Ethical hacking is conforming to accepted professional standards of conduct. Traditionally, a hacker is someone who likes to tinker with software or electronic systems. Hackers enjoy exploring and learning how computer systems operate. They love discovering new ways to work electronically.
Ethical hacking — also known as penetration testing or white-hat hacking — involves the same tools, tricks, and techniques that hackers use, but with one major difference: Ethical hacking is legal. Ethical hacking is performed with the target’s permission. The intent of ethical hacking is to discover vulnera-bilities from a hacker’s viewpoint so systems can be better secured. It’s part of an overall information risk management program that allows for ongoing security improvements.
Hacking preys on weak security practices and undisclosed vulnerabilities. Firewalls, encryption, and virtual private networks (VPNs) can create a false feeling of safety. These security systems often focus on high-level vulnerabili-ties, such as viruses and traffic through a firewall, without affecting how hack-ers work. Attacking your own systems to discover vulnerabilities is a step to making them more secure. This is the only proven method of greatly hardening your systems from attack. If you don’t identify weaknesses, it’s a matter of time before the vulnerabilities are exploited.
It’s impossible to buttress all possible vulnerabilities on all your systems. You can’t plan for all possible attacks — especially the ones that are currently unknown. However, the more combinations you try — the more you test whole systems instead of individual units — the better your chances of discovering vulnerabilities that affect everything as a whole.
Ethical hacking can take persistence. Time and patience are important. Be careful when you’re performing your ethical hacking tests. A hacker in your network or a seemingly benign employee looking over your shoulder may watch what’s going on. This person could use this information against you.
It’s not practical to make sure that no hackers are on your systems before you start. Just make sure you keep everything as quiet and private as possi-ble. This is especially critical when transmitting and storing your test results. If possible, encrypt these e-mails and files using Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) or something similar. At a minimum, password-protect them.
You’re now on a reconnaissance mission. Harness as much information as possible about your organization and systems, which is what malicious hack-ers do. Start with a broad view and narrow your focus:
1. Search the Internet for your organization’s name, your computer and network system names, and your IP addresses. Google is a great place to start for this.
2. Narrow your scope, targeting the specific systems you’re testing. Whether physical-security structures or Web applications, a casual assessment can turn up much information about your systems.
3. Further narrow your focus with a more critical eye. Perform actual scans and other detailed tests on your systems.
4. Perform the attacks, if that’s what you choose to do.