23 Mar What is Ethical Hacking?
Recently, thanks to my work on a pretty big web application development project, I had to go through a bunch of hoops and hurdles to sign some security agreements to protect data. This made me a bit paranoid. I knew our development team’s work was good. But it’s always good to get a second pair of eyes on things, especially when you’re in the weeds and working on tight deadlines.
The stars must have aligned that week because I got introduced to a really cool organization via my online networking group that could put my mind at further ease once we wrapped up our dev work. They offered a service that they called “ethical hacking”. I was immediately intrigued.
Anyone that doesn’t live under a rock knows about hackers and hacking. But typically, we don’t think about these skilled workers are the “good guys”. I had so many questions following my initial meeting. “What does an ethical hacker do?” “When does white hat hacking start to get a little gray?” “How much does all of this cost?” Seeing that the space is still relatively new, I wanted to publish some of my notes here to help other organizations learn about ethical hacking and how they can use it effectively.
What is Ethical Hacking?
System security has become increasingly important in recent years. As our lives move more and more online, the risk of cybercrime has increased exponentially. Businesses and individuals alike are at risk of having their confidential information stolen or leaked. That is why protecting your system is essential and ethical hacking is one way to do that. Knowing the weaknesses in your system can help you to better protect it from attackers that would exploit those weaknesses. If your organization wants to improve its security, understanding what an ethical hacker is can be incredibly helpful.
Ethical hacking is the process of identifying weaknesses in computer systems or networks and then exploiting those weaknesses to gain access to sensitive data. This entails an authorized attempt to bypass security controls in order to test an organization’s defenses. The goal of ethical hacking is not to cause damage or steal data but rather to help the organization improve its security posture by exposing vulnerabilities before they can be exploited by malicious actors.
This is a security procedure that attempts to determine whether unauthorized access or other malicious activity is possible. It can be used to test systems prior to their official launch, such as white-hat hacking, or it can be employed by criminals after a system has launched in order to gain access to sensitive data (black-hat hacking). This type of activity has been on the rise in recent years as more and more businesses store sensitive data online.
What Do Ethical Hackers Do?
Ethical hackers utilize their knowledge and abilities to test an organization’s cybersecurity defenses and identify vulnerabilities to mitigate those risks. This allows organizations to shore up their defenses against potential attacks and avoid costly data breaches. By simulating real-world attacks, they can help organizations find and fix security issues BEFORE they are exploited by malicious actors. They are experts at finding weaknesses in systems and using that information to improve security.
Ethical hackers are not criminals nor looking to cause loss. They use their skills to help organizations protect themselves from cyberattacks. Their goal is to make systems more secure, not to exploit them for personal gain. While some ethical hackers may choose to work for organizations full-time, others may work as consultants, providing their services on a project basis. Regardless of their background, all ethical hackers share a passion for keeping systems safe from harm and making the internet a safer place for everyone.
Benefits of Ethical Hacking
The importance of ethical hacking can’t be understated. This is evident by the fact that there are over 600,000 hackers available on HackerOne, the largest bug bounty platform in the world.
With more and more tools, courses and certifications, and platforms becoming available, the demand for ethical hackers continues to grow.
But why the surge in demand? What are the primary benefits of ethical hacking that are making it such an attractive investment for businesses? In the below section, we’ll summarize some of the key benefits of ethical hacking and explore why it is so valuable to businesses today.
Identify Threats from an Attacker’s Point of View
Ethical hacking is a way for you to fortify your business against cybersecurity threats by taking proactive security measures. This involves identifying and fixing weaknesses in your system before a cybercriminal can exploit them. Doing so will help protect sensitive data and avoid any catastrophic loss.
Gain Outside Perspective and Assurance
Cybersecurity threats are constantly evolving and staying ahead of these threats can be difficult for businesses. Ethical hackers are equipped with the specialized knowledge and tools needed to identify potential vulnerabilities in your system. This outside perspective can be invaluable, as it provides reassurance that your systems are properly protected.
