Ethical hacking has become somewhat of a norm in identifying vulnerabilities within modern systems. Companies are increasingly resorting to enlisting services from ethical hackers to identify where their conventional or digitally upgraded programs are at risk for security breaches from malicious elements.
In 2022, ethical hackers were able to identify 21% more software vulnerabilities as compared to the previous year. At the same time, they could pinpoint more than 120,000 customer risk factors within programs and misconfiguration errors, 150% more of which were highlighted by ethical hackers compared to 2021.
These statistics showcase the increasing efficiency of ethical hackers over time. If your business has not experimented with ethical hacking as a preventive mechanism against cybercrimes, the right time is now. This article outlines the basics of ethical hacking and its role in cybersecurity today. Let’s dive in.
White-hat and Black-Hat Hackers: An Introduction
The names must give the difference away! Just as there are good guys and bad guys in almost every movie, two types of hackers stand on opposing sides of the cybercrime battle. Obviously, the black-hat hackers are the malicious ones, whereas the white-hat ones are ethical hackers.
Black-hat hackers were the first ones to emerge on the scene, breaching vulnerable systems for financial or political gains. Their objectives focus on infecting various systems through different techniques and stealing information they can leverage for incentives like monetary payments.
On the other hand, the term ethical hacking was coined in 1995 to point at professionals who perform hacks but with a benevolent and beneficial agenda. These groups and individuals hold similar skills to black-hat hackers, but they aim to identify where a system or program is vulnerable so that the chinks in the armor can be fixed.
However, to become an ethical hacker, professionals undergo rigorous training programs, but the field is legitimate, with various institutions offering courses for individuals to learn this art. The expertise is used to battle malicious elements and curb cybercrime threats, costing global businesses trillions of dollars each year.
How Does Ethical Hacking Improve Cybersecurity?
A single cybercrime can cripple a business, particularly when SMEs are concerned it is hard or nearly impossible for them to recover from the losses. Recently, some of the biggest corporations like Google, Accenture, Verizon, and even government institutions have suffered data breaches.
As a result, ethical hacking has become a go-to for companies to put their systems to the test without posing any threat to them. White-hat hackers can facilitate organizations by allowing them to find the gaps where the systems are vulnerable and advise on ways to fix these problems.
Let’s take a look at how ethical hackers can support companies through each phase of the hacking process:
The first step in any coordinated and targeted attack is to be effective and cause the most damage in reconnaissance. Hacking is no different. During this phase, black hat hackers collect as much information as possible about the system and where it is susceptible to breaches.
The individuals or groups with malicious intent focus on three key factors: the people involved, the network itself, and the host of the program or website. They are looking for the smallest weak spot that can be leveraged to attack and compromise it.
Mainly there are two different types of reconnaissance which are:
- Passive reconnaissance: This medium of information collection doesn’t involve directly accessing the platform that the hacker is looking to target. Since the internet has the most information about businesses, their employees, and a host of other elements, hackers leverage social media and other platforms to gather the data that they need,
- Active reconnaissance: Contrary to the passive approach, the active one uses sophisticated tools to scan the target for vulnerabilities.
If you want more information, here is a comprehensive guide on the differences between both.
Ethical hackers know this process and can perform it for businesses to identify where loopholes exist. They can also effectively generate strategies to plug these issues so that the wrong guys can’t exploit them.
The scanning process involves using various methods to analyze software or website to ascertain the quality of defenses. Here are the three methods of scanning that are common these days:
- Network mapping: This technique mainly focuses on the host and the network on which a program is located. It involves ascertaining network topology, identifying potential firewall servers, and all information about the host. Based on the available information, hackers can create network diagrams that serve as blueprints for them,
- Vulnerability scanning: Here, the hackers look for points of weakness in their targets and the vulnerabilities that are open for exploitation,
- Port scanning: This part involves looking for live systems, open ports, and numerous other services running on the hosting provider.
These two steps serve as the foundations for starting the hack. Once again, ethical hackers can perform all these tests before black hat hackers allow businesses to close off any secret tunnels before it is too late.
3. Getting Access
Now that a hacker has the roadmap they need, they can start targeting the system to gain unauthorized access through one or many avenues they’ve identified. They have numerous tools for the job and can effectively take control of a system.
Since the hacker knows the weak link, they understand the medium and pathway they want to use for the attack. They can pick from their vast cache of ammunition, including spoofs, phishing, session hijacking, brute force attack, or sending malware disguised as important attachments to employees.
The path the hacker chooses depends on where they’ve found the weakest link. Since most systems have strengthened their defenses abundantly, black-hat hackers are using employees to target through phishing and social engineering mechanisms.
Of course, if your business has an ethical hacker on board, they’ve already assisted you in closing the gaps, and your system is safe from various threats.
Ethical hacking is extremely effective because it tracks and utilizes the same pathway a hacker with malicious intent would use. White-hat hackers go down the pathway to find any potholes, filling them as they move forward so that no vulnerabilities are left for more dangerous elements to exploit.
Investments in ethical hacking are paying substantial dividends for businesses across the globe, making them a medium of choice for effective cybersecurity.