Who’s an Ethical Hacker?
We hear about hacking on the news all the time—from Anonymous to fake news to denial of service attacks to data breaches, it seems like the bad guys are always wreaking havoc. And it’s true; the bad guys are doing all kinds of damage, from the annoying (spam) to the destructive (cyber attacks that steal personal data—or worse).
But did you know there are good guys with the same skills? These are the ethical hackers. But what is ethical hacking?
Ethical hacking definition
An ethical hacker (also known as a white hat hacker) is the ultimate security professional. Ethical hackers know how to find and exploit vulnerabilities and weaknesses in various systems—just like a malicious hacker (or a black hat hacker). In fact, they both use the same skills; however, an ethical hacker uses those skills in a legitimate, lawful manner to try to find vulnerabilities and fix them before the bad guys can get there and try to break in.
An ethical hacker’s role is similar to that of a penetration tester, but it involves broader duties. They break into systems legally and ethically. This is the primary difference between ethical hackers and real hackers—the legality.
According to the EC-Council, the ethical hacking definition is “an individual who is usually employed with an organization and who can be trusted to undertake an attempt to penetrate networks and/or computer systems using the same methods and techniques as a malicious hacker.”
The role of an ethical hacker is important since the bad guys will always be there, trying to find cracks, backdoors, and other secret ways to access data they shouldn’t. In fact, there’s even a professional certification for ethical hackers: the Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH).
What is ethical hacking?
Apart from testing duties, ethical hackers are associated with other responsibilities. The main idea is to replicate a malicious hacker at work and instead of exploiting the vulnerabilities for malicious purposes, seek countermeasures to shore up the system’s defenses. An ethical hacker might employ all or some of these strategies to penetrate a system:
- Scanning ports and seeking vulnerabilities: An ethical hacker uses port scanning tools like Nmap or Nessus to scan one’s own systems and find open ports. The vulnerabilities with each of the ports can be studied and remedial measures can be taken.
- An ethical hacker will examine patch installations and make sure that they cannot be exploited.
- The ethical hacker may engage in social engineering concepts like dumpster diving—rummaging through trash bins for passwords, charts, sticky notes, or anything with crucial information that can be used to generate an attack.
[Related read: Top 3 Ethical Hacking Certifications]
- An ethical hacker may also employ other social engineering techniques like shoulder surfing to gain access to crucial information or play the kindness card to trick employees to part with their passwords.
- An ethical hacker will attempt to evade IDS (Intrusion Detection systems), IPS (Intrusion Prevention systems), honeypots, and firewalls.
- Sniffing networks, bypassing and cracking wireless encryption, and hijacking web servers and web applications.
- Ethical hackers may also handle issues related to laptop theft and employee fraud.
Detecting how well the organization reacts to these and other tactics help test the strength of the security policy and security infrastructure. An ethical hacker attempts the same types of attacks as a malicious hacker would try—and then help organizations strengthen their defenses.
Who should be an ethical hacker?
While some may argue that there is no such thing as a good hacker and all white hat hackers are actually bad hackers who have turned a new leaf, the profession is here to stay.
As with any profession, passion for the industry is one of the key aspects to success. This, combined with a good knowledge of networking and programming, will help a professional succeed in the ethical hacking field.
How much can an ethical hacker expect to make? Read the Ethical Hacking Salary Report.
For security professionals, forensic analysts, intrusion analysts, and most importantly—people aspiring to enter these fields—the CEH V9 is an obvious choice. Many IT companies have made CEH certification a compulsory qualification for security-related posts making it a go-to certification for security professionals.
Simplilearn’s CEH V9 training informs its students of the finer nuances of Trojans, Backdoors, and Countermeasures, and teaches them a better understanding of IDS, firewalls, honeypots and wireless hacking, among other, more advanced focuses.
Find our CEH (V9) - Certified Ethical Hacker Training at your nearby cities:
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