Professional Ethical Hacking

August 23, 2013 - Information Technology

Ethical hacking.  Seems like an oxymoron, doesn’t it?  It may surprise you to learn that not all of what is termed “hacking” is bad.  Many computer experts are well-versed hackers, and they use their knowledge to help the technology-using public.  How can hacking be good?  You might ask.  Well, let’s find out.

Black Hat v. White Hat

We’ve all been conditioned to recognize computer hacking as malicious, harmful behavior.  Sneaky individuals break through the computer security on our computers without permission and steal private information, which could possibly lead to identity theft; they load systems with spam or plant viruses that will do the larger dirty work for them (and consequently give us the headaches of trying to get our computers working normally again).  In the tech industry, this is called black hat hacking, and it’s made a name for itself.  Black hat is also the complete opposite of its well-intentioned white hat cousin.

On the other side of the same coin is a good hacker, or white hat, who aims to fix computer problems.  Such ethical hackers generally are hired by individuals, or more commonly by companies, to identify threats to their systems.  These individuals are often academically trained, having earned a PA information technology degree, and are sometimes certified by organizations like the International Council of E-Commerce Consultants or the National Security Agency in ethical hacking, bearing a title such as “Certified Ethical Hacker.”  They’re taught the same techniques that black hats employ and are tested on their abilities to gain access to computer networks and manipulate data.  A white hat determines how well-protected a network is (revealed by how easily they can gain access to it) and will inform the company of already-existing computer security breaches and fixes that may be employed.  Who would’ve thought that ethical hackers were actually out there?

White Hat Hacking Strategies

Ethical hackers use a variety of methods to test the computer security of any given computer network.  In some instances, it could be as simple as worming their way into a system, or as complex as relying on human fallibility and trust.  Many factors go into determining security, so white hats explore several different avenues, later helping to fix the issues.

1.       Penetration Testing – Penetration is the most basic and primary means for an ethical hacker to determine the level of system security.  Throughout the process, hackers use their knowledge to try to get into a computer network.  The hacker may engage in such activities as scanning ports and path installations, leaving files behind for the company to indicate which areas were successfully hacked and must be improved.  The more difficult it is for professionals to make their way into the system, the better protected it is. 

2.       White Box and Black Box Testing – Ethical hackers not only perform standard penetration, but they do so with different levels of knowledge in order to show the difficulty levels of attacking a system.  White box testing is conducted when an ethical hacker poses as a threat with insider knowledge.  To execute it, he or she may request information like passwords to bypass frontline computer security measures, which those such as former employees could use to gain access and exact revenge on their employer.  Black box testing, on the other hand, forces a hacker to go into a system blind.  In the black box strategy, a hacker acts as a common thief who wants to cause system problems and must rely on skill and malicious software programs to get inside.

3.       Social Engineering – This method is one which attempts to manipulate people into providing the information needed for a successful hack.  Rather than requesting passwords outright to gain system entry, social engineering involves the ethical hacker posing as a threat and includes measures aimed at getting people to unknowingly divulge such information to obtain private data like financial info.  Sound familiar?  That could be because a common social engineering method is phishing, which email users are familiar with.  Phishing generally involves sending emails from a supposedly legitimate source, often linking to a phony website that requests passwords or address data, or may install a virus and more. 

It’s clear that not all hacking practices are shady, threatening ones.  Getting a handle on computer computer security early on can prevent a world of problems for companies and individuals alike, and is largely made possible through the efforts of ethical hackers.  Are you computer savvy?  Just tired of all of the new risks that you need to guard your computer against every single day?  Why not train for a PA information technology degree at PTC and learn to solve these problems for the larger public?  Contact us today for more information about the program and to get started in making the technology community a better place!

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