The Phases of Ethical Hacking

The Phases of Ethical Hacking

Last updated on 30th Sep 2020, Artciles, Blog

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Hitish (Cyber Security Manager )

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A recent survey by PriceWaterhouseCoopers, “The Global State of Information Security Survey 2018”, shows that business leaders are concerned about the security risks associated with emerging technologies such as automated or robotic systems. For example, 39 percent of the 9,500 interviewed executives fear loss or compromise in sensitive data and over 32 percent believe that the quality of the product is susceptible to damage. 

Cybersecurity is no longer ‘just an IT issue’, it is a problem that is affecting the brand equity of an organization. In fact, entrepreneurs like Elon Musk, founder, and CEO of Tesla, are giving top priority to security. 

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What is Ethical Hacking and How is it Different From Hacking?

In a webinar on five phases of ethical hacking hosted by Simplilearn, Kevin King, director of technical innovation at EC-Council, described how hackers exploit vulnerabilities and compromise security controls to gain unauthorized access to system resources in an organization. He showed attendees how hacking can modify system or application features contrary to the original purpose and can pilfer, corrupt and redistribute data leading to billions of dollars lost.

In contrast, ethical hacking involves using the same hacking tools and techniques to identify vulnerabilities in a system and address them before they can be exploited. According to King, to beat a hacker, you need to think like a hacker.

There are different types of hackers:

  • Black Hat Hackers: Individuals with extraordinary computing skills who use these advanced skills with malicious intent.
  • White Hat Hackers: Ethical hackers with advanced computing skills who use their skills for defensive purposes.
  • Gray Hat Hackers: Advanced computer users who work both offensively and defensively and often are security consultants, or white hat hackers who moonlight as black hat hackers. 

Why Organizations Recruit Ethical Hackers?

According to King, on average, organizations take 200 days to realize that hackers have created havoc in their system. Organizations are now hiring ethical hackers to curb security breaches. Ethical hackers must uncover vulnerabilities in the systems and review the compliance of existing security practices to industry standards. Afterward, it is their responsibility to analyze and strengthen security policies, network infrastructure, and end-user practices to safeguard the organization from cyber threats.

Drawing parallels with self-defense classes, King says that ethical hacking is legal and helps defend and not attack the systems. 

The Five Phases of Ethical Hacking

While the phases discussed in the webinar are from the perspective of a hacker, King explains that these are the same phases used by a white hat hacker to test an organization’s network. To put it simply, an attacker uses this approach to breach the network, while the ethical hacker uses it to protect it.

1. Reconnaissance

Reconnaissance, also known as the preparatory phase, is where the hacker gathers information about a target before launching an attack and is completed in phases prior to exploiting system vulnerabilities. One of the first phases of Reconnaissance is dumpster diving. It is during this phase that the hacker finds valuable information such as old passwords, names of important employees (such as the head of the network department), and performs an active reconnaissance to know how the organization functions. As a next step, the hacker completes a process called footprinting to collect data on the security posture, reduces the focus area such as finding out specific IP addresses, identifies vulnerabilities within the target system, and finally draws a network map to know exactly how the network infrastructure works to break into it easily. Footprinting provides important information such as the domain name, TCP and UDP services, system names, and passwords. There are also other ways to do footprinting, including impersonating a website by mirroring it, using search engines to find information about the organization, and even using the information of current employees for impersonation. 

2. Scanning

In this phase, the hacker identifies a quick way to gain access to the network and look for information. There are three methods of scanning: pre-attack, port scanning/sniffing, and information extraction. Each of these phases demonstrates a specific set of vulnerabilities that the hacker can utilize to exploit the system’s weaknesses. The pre-attack phase is where the hacker scans the network for specific information based on the information gathered during reconnaissance. The port scanner or sniffing phase is where scanning includes the use of dialers, port scanners, vulnerability scanners, and other data-gathering equipment. The information extraction phase is where the attackers collect information about ports, live machines and OS details to launch an attack. 

3. Gain Access

The hacker gains access to the system, applications, and network, and escalates their user privileges to control the systems connected to it.

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4. Maintain Access

Here, the hacker secures access to the organization’s Rootkits and Trojans and uses it to launch additional attacks on the network.

5. Cover Tracks

Once the hacker gains access, they cover their tracks to escape the security personnel. They do this by clearing the cache and cookies, tampering the log files, and closing all the open ports. This step is important because it clears the system information making hacking a great deal harder to track.

I. Web application hacking: This type of hacking targets applications that require the use of the internet on your browser. It includes email programs, Google apps, shopping carts, online forms etc.

II. System hacking: This type of hacking seeks access to individual computers on a network by cracking passwords, installing spyware into the system etc.

III. Web server hacking: A web server is a computer that displays web content. Attacks on a web server can affect websites and the users as they are hosted on web servers.

IV. Wireless network hacking: This kind of hacking involves intercepting wireless connection and traffic from non-secure networks. Hackers can steal sensitive user informationcredit card numbers, passwords, etc. All devices incorporated with IoT capability, even modern washing machines, toasters, etc. are susceptible to attacks if they haven’t been secured properly.

V. Social engineering: Social engineering is very different from others as it requires the use of social skills for a hacker to manipulate and deceive people into revealing their personal information.

How Can You Become a Certified Ethical Hacker?

If you have a deep understanding of the OSI model and are well versed with the three legs of hacking: computing, networking, and programming consider an ethical hacking certification. Evaluate the list of potential cybersecurity certifications to decide on the right one that meets your career objectives.

If you have any questions about ethical hacking, share them in the comments section below. You can also check the video on 5 phases of Ethical Hacking by Kevin King that will help you understand the concepts.

What is Meant By Network Security?

Network security is the protection of the layers of security to data, files, and directories against unauthorized access that could lead to data theft or misuse.

Sound network security helps organizations reduce the risk of falling victim to such attacks and enables the safe operation of IT systems. Network security includes both hardware and software technologies. Ideally, networks have layers of security starting from application, antivirus, access management, servers, firewalls, physical access, and policies.

Network Security Definition

Network security is a broad term that covers a multitude of technologies, devices, and processes. In its simplest term, it is a set of rules and configurations designed to protect the integrity, confidentiality, and accessibility of computer networks and data.

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What is The Future of Ethical Hacking?

According to King, the idea of ethical hacking is still foreign to many audiences. However, with the increase in cyber-attacks and security breaches, people are slowly realizing that ethical hackers are the real protectors of the system. Regarding the future challenges in hacking, King, observes that AI hack attacks (Artificial Intelligence specially built to hack a system) will be the next potential danger. Adding that, in such cases, systems will have to defend themselves from AI hacks in the same manner as they do advanced hacks.

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