As technology continues to advance, cyber-threats are becoming the norm. Cyber-criminals are constantly trying to find ways to exploit systems and networks, all with the purpose of stealing sensitive information or causing damage.
These challenges in the tech space have led to the emergence of the term ethical hacking. The purpose of this field is to do what the cybercriminals are doing, but this time around with good intentions with the goal to stop the criminal acts.
Ethical hacking primarily involves identifying and fixing weaknesses to prevent cyber attacks and protect infrastructure.
A Little Background
I don't know about you, but my journey into tech was inspired by the term "hacker". I know what you are thinking, but hear me out.
I grew up in an environment where the internet and access to technology were limited, and just like any other kid my career options were limited to the most glorified paths in a common African household, that is: Doctor, Engineer, Pilot, etc... ask any kid from an African household, and I bet these are the paths their parents wanted them to pursue.
But this ideology was changed by two things: my love for movies and my neighbor's computer. I would spend most of my time watching movies at my friend's place and I would take note of specific things, like how technology played a role in outsmarting the bad guys. This concept would later on push me to venture into the tech.
My interest in cybersecurity, on the other hand, was inspired by watching my friends play games. Remember the old-day fun games like GTA, Mortal Kombat, and Roadrash? Yep, those games. One thing that was common in these games was that they all had cheat codes that would help you cheat through a mission.
I wanted to learn more about how this was possible. But whenever I asked, the response I got was, "The game is hacked that's why we are able to cheat and finish quickly".
Now I hope you understand why I said the term hacker inspired me. Basically at first, I wanted to venture into the field to learn how to hack my way through games. But with more research and learning, my understanding of the term changed quite a bit.
And that's what we will be discussing in this article: A cybersecurity definition of what it means to be an Ethical Hacker and its importance.
We'll also take a look at the different types of ethical hacking, the roles of an ethical hacker, the skills they need, the challenges they face in the field, and what exactly you should learn to pursue a successful career in this cybersecurity.
By the end of this article, you should have a clear understanding of what exactly ethical hacking is all about and how you can use it to protect not only yourself but also your family, friends, and organization from cyber threats.
Let's get started!
What is Hacking?
Before we define the term Ethical Hacking, we first need to understand what we mean by the term hacking. Hacking has been in existence since the early days of computer development. The only difference is that back in the day, hacking was done as a way to help people learn how computers functioned and what they machines could do.
Now, as technology continued to evolve, the experimentation that was meant for learning and understanding purposes evolved too. It gave rise to people exploiting the systems for their personal gain. This is where the common definition of the term Hacking comes from.
For simplicity, I would describe "hacking" as the illegal process of gaining access/breaking into a computer system or network without the owner's permission for personal gain.
Different Types of Hackers
We have different types of hackers, and they include:
Black Hat Hackers - They break into a system without the owner's permission for personal gain or malicious intent.
Gray Hat Hackers - They break into a computer system/network without the owner's permission but they don't mean any harm. They may choose to inform the owner of the vulnerabilities or even use the skills for personal gain.
Script Kiddie - Also known as Amateurs. They are attackers with little or no hacking skills They mostly rely on existing tools and available online instructions and scripts to launch an attack. It's worth noting as most of them are not aware of what they are doing, their acts may result in devastating results.
Organized Hackers - Also known as hacker groups or hacker collectives. These hackers are a group of individuals who work together to conduct an attack against a specific target to achieve a common goal. These groups can be categorized into a few categories:
– State-sponsored hackers
The most commonly known of these groups include Anonymous, Lizard Squad, and APT groups. It's important to note that these groups are illegal and their acts may cause serious harm to individuals, organizations, and governments.
- White Hat Hackers - Also known as Ethical Hackers. They break into a system with the owner's permission. Their main task is to identify vulnerabilities and fix them to avoid exploitation from the outside. We'll learn more about them in the coming sections.
What is Ethical Hacking?
To counter these malicious practices, organizations and governments realized the need for security professionals whose sole purpose was to protect the systems from unauthorized access. Their roles also included testing the systems to ensure they were safe.
That's how the term ethical hacking came into existence. And from there people started pursuing it as a career.
With this brief explanation, we can define Ethical hacking as breaking into a computer system/network with the permission of the system/network owner with the sole purpose of identifying weaknesses that might be exploited or used for malicious intentions.
The main goal of ethical hacking is to identify potential security threats and fix them before they can be used for malicious acts. Ethical hacking also involves "penetration testing" or "pen testing". People who practice it are known as Ethical Hackers or White hat hackers.
Different Types of Ethical Hacking
We do have different types of ethical hacking, and the most common ones include:
- Network hacking - This type of attack involves testing the security of an organization's infrastructure, firewalls, and other networking devices.
- Web application hacking - Involves testing for vulnerabilities in an organization's web applications such as e-commerce sites, online banking platforms, and other web-based services.
- Social engineering - Involves testing how likely it is that employees will fall for phishing attacks and other social engineering techniques.
- Wireless hacking - Involves testing the wireless security of organizations and how likely it is to be the point of attack.
- Physical penetration testing - Involves testing the organization's physical premises security including data centers and other facilities.
