for weaknesses potentially used by those with malicious intent. The hacking process is identical. It is just the ethics or purpose behind the process that distinguishes the two from one another.

The five phases of ethical hacking

Various phases go into identifying security vulnerabilities that may be used to exploit your company, business, or you as an individual.

We at Cybernews Academy don’t condone illegal hacking activity.

Phase one: Reconnaissance (Recon)

The reconnaissance phase, or the information gathering phase, is where the ethical hacker or white hat gathers all the information about a company, organization, or individual. This information is usually about the security and network. The main aim is to collect as much information about the organization as possible. There are two types of surveillance: active and passive reconnaissance.

Active reconnaissance

This process involves a hacker actively engaging with a server to see what information can be extracted. For example, hackers could send ‘packets’ or data directly to a server to see how it interacts.

Passive reconnaissance

This process differs from active reconnaissance as the hacker observes rather than actively engaging with the system they are trying to infiltrate. Instead of sending data directly to a server, they will find information about the system without interacting with the system. A hacker may get information from the internet or other publicly available sources.

Phase two: Scanning

This phase is where ethical hackers use the information they have gained from the reconnaissance phase to scan for system vulnerabilities. Ethical hackers can conduct several scans. Many of these scans are automated, as many different tools could be used to check a system. However, automation has its problems, as this avenue might not be as secure as a manual penetration test. These scans look for entryways or open ports that malicious hackers could exploit to access the system. Ethical hackers must identify these entry points and deal with them accordingly to ensure safety within the system.

Phrase three: Probing for Vulnerabilities

The next penetration testing phase is assessing vulnerabilities, where the ethical hacker uses the data collected from the surveillance and scanning phases to identify potential areas that could be exploited. There are many tools that penetration testers can use to identify vulnerabilities.

Phase four: Exploitation

When all vulnerabilities have been adequately addressed, the ethical hacker may exploit these weak spots and gain access to the system. This phase is the most delicate part of the entire process. Exploitation is usually achieved by using tools that simulate attacks. GitHub has an excellent online database that details different penetration test resources.

Phase five: Report your findings

Upon completing the final phase of the penetration test, the ethical hacker will build a report of their findings. This can then be used to patch up any vulnerabilities that malicious agents could potentially exploit. The information can help an organization, business, or individual strengthen security and improve security posture.

A person performing a penetration test may repeat the recon and scanning phases multiple times to ensure that all possible entry points have been exhausted.

Study Ethical Hacking

Suppose you want to prevent cybercrime by lawfully breaking into systems for the greater good of a company, organization, or individual, but you don’t know where to start. You might want to pursue an educational career in Ethical Hacking or Cyber Security. There are a few ways you can break into the industry. One of the ways is obtaining a degree in Ethical Hacking or Cyber Security. These degrees will provide you with the fundamentals of cyber security, digital forensics, hacking, and computer science. Cyber security programs will also overview the fundamentals of hacking as this is one of the things that gravely impact cyberspace. These courses aim to teach you the core areas of cyber security and ethical hacking by outlining the techniques used to scan, gain access, and exploit systems. You will learn about different attacks and how to resolve them. If you want a real-life example, read Kyran’s story, a Coventry University student studying Ethical Hacking and Cyber Security.

Career in Ethical Hacking

Ethical Hacking is more of a career path or job title encompassing many facets of cyber security. We spoke to one ethical hacker and discussed how he broke into the industry. This ethical hacker told us that he was around 19 when he first traveled to the Netherlands to experience ethical hacking. “Traditionally, ethical hacking mostly consists of white-hat penetration testing, most commonly for specific organizations who order penetration tests. If you’re starting, you’ll most likely offer this service free of charge to get some experience.”

He gave some insights on how you might build connections with organizations that may help you gain honest hacking experience and what your first penetration test might look like.

  • First, find a willing organization or participant who will allow you to perform a penetration test.
  • Secondly, meet with the organization and prepare by doing the paperwork together. Define the attack surface and the scope of the test and write it down in a document along with the details discussed. These details may include testing hours, tools available, and testing accounts that can be used while conducting the penetration test. Ensure both parties sign the document stating the testing scope, conditions, and other details.
  • Thirdly, create a recon to identify what infrastructure you’re dealing with. Tools like Nmap and vulnerability scanners may be used during this phase. Try to guess the weak spots and log your actions and testing results. If you find any vulnerabilities, you must document them. It’s also worth suggesting a mitigation technique.
  • Finally, create a written report detailing your findings and present it to the organization.

We advise aspiring ethical hackers to remain responsible and safe at all times. “Don’t ever go into the wild just attacking random people, always get a permit and know the scope of your target.” Without a pre-defined plan and agreement, you may cause severe damage, translating to a massive loss for an organization.

Ethical hacking is an intriguing and complex facet of cyber security. These people protect our communities, organizations, and individuals from cyber-attacks and digital threats. As technology advances, so do malicious agents who wish to capitalize on online vulnerabilities within digital assets and sensitive information. The demand for cyber security professionals has grown more prominent as more qualified individuals are needed to protect our ever-evolving cyber environments. Will you start defending cyberspace?