What is ethical hacking?
Ethical hacking can be defined as all the computer and cybersecurity knowledge used by experts in the field to find weaknesses and flaws in the security of a system.
Ethical hackers are computer security specialists who are tasked with protecting an organisation’s digital data and invade a computer system at the request of a client. Their functions are considered ethical because there is prior consent from the requesting party.
The main objective of ethical hackers is to inform the client of all the organisation’s computer failures, so that he or she can take action in the event of an immediate cyber-collapse. In this way, they prepare themselves to detect intruders and avoid becoming victims of information theft.
Unlike malicious hackers, these cybersecurity experts do not harm organisations. On the contrary, they become essential in detecting weaknesses and offering solutions to improve companies’ online security.
The benefits of ethical hacking
This practice provides multiple benefits to the organisations that hire it. Primarily, it helps to optimise the resources invested in efficient security systems. In addition, it prevents the collapse of computer equipment and prevents hacker attacks on all types of organisations. The aim is to avoid major problems such as a possible loss in production or a stoppage in their activity, economic losses and loss of confidence of users, clients and collaborators due to the consequent reputational crisis.
Financial institutions and companies that develop IT platforms or applications are obliged to comply with certain rules and regulations in order to legalise their products. For them, it is important to have a hacking expert to test and offer security to all customers.
Ethical cyber security allows organisations to maintain a balance in their cyber security systems, and also prevents the leakage of personal or private data.
In order for ethical hacking and cyber security practices to achieve their objectives, it is also important to educate all employees so that they do not put vulnerable company data at risk. For example, use secure passwords to prevent theft when surfing the net or establish periods for changing passwords.
Techniques, tools and tricks
Ethical hackers use the same techniques, tools and tricks as cybercriminals. One of the most commonly used methods is penetration testing, a methodology that consists of planning an attack on the network or platform to find the weakness in the system.
To achieve this, it is necessary to simulate various attack patterns using specific components, such as: security ports (software, filters, antivirus, etc.), coupling elements, web servers, databases, files, telecommunications equipment, applications, infrastructures with access control mechanisms or wireless connections.
There are two types of penetration tests. On the one hand, there are black box tests, in which the expert analyses a network address from the entry point to the exit point, without taking into account the inner workings of the system.
On the other hand, there are the white box tests, in this case it is necessary to have a lot of knowledge about the inner workings of the system, such as the IP structure, the software used and the hardware components.
To carry out both procedures, the ethical hacker must establish a confidentiality contract for the information, then institute scope limits, analyse the results, present the findings to the client and institute corrections.
Phases of ethical hacking and cybersecurity
First, ethical hackers establish an initial reconnaissance, where they compile all data about the organisation and plan procedures to detect weaknesses. Then, to acquire system-specific information, they scan the network ports.
To gain complete control of the system, processes such as password cracking or session hijacking are used. Immediately, they set up phases to retain access and gain administrative privileges on the system through rootkits or Trojans. Finally, clues about the activities performed by the cyber security expert are erased or covered up.
Ethical hacking vs. illegal hacking
The main difference between ethical hacking and illegal hacking is the purpose of their action. The ethical hacker’s main objective is to protect an organisation’s IT infrastructure and information, in order to improve its security. The cybercriminal, on the other hand, aims to steal information and destroy systems.
Other differences between the two terms are the criminal actions carried out by hackers, e.g. extortion, espionage and system paralysis, among others. Their objectives are always aimed at harming the victims.
There is no technical distinction between ethical hacking and hacking, as both procedures use the same knowledge and techniques. Thus, the real challenge for an ethical cybersecurity expert is to discover the vulnerability of a system, explore it and improve it.
However, taking into account different opinions and personal interests, hacking can be considered ethical or unethical, depending on the individual assessment.