What Is Ethical Hacking?

    Ethical hacking is a practice whereby an organization authorizes a professional to use hacking techniques to attempt to access their computer systems, networks, or applications to identify potentially exploitable vulnerabilities. 

    Ethical hacking is often conflated with penetration testing, however, the two or not the same. While penetration testing focuses on enacting simulated attacks on predetermined targets using specific methods, ethical hacking comprises a much broader scope of techniques to improve overall security posture. As such, ethical hacking can be considered as an umbrella term that encompasses a wide range of assessment processes, including penetration testing.

    What are the types of hackers?

    Hackers generally fall under three main classifications: white hat, black hat, and grey hat. 

    White hat hackers are ethical hackers who offer their services to organizations to help them assess and strengthen their security posture. Black hat hackers, on the other hand, are those who engage in hacking activities for nefarious purposes, such as to disrupt operations or destroy or steal sensitive data. 

    Grey hat hackers, as the name suggests, fall somewhere between the other two classifications. Unlike white hat hackers, they engage in hacking activities and access systems without the express permission of the organizations to whom they belong, however, they do not necessarily have the malicious intent of black hat hackers. Rather, they may demand payment for discovering security vulnerabilities, despite not being solicited to do so, or may choose to disclose their findings publicly. While their intentions are not necessarily malicious, neither can they be considered entirely ethical.

    Why is ethical hacking important?

    Ethical hacking is important because it facilitates the implantation of a proactive security approach. By employing an ethical hacker to emulate the process of real-world cyber attacks, organizations can identify vulnerabilities in their security measures and remediate them pre-emptively to prevent potential security incidents. As such, ethical hacking helps organizations strengthen their overall security posture so that they can protect sensitive data, preserve their reputations, and ensure they remain compliant with regulatory standards.

    What are the fundamental concepts of ethical hacking?

    There are a wide variety of different processes and techniques which comprise the work of ethical hackers. However, the following are the foundational aspects of ethical hacking:

    • Reconnaissance: An ethical hacker engages in preliminary information gathering to collect information about a target network or system.
    • Environmental scanning: Through the use of scanning tools, the hacker scans an IT environment to identify potentially exploitable vulnerabilities in security measures.
    • Exploitation and system access: The hacker attempts to leverage identified vulnerabilities to gain access to the target network or system.
    • Assessment: Once they have gained access, the hacker assesses the nature and severity of the impact on compromised systems.
    • Reporting: After documenting their findings, the hacker provides a report to the organization, offering recommendations for remediation and ways to strengthen security posture.

    What are the roles and responsibilities of ethical hackers?

    Due to the broad scope and critical nature of their work, ethical hackers have a variety of roles and responsibilities to fulfill. Primarily, their duties involve the assessment of security measures and risks associated with identified vulnerabilities. Additionally, they are required to provide client organizations with recommendations for remediation and risk mitigation, as well as to collaborate closely with security teams to implement best practices and ensure regulatory compliance.

    Fostering proactive security through ethical hacking

    Cyber threats are constantly evolving, so to maintain maximal resilience against an attack, organizations need to embrace proactivity in assessing and improving upon their security measures. This is, in essence, what ethical hacking is all about. By employing skilled ethical hackers to emulate attacks on their systems, organizations can take preventative action in identifying, prioritizing, and remediating security vulnerabilities to improve their overall security posture and ensure that they remain resilient against cyber attacks.

    Glossary related terms
    Automated Penetration Testing Automated Security Breach and Attack Simulation (BAS) External Attack Surface Management (EASM) Ransomware Readiness Assessment Security Control Validation Security Validation Vulnerability Management Active Testing