Secure networks and prevent data spillage
Networks are one of the most valuable assets for businesses today. And yet, many companies struggle to adequately protect their networks from unauthorized access and data theft. Ethical hacking can help safeguard your networks and prevent data spillage by identifying and fixing vulnerabilities before they become a problem.
Build customer and shareholder trust
When your business is hit with a cybersecurity attack, it can seriously tarnish your reputation and trust amongst your customers and shareholders. Ethical hackers are able to identify vulnerabilities in your systems and fix them before they become a problem. This helps build trust by protecting sensitive data, preventing network intrusions, and ensuring the security of your customers’ personal information.
Improve national security
Beyond organizational and customer data, ethical hacking can help prevent cybersecurity threats from impacting national security. With so many businesses moving to the cloud, it’s become vital to protect the digital infrastructures that help power our economy. By identifying vulnerabilities in these systems, ethical hackers can help prevent intellectual property and classified data from falling into the wrong hands.
What Are Some Examples of Ethical Hacking?
Ethical hacking has been around for a long time, and it is a field that is constantly evolving. As technology advances, so do the methods and techniques used by ethical hackers to test the security of systems. The methods and techniques used will vary depending on the situation and the goal of the ethical hacker that is performing the process.
Organizations can use ethical hacking to improve their security and defend against real-world attacks. By understanding and utilizing the techniques of ethical hackers, organizations can better protect their systems and data.
Here are some examples of ethical hacking:
1. Testing computer systems for security vulnerabilities
Ethical hackers, also known as white hat hackers, use their skills to find and exploit security vulnerabilities in computer systems. By doing so, they help organizations identify and fix potential security issues before they can be exploited by malicious hackers.
2. Performing penetration tests
Penetration testing, also known as pen testing, is a form of ethical hacking that assesses an organization’s security by simulating real-world attacks. Pen testers use the same tools and techniques as malicious hackers, but they do so with the permission of the organization being tested.
4. Bug bounty hunting
Another example of ethical hacking can be seen via bug bounty programs. These programs, which can be both private and publicly accessible, provide ethical hackers with the opportunity to identify and responsibly disclose vulnerabilities. This incentive-based approach is a creative way for organizations to get additional security researchers working on improving their overall cyber security.
5. Carrying out red team exercises
Red team exercises are simulations of real-world attacks that test an organization’s security defenses. These exercises are conducted by ethical hackers who work with the organization’s permission.
Does Ethical Hacking Require Coding?
Many ethical hackers have a background in programming or coding, as this knowledge can be helpful in identifying weaknesses in security systems. However, ethical hacking does not necessarily require coding skills.
Some ethical hackers are able to find vulnerabilities simply by using their understanding of how computer systems work. Others may use tools that do not require any programming knowledge. Ultimately, the goal of ethical hacking is to improve the security of computer systems, and there are many ways to achieve this goal.
How Are Ethical Hackers Different Than Malicious Hackers?
While ethical hacking and malicious hacking share some similarities according to their terms and activities, they are two very different things. Knowing what makes them different is important to understand how they can be used and what their purpose is.
Here’s a look at the main differences between ethical hacking and malicious hacking:
Ethical hackers are hired by an organization to find vulnerabilities in their systems and address them before they cause any damage. Their goal is to make the system more secure and protect it from any malicious attacks. On the other hand, malicious hackers hack into the system for personal gain, steal sensitive information, and cause damage that can lead to a system shutdown.
Scope of work
The work of ethical hackers is authorized by the organization they are working for. They are given permission to carry out their work, are aware of what needs to be done, and operate within predetermined boundaries that know what their limits are. Malicious hackers, on the other hand, operate without anyone’s permission and often go beyond what they are supposed to do, which can result in legal consequences.