Role of an Ethical Hacker
Being an ehthical hacker involves many tasks. But their primary role is to help identify vulnerabilities in the system before they are exploited by malicious hackers. By doing this, the affected parties are able to improve security and prevent any form of cyber attack.
In addition to this, other tasks include:
- Vulnerability assessment
- Enhance security awareness in their respective organization
- Ensure compliance with the industry regulation and standards
- Security research and development
- Ensure there is minimal risk of data breaches and other security incidents.
- Training and education - ethical hackers spend better part of their time creating awareness about cybersecurity and how to prevent the attacks.
Benefits of Ethical Hacking
Ethical Hacking plays a crucial role in preventing cyber attacks. The main idea behind this is to use the same tools and techniques used by attackers to identify vulnerabilities. The good thing is that it has proven to play a major role in many organizations in a positive way.
In addition to helping identify vulnerabilities and helping organizations improve their security, ethical hacking can provide a wide range of benefits including:
- Mitigating risks - this can help prevent data breaches, cyber attacks and other security incidents.
- Cost effective - ethical hacking is a cost effective way for an organization to test their security systems.
- Compliance - ethical hacking can help an organization ensure that they meet the required compliance requirements and avoid costly penalties.
- Continuous Improvement - ethical hacking is not a one time process. It's an evolving field, meaning there will be new risks each day. Having an ethical hacker in place can help ensure security is up to date with the latest technologies.
Challenges of Ethical Hacking
Just like any other career, the ethical hacking field has some challenges too. These challenges can range from legal and ethical to technical issues, which from time to time need to be addressed to ensure success in the testing and the work itself.
The most common problem that faces many people is how to correctly navigate the legal and ethical considerations around the field. As much as ethical hacking is legal in many countries, it is still important to ensure that everything is done within the bounds of the law. You have to be extra careful not to fall on the wrong side of the law.
In addition to adhering to specific countries' laws, ethical hackers should also adhere to strict ethical standards, which regulate and ensure their activities do not cause any harm.
Another common challenge is obtaining the proper authorizations and credentials to conduct the testing. As much as we live in a free world, you just can't decide to perform an ethical test because you have the skills. You need to have written consent showing that you have permission to conduct the test.
Having credentials like certificates can also help during job hunting. But this comes as a challenge to those who can't afford to pay for such certifications.
Speaking of technical challenges, the primary technical challenge that most ethical hackers face is identifying vulnerabilities in complex systems. If you want to be an efficient ethical hacker, you must be proficient in various technologies including programming languages, security tools, and so on. This enables you to have a strong understanding of the network architecture and protocols making it easy to find vulnerabilities.
Prioritizing can also be a big challenge at some point. In a scenario where there are many vulnerabilities within a system, since all may pose a serious threat, it may be a challenge for the ethical hacker to prioritize which needs to be tended to first.
Ethical Hacking Certifications and Training
In order for one to become an ethical hacker, having a solid understanding of computer systems, networks, and programming languages is essential. The good thing is that you can gain these skills through formal education, practical experience, online certifications, training, and so on.
The most preferred method by many employers is going through certifications from recognized bodies. In this industry, there are multiple certificates and learning resources, so if you are looking at where to get started you might want to try out these platforms for both certificates and knowledge.
- Metasploit Unleashed
- SANS Institute
- Offensive Security
- National Cyber League
- Capture the Flag (CTF)
- DEF CON CTF
- Cyber FastTrack
- BSides CTF
- International Council of Electronic Commerce Consultants (EC-Council) - offers certifications such as Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH), Certified Network Defender (CND), and Certified Chief Information Security Officer (CCISO).
- Offensive Security - offers certifications such as Offensive Security Certified Professional (OSCP) and Offensive Security Wireless Professional (OSWP).
- International Information System Security Certification Consortium (ISC)² - offers certifications such as Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP), Certified Cloud Security Professional (CCSP), and Systems Security Certified Practitioner (SSCP).
- Global Information Assurance Certification (GIAC) - offers certifications such as GIAC Penetration Tester (GPEN), GIAC Certified Incident Handler (GCIH), and GIAC Certified Forensic Analyst (GCFA).
- CompTIA - offers certifications such as CompTIA Security+, CompTIA Cybersecurity Analyst (CySA+), and CompTIA Advanced Security Practitioner (CASP+).
- Cisco - offers certifications such as Cisco Certified Network Associate Security (CCNA Security), Cisco Certified Network Professional Security (CCNP Security), and Cisco Certified CyberOps Associate.
As tech continues to evolve so do the cyber threats. This means that organizations must invest in cybersecurity strategies to help prevent any form of exploitation. After all, prevention is better than cure. Taking early measures might come in handy along the way, saving you more than you can imagine.
Given the importance of ethical hacking in ensuring security, we should all take it very seriously. This involves using secure networks and encrypted networks, enabling advanced layers of protection like 2FA and MFA, investing in qualified security personnel, and constantly creating awareness amongst employees and communities at large.
By following these steps we will be able to improve on our security and protect our sensitive data, minimizing the risk of being victims of cyber attacks.
Keep Safe 🛡️.