In today's time, technology and the internet have reached even the remotest corners of the world. We constantly share information and data online, be it fun pictures of our vacations or confidential business documents. Technology has undoubtedly made our lives easier. But it also has a flipside. Since a significant amount of our sensitive data is on computer systems, programs, and networks, it can be stolen, corrupted, and manipulated by hackers.
 
Hacking refers to the act of identifying the weak points in a network or computer system to breach it and gain access to valuable data. There has been a noticeable rise in cybercrimes. Since technological advances are also creating new viruses, malware, and worms to harm our security networks, we need hackers to safeguard our systems against cybercriminals. This is where ethical hacking comes in.
 
In this article, we will discuss ethical hacking, who are ethical hackers and what they do, their roles and responsibilities, the types of ethical hacking, how to become an ethical hacker, and many more things. So let's get started.

What is ethical hacking?

Ethical hacking refers to the authorized practice of attempting to get access to a computer system, network, or application. It involves bypassing the existing security system as a precautionary measure to detect any potential weak points that cybercriminals can exploit to breach the system/network and harm it.
 
An organization hires skilled cybersecurity professionals to perform such tasks on their systems or networks to test whether they are ready if a cyberattack happens. This process also involves cybersecurity professionals hack into a company's network. However, unlike malicious attacks, this type of hacking is legal, pre-planned and approved by the company.

Who are ethical hackers?

Ethical hackers are the professionals who perform the above-mentioned functions and assess the safety of a company's network and computer systems. Ethical hackers are also called 'white hats', and they are the opposite of hackers who hack into systems for malicious reasons like fraud, theft, and extortion.
 

They perform the following functions

  • Investigating the weak points of a system/network that are vulnerable to attack from malicious hackers
  • Gathering and analyzing information from multiple reliable sources to ensure that the network/systems are secure
  • Improving the security footprint of the network or security system so that it can withstand attacks from malicious hackers
  • Develop strategies and solutions to prevent breaches in the system

Types of hacking and hackers

Based on the hacking done by hackers, they are divided into:

  • White hat hackers- These are also called Ethical Hackers or Penetration Testers. In the world of hacking, they are the good guys. They hack into a system to test if the system is secure or not. They report and fix any vulnerabilities in the system. They have permission to hack into networks and systems. White hat hacking is authorized and legal.
  • Black hat hackers- These hackers are also called Unethical Hackers or Security Crackers. These are the bad guys in the world of hacking. They break into a company or government's network or computer programs or applications and steal money, valuable information, sensitive data from them. Black hat hacking is unauthorized and illegal.
  • Grey hat hackers- As the name suggests, grey hat hacking falls somewhere between black hat hacking and white hat hacking. Grey hat hackers can test a network or system's security by hacking it even when they don't have the authority or permission to do it. However, unlike black hat hackers, they neither damage the system nor steal anything. Sometimes grey hat hacking is done legally and sometimes illegally.
  • Responsibilities of ethical hackers

Here are some of the responsibilities handled by ethical hackers:

  • Preventing potential attacks by finding open ports and implementing corrective measures
  • Making sure that patch installations are updated
  • Identifying and fixing web servers and web applications that have been hijacked
  • Handling any cases of online employee fraud and theft of sensitive digital information
  • Looking for any data or passwords that can be misused to attack an organization
  • Conducting thorough assessments of the organization's security plans

Benefits of Ethical hacking

Here are some of the benefits of ethical hacking:

  • Ethical hacking helps governments and organizations fight cybercriminals.
  • It prevents national security breaches, theft of sensitive and confidential data, and other crimes.
  • Banks and financial institutions can work in safety provided to their networks by ethical hackers.
  • It helps in taking preventive measures against any security breaches that might happen in the future.

Limitations of Ethical Hacking

Here are some of the limitations of ethical hacking:
 
  • The scope of ethical hacking is limited as it cannot progress after a specific predefined scope defined by the organization.
  • Cybercriminals and malicious hacks often have unlimited time and resources to plan and carry out malicious attacks. The same doesn't hold for ethical hackers who often work under an organization's time and budget constraints.
  • Sometimes, organizations restrict ethical hackers from using a particular test like Denial of Service (DoS) attacks that might cause the servers to crash.

