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What Is Ethical Hacking?

by John Ciarlone on May 10, 2023

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Ethical hacking involves using hacking techniques to test and improve the security of a computer system or network. Basically, a company will hire an ethical hacker to try and break into their system using their skills to find any weaknesses and vulnerabilities. 

Once these weaknesses are discovered, the company can then take steps to fix them before malicious hackers find out about them. As such, ethical hacking is a critical part of assessing your business’s security.

What Are The Different Types of Hackers?

Once upon a time, hackers were considered malicious agents who stole data or caused other forms of damage. However, the skills needed to be a hacker are highly valued. It's no easy task to spot weaknesses in a system, which is why hacking has become a sought-after skill. As a result, there are different types of hackers out there. These include white-hat hackers, grey-hat hackers, and black-hat hackers.

What Is A White-Hat Hacker?

A white-hat hacker is an ethical hacker who uses their skills for legitimate and legal purposes. For example, white-hat hackers might be hired by a company to test the security of their networks and systems, or they may be part of an organization specializing in identifying and fixing security issues. 

Once they've identified the vulnerabilities that allowed them to hack into the system, they will report them to the company and help develop countermeasures to protect it from potential attacks.

What Is A Black-Hat Hacker?

A black-hat hacker is the opposite of a white-hat hacker. Instead of using their hacking skills for legitimate and legal purposes, they use them to maliciously gain access to private data and networks. Black-hat hackers are often criminals who use their skills for personal gain or revenge, such as stealing financial information or data for extortion. 

They are essentially the types of hackers that are so often portrayed in the movies, except they're not hacking for fun or for righteous causes; they're hacking for financial gain. Basically, they are thieves with computer skills.

What Is A Gray-Hat Hacker?

A gray-hat hacker is somewhere between a white-hat and black-hat hacker – they use their skills to gain unauthorized access to systems but do it without malicious intent. Oftentimes, gray-hat hackers will hack into a system to prove its security weaknesses and then report them to the company in exchange for a reward. 

These hackers may also offer their services to companies to help correct any security issues they find. Essentially, they're doing the job of a white-hat hacker without the company they're hacking authorizing it, then using the information they've obtained to entice the company to either reward them for their work or to hire them (or both).

Ethical Hackers Are Crucial For Cybersecurity

Ethical hackers are absolutely crucial for cybersecurity in today's world. As cybercrime continues to increase, businesses and governments are relying on the skills of ethical hackers more and more to find and patch security weaknesses before malicious hackers can exploit them. 

As such, the work they do is not only helping companies to keep their systems safe, but they’re helping to protect the personal information of countless employees and customers.

Ethical Hackers Can Perform Work Anonymously

Although larger companies employ many ethical hackers to perform security audits, many ethical hackers also work as independent contractors. This means they can remain anonymous in their work. Of course, ethical hackers who work for larger companies as full employees often work on their own instead of with a team and have a lot of freedom in terms of their work.

Ethical Hackers Can Get Into Highly Secure Networks

Ethical hacking is a unique occupation that allows ethical hackers to explore, engage with, and manipulate different networks. Each system or network they hack has its own quirks, and as an ethical hacker, they’ll need to find out how to use them. 

Ethical hackers also need to be able to learn new programming languages, explore different security protocols, and develop creative solutions to tricky problems. As a result, they’re constantly learning new skills and techniques, which can be incredibly stimulating. Plus, they get to go behind-the-scenes into systems that are usually off-limits to most people, which is an experience that few other jobs can offer. 

There is a lot of satisfaction to be had in finding a way to break into a highly secure system that everyone thought was unbreakable.

There Is High Demand For Ethical Hackers

In this day and age, data is becoming increasingly important. As such, companies are increasingly aware of the need to secure their data and networks from malicious hackers. This creates a high demand for ethical hackers who can help ensure that networks are secure.

Required Skills To Be An Ethical Hacker

Ethical hackers need specific technical skills to succeed. These include:

Programming Knowledge

Ethical hackers need to have a solid foundation in computer programming. A knowledge of Python, C, Java, and JavaScript languages is essential for writing scripts and programs to test systems. In addition, programming knowledge is vital because it allows ethical hackers to understand how a system works, which is essential for breaking into it.

An Understanding Of Databases And Security Protocols

Ethical hackers need to understand databases and security protocols, such as encryption and authentication. Databases store data and understanding how they work is essential for finding weaknesses in a system. Similarly, understanding how encryption and authentication work helps ethical hackers find ways to break into systems.

Knowledge In Networking And Computer Systems

Ethical hackers need to understand the architecture of computer networks, as well as different operating systems such as Windows, Linux, and macOS. Knowing how these systems operate helps ethical hackers find weaknesses and fix them to make the system stronger.

Knowledge Of The Phases And Methodologies Of Ethical Hacking

In addition to the technical skills, ethical hackers need to understand the methodology of ethical hacking. This includes understanding the different phases of ethical hacking and the tools used in each phase. 

For example, ethical hackers need to understand the phases of intelligence gathering, footprinting, scanning, enumeration, exploitation, and maintaining access. Understanding these processes is essential for successful penetration testing.

What Are The Types Of Ethical Hacking Services?

Knowing what ethical hacking entails, it should come as no surprise that companies that offer network security services will use ethical hacking to evaluate your IT network and infrastructure. With that in mind, the following are some ethical hacking services that can help you evaluate your company’s security.

Penetration Testing

Penetration testing is one of the most common types of ethical hacking. Penetration testers will use various techniques and tools to try and gain access to a system or network. They will then assess the security measures in place and provide recommendations on how to improve them. Even if you have firewalls and anti-malware software in place, cybercriminals (black-hat hackers) are constantly finding new ways to get around them. Thus, it is essential to regularly conduct penetration testing to identify vulnerabilities and fix them before they can be exploited.

Social Engineering Assessment

Social engineering is a type of attack that often goes unnoticed because it focuses on manipulating people rather than computers. This technique involves using psychological manipulation to trick people into revealing confidential information, such as passwords and financial details. For example,  an attacker might send out emails or make phone calls pretending to be from a legitimate company in order to gain access to sensitive information.

An ethical hacker can use social engineering to test how secure your employees are in protecting your data. For example, they'll send out emails to employees and see if they click on links or provide confidential information. Such tests help identify whether your staff is vulnerable to such threats.

Web App Vulnerability Assessments

Before you launch a new app, it's critical that you test for any vulnerabilities that cybercriminals could exploit. A web app that's hacked by a black-hat hacker could result in a massive data breach. An ethical hacker can test your web app for vulnerabilities and provide recommendations on how to secure it. They'll use various tools and techniques, such as automated vulnerability scanning, manual code reviews, and penetration testing to detect any weaknesses. With their help, you can ensure your app is as secure as possible before going live.

Ethical Hacking Is Essential To The Security Of Your Organization

Hackers tend to have a bad rap as a result of their association with malicious activities; however, ethical hackers are becoming a massive asset to businesses around the world. They are utilizing their skills and knowledge to protect businesses from potential cyber-attacks and help ensure that confidential data remains secure. In fact, companies that offer security assessments will essentially use ethical hacking techniques to evaluate your network and IT infrastructure. 

Here at Hummingbird Networks, we offer a variety of security services using ethical hacking techniques to help identify and address potential security threats. For information on how we can test your network for security vulnerabilities, be sure to contact us today.

Learn more about our network security assessments.