What Is Ethical Hacking, and How Does It Work?

  • Crypto Guru
    March 30, 2023, 15:48

The term hacking is often associated with cyberattacks, in which personal information or data related to a business is accessed by third parties, stolen, or damaged. In simple words, the risk of hacking means your data is not secure. Insufficient cybersecurity is one of the key issues we face today because almost everything is digitalised. So, organisations take serious measures to prevent harm, including implementing additional levels of protection and even hacking their own systems to identify vulnerabilities.

Here, businesses need a group of cybersecurity professionals called ethical hackers who conduct risk assessments and security tests against different vulnerability scenarios. Ethical hackers, also known as “white-hat” hackers, access the system and try to copy or change the data with the permission of its owner. This process helps organisations identify gaps in their systems and protect their sensitive information from malicious hackers who may exploit the same flaws in the future.

The cybersecurity industry is expected to grow, so ethical hacking is a promising career path. To learn how it works and what skills and certifications one needs to become an ethical hacker, read the Grapherex blog.

Types of Hackers

Traditional hacking may result in damage to operating systems, theft of information, and other disruptive outcomes. Hackers can be either ethical or malicious and can fall into one of the three main categories: authorised, unauthorised, and grey-hat hackers. Let’s find out more about each of them.

Unauthorised Hackers

Black-hat hackers, also known as unauthorised hackers, are individuals who use their technical skills to gain access to computer systems and networks. Their ultimate goal is to steal valuable data for personal gain. These hackers use various tactics, including malware, social engineering, and DDoS attacks, to execute their plans.

Black-hat hackers may work independently, as part of a larger cybercrime organisation, or on behalf of an enemy nation. Their motivations include gaining a reputation in the hacking community, financial gain, or conducting espionage on corporations or states.

Authorised Hackers

Authorised hackers have permission to hack a system and are typically hired by companies to test operating systems, hardware, and software, to identify vulnerabilities and improve security. White-hat hackers follow a code of ethics and established laws and access permissions when conducting their activities.

The key concepts that such hackers need to follow include staying within the legal field, defining the scope of the assessment, always reporting vulnerabilities, providing advice for resolving them, and respecting data sensitivity. We will talk more about the way they operate below.

Grey-Hat Hackers

Grey-hat hackers are a mix of both authorised and unauthorised hackers. They exploit security vulnerabilities to raise public awareness about the existence of particular or common vulnerabilities. While they usually don’t have malicious intent, they do not necessarily adhere to a code of ethics.

Grey-hat hackers reveal security vulnerabilities either privately or publicly. Sometimes, this results in attempts by companies and individuals to close the identified security gap. This was the case with the Linux routers’ security failure. However, it may also simplify the theft of information from systems for malicious hackers if the results of a hack are published.

Ethical Hackers vs Malicious Hackers

As you already know, not all hackers are cybercriminals. The main difference between an ethical and a malicious hacker is that the former does not try to cause harm or use the data obtained to blackmail, compromise, rob the owner, or disrupt the network. Their main goal is to follow the same path that other hackers would use in order to identify security gaps and fix them, making it impossible to access the system from the outside.

How Does Ethical Hacking Work?

Ethical hacking is a great tool to use for businesses and individuals that want to ensure the security of their computer networks and systems. Here is a brief outline of how ethical hacking typically works.

Step 1. Planning

An ethical hacker investigates the target system or network to gather data that could be used to identify weaknesses. They look for IP addresses, domain names, network topology, and other relevant information.

Step 2. Scanning

Then, a hacker uses scanning tools to find open ports, services, and other details about the target system that could be exploited to launch an attack. These instruments include Nmap (Network Mapper), OpenVAS (Open Vulnerability Assessment System), and Acunetix Vulnerability Scanner.

Step 3. Enumeration

The next step is to search the target system for more specific data, such as user accounts, network shares, and other details that can be used to gain unauthorised access. This information will be used in later stages of the hacking process. Enumeration requires the use of means like port scanners and protocol-specific tools.

Step 4. Identifying Vulnerabilities

Then, the ethical hacker uses both automated means and manual operations to find weaknesses in the system being investigated. They look for outdated software, incorrectly configured settings, unsecured network connections and weak passwords. This requires analysing system configurations, reviewing code, and conducting network traffic analysis.

Step 5. Exploitation

Once vulnerabilities are found, the hacker attempts to take advantage of them to gain unauthorised access to the target network. This is the most interesting part of the task. Exploitation is a phase of the cyberattack when the attacker has successfully gained access to the system and is now exploiting its weaknesses. The ultimate goal is to gain control of the target system or steal sensitive data from it.

Step 5. Reporting

Finally, the hacker records the weaknesses and breaches that were found and offers suggestions for intensifying security. The organisation can then use this report to address deficiencies in the system or network and improve overall security.

Skills and Certifications That Ethical Hackers Need

Not every professional coder or data analyst is an ethical hacker. Of course, if they have a technical background and enough experience in programming, it will be easier for them to become one. Here we gathered a list of hard and soft skills these hackers need:

  • Computer skills
  • Advanced programming levels
  • Basic knowledge of hardware
  • Understanding of web and desktop app development
  • Ability to work with databases
  • Knowledge of cryptography
  • Good skills in networking
  • Communication skills
  • Problem-solving skills

The higher the level of skills and experience, the better the hacker is. There are various online courses available to those who want to become white-hat hackers. If you’re interested, you can try this sphere for yourself.


Can Blockchains Be Hacked?

Blockchains are considered to be highly secure and resistant to hacking because of their decentralised nature and use of cryptographic techniques. However, they are not completely immune to attacks. The common problems that blockchains face are 51% attacks, smart contract vulnerabilities, private key theft, and malware attacks. Luckily, there is already blockchain-based ethical hacking, which helps identify the weaknesses of the blockchain systems and DApps and maintain security in blockchain.

Are There Any Limitations of Ethical Hacking?

  1. Yes, ethical hackers face limitations and constraints that malicious hackers don’t.
    Ethical hackers are bound by a defined scope, beyond which they cannot proceed, but they discuss the potential for out-of-scope attacks with the organisation.
  2. Ethical hackers face resource constraints: time, computing power, and the company’s budget.
  3. White-hat hackers may be restricted in testing methods. For example, some organisations ask them to avoid test cases that may cause servers to crash (like Denial-of-Service attacks).