How to become an ethical hacker

  • You can start in the field of ethical hacking by getting a degree in computer science. You can also obtain an A+ (CompTIA) certification, for which you will have to clear two separate exams.
  • After getting certified, undertake activities related to network support, like monitoring and updating, installing security programs, and testing any system vulnerabilities. This will prepare you for the role of a network engineer.
  • After gaining experience as a network engineer, start focusing on the security aspect. You can obtain other certifications like Security+, CISSP, or TICSA.
  • At this stage, there are two certifications particular to ethical hacking that you can obtain:
  • Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH)
  • Offensive Security Certified Professional (OSCP)

After these certifications, you can start applying for the role of ethical hackers.

Skills required to become an ethical hacker

Some of the essential skills required to become an ethical hacker are:
 
Computer networking skills- A computer network is an interconnection of many devices. These devices are often called Hosts, and they are connected to each other and the system using multiple paths to send and receive data. There are many such networks that ethical hackers must understand to tackle security threats to a network of computers. Some such networks are:
  1. DHCP
  2. Supernetting
  3. Subnetting
In-depth knowledge of these networks will allow ethical hackers to prevent them from malicious hackers.
 
Programming skills- If you have programming skills, you'll be able to communicate with computer systems effectively. Any interaction with computer systems happens through a specific set of instructions called 'code'. As an ethical hacker, you must know programming languages like HTML, PHP, C, C++, Python, JavaScript, etc. An error in the code of these languages can lead to a vulnerability in the entire code. Cybercriminals can exploit this vulnerability to break into the system.
 
Reverse engineering- Reverse engineering is used to ensure that the computer systems don't have any security flaws or weak spots that malicious hackers can take advantage of. Reverse engineering is the process of analyzing the code of a product and recovering its design, requirement specifications, and functions. This process improves the understanding of the system and accelerates any kind of work needed to maintain it. This helps in protecting a system from spyware and cybercriminals.
 
Cryptography- This also an essential skill for an ethical hacker. An important part of cryptography closely related to our lives is texting. The normal text messages that we send are known as plain text and are in a readable format. Through cryptography, these plain texts are converted to ciphertext, or a non-readable format, so that the hackers cannot comprehend the texts. Ethical hackers must ensure that any kind of conversation between people of an organization doesn't leak to hackers. 
 
Web applications- Today, web applications play an integral role in online businesses. With higher internet penetration, more and more people have access to web applications. Internet connectivity allows everyone to use web applications for various purposes like online shopping, social networking, chatting, etc. With so much business and customer data available on web applications, they have become prone to sophisticated cyberattacks.
Thus, knowledge of web development helps ethical hackers better understand how cybercriminals are attacking web applications.
 
Basic computer skills- This one is obvious but worth a mention, nonetheless. As an ethical hacker, computer skills are an indispensable part of your job. Computer skills include the technical knowledge of the technology related to computers. Some basic computer skills are:
  1. Data processing
  2. Managing databases
  3. Programming
  4. Running calculations in spreadsheets
  5. MS Office
  6. Spreadsheets
  7. Web Enterprise systems

Tools used for ethical hacking

Hacking tools are computer programs that you can use to look for vulnerabilities in a network, computer systems, web applications, etc. You can download any tool from those available in the market.
Some of the standard hacking tools are:
  • Netsparker
  • NMAP
  • TracerouteNG
  • Burp Suit
  • Angry IP Scanner
  • Acunetix

We hope this article gave you meaningful insights into ethical hacking. We provide the Certified Ethical Hacking (CEH) V11 Certification training at Koenig Solutions.

Armin Vans
Pradeep is a Microsoft Certified Trainer and a Cyber Security professional with rich experience in Vulnerability Assessment, Penetration Testing, and Security Management. I deliver training to corporate clients on IT Security, Cybersecurity, Advanced Penetration Testing, CCISO, CCNA, CCNP, Firewall, AD, Linux, ISO, CEH, ECSA, CHFI, and several other customized courses of IT Security.

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