Ethical hacking is sometimes known as "pen testing" or "penetration testing."
Ethical hacking entails intrusive operations performed to identify any dangers and existing weaknesses in cyber security so that no evil-intentioned attacker might exploit them. As a result, any failure in cyber security may cost firms a lot of money.
For example, the organization's important data can be hacked, resulting in a tarnished brand and monetary damages. As a result, ethical hacking is critical. Ethical hackers find existing weaknesses in an organization's security systems before any other hackers with malicious intent.
Ethical hackers do extensive studies to improve the organization's security mechanisms. For example:
- What kind of flaws exists in the security system?
- How many of them are at risk from the attackers?
- What aspect of the system or information might pique the hacker's interest?
- Which access is being sought by the hacker?
- What would a hacker benefit from gaining access to the organization's data?
- Is there anyone on the cyber security staff who observed the attack? If so, were they able to put a stop to it? If not, how and when?
- What are the best approaches to overcoming vulnerabilities?
As a result of determining the answers to the above questions, ethical hackers attack an organization to construct a defense system against all other ill-intentioned hackers.
Ethical hacking is finding vulnerabilities in an application, system, or organization's infrastructure that an attacker may exploit. They employ this method to avoid cyberattacks and security breaches by legitimately breaking into systems and looking for flaws.
To get allowed access and test the organization's tactics and network, an ethical hacker follows a malevolent attacker's methods and thinking process.
An attacker or ethical hacker uses the same five-step hacking method to break a network or system. The ethical hacking process starts with exploring different ways to hack into the system. It exploits weaknesses, keeps consistent access to the system, and finally, cleans one's traces.
The Five Stages of Ethical Hacking
Stage 1 - Surveillance
Reconnaissance, also known as the footprint or information collecting phase, is the first step in the ethical hacking approach. This first step aims to gather as much information as possible. The attacker gathers all required information about the target before executing an assault.
Passwords, employment information, and other sensitive information are likely to be included. An attacker can obtain information on an individual by utilising tools like HTTPTrack to download an entire website to gain information about that individual or by using search engines like Maltego to investigate that individual through numerous links, employment profiles, news, and so on.
Reconnaissance is an important step in ethical hacking. It aids in determining which assaults are possible and how likely the organization's systems are to fail.
Footprinting takes information from places such as:
- TCP and UDP protocols are used.
- A network's host can be reached through certain IP addresses.
- There are two forms of footprinting in ethical hacking:
Active: Using Nmap tools to scan the target's network, this footprinting approach gathers information straight from the target.
Passive: The second footprinting approach collects data without direct access to the target. Attackers or ethical hackers can obtain the report via social networking accounts, public websites, etc.
Stage 2 - Scanning
The second step in the hacking methodology is scanning, where attackers try to find different ways to gain the target’s information. The attacker looks for information such as user accounts, credentials, IP addresses, etc.
This step of ethical hacking involves finding easy and quick ways to access the network and skim for information. Tools such as dialers, port scanners, network mappers, sweepers, and vulnerability scanners are used in the scanning phase to scan data and records.
In ethical hacking methodology, three different types of scanning practices are used. They are as follows:
- Vulnerability Scanning: This scanning process identifies a target's vulnerabilities and weak points and attempts to attack such flaws in various ways. It is carried out using automated technologies such as Netsparker, OpenVAS, Nmap, etc.
- Port Scanning: It entails listening to open TCP and UDP ports, operating services, and active systems on the target host, utilising port scanners, dialers, and other data-gathering tools or applications.
- Network Scanning: This technique detects active network devices and discovers methods to abuse a network. An organizational network might connect all employee systems to a single network. Ethical hackers use network scanning to strengthen a company's network by discovering flaws and opening access.
Stage 3 - Obtaining Entry
The next stage of hacking is when an attacker employs any and all ways to gain unauthorized access to the target's systems, applications, or networks. An attacker can obtain access to and infiltrate a system using a variety of tools and methods. This hacking phase seeks to get access to the system and exploit it by downloading malicious software or applications, stealing sensitive information, gaining unauthorized access, demanding a ransom, and so on. Metasploit is a popular tool for gaining access, and social engineering is a popular approach to exploiting a victim.
Stage 4 - Keeping Access
Once the attacker has access to the target's system, they make every effort to keep that access.
The hacker constantly abuses the system, initiates DDoS assaults, utilizes the hijacked system as a launching pad, or takes the complete database at this level. Backdoors and Trojans are tools used to exploit a weak system and steal credentials, vital documents, and other information.
During this stage, the attacker aims to keep their unauthorized access active until they complete their destructive activity without the user discovering it.
Ethical hackers or penetration testers might take advantage of this phase by scanning the whole organization's infrastructure for malicious activity and determining the underlying cause to prevent the systems from being abused.
Ethical hackers and penetration testers may safeguard potential access points, make sure all systems and apps are password-protected and use a firewall to secure the network architecture.
Stage 5 - Track Cleaning
As no attacker wants to be detected, the last stage of ethical hacking demands hackers remove their tracks.
This procedure guarantees that the attackers leave no traces of evidence that may be linked back to them. It is critical because ethical hackers must remain connected to the system without being detected by incident response or the forensics team.
Editing, corrupting, or removing are all examples. The attacker also deletes or uninstalls directories, apps, and software or guarantees that modified files are reverted to their original value.
Ethical hackers can employ the following methods to cover their tracks in ethical hacking:
- Making Use of Reverse HTTP Shells
- Erase the digital footprint by deleting cache and history.
- Tunnels based on ICMP (Internet Control Message Protocol)