Both ethical and malicious hackers use similar methods to find vulnerabilities. They might use automated tools, such as scanners, or manual techniques, such as enumeration. However, the way they use these methods is different. Ethical hackers follow a set of guidelines that ensure they don’t go too far when testing systems. At the same time, malicious hackers don’t follow any guidelines that could put them at risk of getting caught.
Both ethical and malicious hacking can have the same outcome, which is finding vulnerabilities in a system. However, the way these vulnerabilities are handled is what differentiates the two types of hacking. Ethical hackers report their findings to the organization so they can address them and fix them. On the other hand, malicious hackers might exploit these vulnerabilities to cause damage or steal sensitive information to use in an illegal way.
What Problems Does Hacking Identify?
Ethical hacking can help identify a number of potential problems with your website or computer system. These are just a few of the potential problems that ethical hacking can help identify:
- Potential threats and risks: By looking for vulnerabilities in your system, ethical hackers can help you identify potential threats and risks. This information can then be used to improve your security measures.
- Inadequate access control: Ethical hacking can also help you identify inadequate access control measures. This means that unauthorized users may be able to gain access to your system, which could lead to data breaches or other security issues.
- Insecure coding practices: Insecure coding practices can also be identified through ethical hacking. This can help you improve the security of your website or computer system by fixing these coding issues.
- Poor implemented security: Poor security is another potential issue that can be identified through ethical hacking. This includes weak passwords, lack of encryption, and other security issues.
- Weaknesses in your system: Weak system components can be identified and exploited by hackers. Ethical hacking can help you find these weaknesses, such as unpatched software, open ports, and more so that they can be fixed.
- Abused privileges: Ethical hacking can also help you identify when users are abusing their privileges or misusing resources. This information can then be used to improve your system’s security and prevent this abuse from happening in the future.
What Are Some Limitations of Ethical Hacking?
As with any tool, ethical hacking has its limitations. One of the most obvious is that it can only be used ethically — that is, with permission from the owner or manager of the system being tested.
Another limitation is that ethical hacking only focuses on security from a technical perspective. It does not address non-technical issues such as social engineering or employee training.
Additionally, ethical hacking is only as good as the person using it. An inexperienced hacker may not be able to find all of the security vulnerabilities in a system, while a more experienced one may find too many and end up overwhelming the organization with information. Lastly, ethical hacking can be expensive, both in terms of money and time, so it is not always a feasible option for small organizations or those with limited resources.
When Does Ethical Hacking Become Not Ethical?
When it comes to hacking, the line can be very fine as many people think their intentions might be good, but others might have differing opinions.
As stated above, one of the primary limitations is permission and access. Companies that employ white hat hackers and provide ethical hacking services go to great lengths to get written approval to systems prior to poking around. A clear set of testing measures aligned with expectations, and ultimately documented consent are the best way to avoid potential issues.
When these steps are not taken, white hat hacking can quickly turn gray. While the intentions of the hacker might be good, there are still risks associated. This varies wildly based on the system that is being breached, the industry, and whether or not the results of the hack can even be properly followed up on.
Is Ethical Hacking Legal?
In most cases, ethical hacking is legal, although there are some exceptions.
For example, in the United States, it is illegal to access a computer system without authorization, even if the intention is to improve security. Additionally, some countries have laws that specifically prohibit ethical hacking, regardless of the motives.
In general, however, ethical hacking is considered to be a legitimate activity as long as it is done with the consent of the system owner and within the bounds of the law. Ultimately, whether or not ethical hacking is legal depends on the specific circumstances involved.
In today’s world, ethical hacking is more important than ever before because of the vast amount of information that is stored electronically. Ethical hackers are trained professionals who use their skills to help organizations secure their networks and protect their data. With the increased reliance on technology comes an increased risk of cyberattacks.
While there are many different types of ethical hackers, they all share one common goal: to make the world a safer place by identifying and mitigating cybersecurity threats. If you are thinking of hiring an ethical hacker, be sure to do your research and find one that is reputable and has a proven track record.