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The Definition and Applications of Ethical Hacking

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If you’re a programmer looking to enter into a new and fascinating profession, cybersecurity is a great place to start. One of the most exciting disciplines in cybersecurity is known as “ethical hacking”. Explain what it is and how it helps keep digital infrastructures safe. Keep reading to find out.

Introduction to Ethical Hacking

Once upon a time, “hacker” was not merely another synonym for “cybercriminal.” As with any other field, hackers began as ordinary people with a penchant for gadgets and technology. They were curious about the world of electronics and sought knowledge by pushing them to their limits.

Huge, interconnected systems, like the telephone network and the Internet, were irresistible to these first hackers. The question “What if…?” was posed. They then experimented with methods to probe and examine these systems; not all of these methods were entirely lawful, but they were generally innocuous and not done with malicious intent.

Eventually, fraudsters began to utilize similar methods, such as scanning networks for security vulnerabilities and exploiting any that were found in order to do harm or make a profit. As a result, “hacker” has become slang meaning a person who engages in illegal activity through penetrating a computer system or network.

Ethical hacking, though, is where things get interesting. The security of a network can be improved if an individual or group is actively looking for security flaws, just like hackers do, but then reporting or resolving them. So, that’s exactly what ethical hackers do — they look for holes in networks, software, and systems, and make sure they get addressed before they can be used to inflict damage.

White hat hacking is another name for ethical hacking, while black hat hacking refers to hacking in the service of cybercriminals. In classic Westerns, the “good guys” and “bad guys” would typically be identified by the colors of the clothes they wore. Grey hat refers to ethical hackers who get access to a system without the owner’s knowledge or permission.

In other words, what exactly do ethical hackers do?

Breaking into, accessing, or exploiting computers, networks, or software with the purpose of exposing vulnerabilities before they can be utilized by cybercriminals falls under the umbrella of ethical hacking. Below are a few examples of the types of things an ethical hacker may be asked to accomplish — or may participate in just for fun.

Penetration testing

In order to perform penetration testing, hackers must break into a system from afar, typically using the Internet. You might image someone sitting at a computer, trying to hack into another system across the nation or around the world.

However, there are numerous approaches to conducting a penetration test. Scanning for open ports and attempting to hijack connection-listening software is one possible tactic. Exploring the public-facing interface of web apps for vulnerabilities is another method of attack. This is especially true with password-protected applications.

Software Vulnerability Testing

A second popular activity for ethical hackers is searching for security flaws in software before or after it has been deployed. The failure to address software vulnerabilities leaves systems and networks vulnerable to attack.

An ethical hacker might spend time attempting to crash the software in various ways, and then checking to see if those crashes can be exploited to carry out a privilege escalation, arbitrary code execution, or other common attack. If a flaw is discovered, it can be reported to the developers so they can patch it up before it is exploited by hackers.

Social Engineering

Social engineering experiments against businesses are another tool available to ethical hackers. When someone is “social engineered,” they are persuaded to divulge sensitive information or grant unauthorized access to a computer, network, or physical location.

An ethical hacker would, for instance, dial the customer service number of a major telecommunications provider to inquire about the possibility of gaining access to an individual’s account details. They could also try to reset a different user’s password by contacting customer service. The company will pass the social engineering exam if it has solid procedures in place and the staff consistently follows them. If it does not, the hacker might offer advice to the business on how to fix the problem.

Cyber Threat Analysis

Some “good guys” look for duplicates of recently discovered malware and infections. The next step is an attempt to determine the malware’s inner workings, its intended purpose, and perhaps even the identity of its creator. Such an examination can reveal useful information about the malware’s origin, its intended victims, and potential countermeasures. While others have helped bring down the C&C servers that direct botnets made up of infected computers, some hackers have been able to slow down or halt large virus outbreaks.

Bounties for Finding Bugs

Through bug bounty programs, several businesses encourage ethical hackers to try to exploit security flaws in their products. Any hacker who can prove a security hole in the company’s software or platform will be compensated monetarily, perhaps up to $10,000 depending on the size of the organization and the severity of the problem.

By offering rewards for discreetly reporting vulnerabilities to a company rather than disclosing them publicly or utilizing them for nefarious purposes, bug bounties essentially crowdsource ethical hacking to thousands of people across the world. Furthermore, this is a perfect opportunity for ethical hackers to hone their craft without worrying about crossing any ethical or legal lines.

Competing to be the Last Team Standing in a Capture the Flag Game
Ethical hackers often compete in events known as capture-the-flag (CTF) competitions. These events frequently take place in conjunction with big hacker or cybersecurity conferences like DEFCON.

Teams of hackers compete in a “Capture the Flag” (CTF) event by attempting to breach the networks of opposing teams while also defending their own. Among hackers, taking first place in a CTF tournament is a great accomplishment, and it may even lead to future professional or financial success.

Where Ethical Hackers Work?

Some so-called “ethical hackers” are just coders, IT pros, or cybersecurity experts who hack for fun; others, however, are paid by businesses to ensure the safety of their goods and networks.

Computer Security Personnel in Organizations

Ethical hackers may be used by larger companies to test the security of their products and internal systems. This is frequently referred to as a “red team,” in contrast to the “blue team” of developers and IT professionals whose job it is to protect the systems against attack.

The purpose of a red team is to test the safety of the business’s products and infrastructure by exploiting any potential weak points. If any security holes are discovered, they will be reported to the proper group for fixing before they may be exploited by hackers.

Independent Cybersecurity Agencies

Many businesses in the cybersecurity industry are looking for ethical hackers to fill positions in their ranks. They may be contracted as an external “red team,” whose job it is to look for security flaws in a system. Software like antivirus and intrusion detection systems are examples of cybersecurity software. Other businesses provide breached businesses with investigation and incident response services to figure out what went wrong and how to prevent similar incidents in the future.

Government and Military

Cybersecurity defense organizations and even full-scale cyberwarfare operations have been established by a growing number of nations. Signals intelligence, or hacking into foreign governments’ computer networks for surveillance purposes, has long been the purview of the National Security Agency in the United States.

U.S. Cyber Command has centralized the many cyber warfare units across the military services. The government has a civilian agency called the Computer and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) whose mission is to safeguard agencies from cyberattacks. The need for hackers, coders, and IT professionals for cyber operations is widespread, and similar agencies and companies can be found in many other countries.

What Comes Next: Ethical Hacking

Improving your coding knowledge is the first step toward a career as an ethical hacker. If you want to start learning Python or C++ for a job in cybersecurity, Sololearn is an excellent resource for free online courses. Get the Sololearn app for your phone and study anywhere. With Sololearn, you can get started on your new professional path whenever and anywhere you like.

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