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Understanding Ethical Hacking: Key Skills and Roles! | #hacking | #cybersecurity | #infosec | #comptia | #pentest | #hacker


The term “hacker” is broadly used in cybersecurity to describe anyone with advanced computer technology skills who’s able to deceive organizations or bypass security and infiltrate networks without proper authorization. Some hackers use their skills to commit fraud, theft, or other nefarious acts, while some simply enjoy the challenge. Whatever the motivation, cybercrime is expected to cost the world $6 trillion by 2021, with one business falling victim to ransomware every 11 seconds. 

Recovering from a cyberattack costs time and money, and there’s no guarantee a hacked organization will recover at all. Cybercrime, particularly data breaches, can damage a company’s reputation with customers and clients, and can even lead to legal action. That’s why ethical hacking skills are so vital to any business with a substantial digital footprint.

Read more: What is Ethical Hacking and Type of Ethical Hackers

Yes, you heard that right. Ethical, or “white hat” hackers are able to think like the bad actors their organizations are trying to stop. By stress-testing an organization’s networks and procedures, they can spot weak points and better anticipate cyber attacks before it’s too late.

Read more: What is Cyber Security and Why It is Important?

What Do Ethical Hackers Do?

In many ways, an ethical hacker is not unlike a secret shopper who visits retail stores incognito in order to spot problems and provide feedback on needed improvements. Secret shoppers may even stage shoplifting incidents to test a store’s security. Similarly, ethical hacking skills—which are nearly identical to those employed by cyber criminals—are invaluable to organizations that want to spot weaknesses and fortify their networks and improve their processes.

Read more: How to Become an Ethical Hacker in 2022?

While companies often employ penetration testers to focus on one or a few potential vulnerabilities in the network, ethical hackers have a much broader role. In addition to penetration testing, they also may attempt to trick employees into revealing sensitive data, test whether laptops and mobile devices are being properly stored and protected, and explore all possible ways a “black hat” hacker may try to wreak havoc.

The EC-Council, the leading cyber security professional certification organization, defines an ethical hacker as “an individual who is usually employed with an organization and who can be trusted to undertake an attempt to penetrate networks and/or computer systems using the same methods and techniques as a malicious hacker.” Sometimes ethical hackers come from the “dark side” after repaying their debt to society, but you can also learn ethical hacking skills in a classroom setting and become certified.

Top Skills of Ethical Hackers

Simply put, an ethical hacker’s job is to approach an organization as if they were a cyber criminal, to replicate a malicious hacker at work but stop short of actually following through on an attack. Instead, they will report any vulnerabilities or concerns and seek countermeasures to shore up the system’s defenses. 

An ethical hacker might employ all or some of these strategies to penetrate a system or spot vulnerabilities:

  • Using port scanning tools like Nmap or Nessus to scan an organization’s systems and find open ports. The vulnerabilities with each of these ports can be studied and remedial measures can be taken.
  • Examining security patch installations and making sure that they can’t be exploited.
  • Engaging in social engineering concepts such as dumpster diving—literally rummaging through trash cans for passwords, charts, sticky notes, or anything with crucial information that can be used to generate an attack. 
  • Employing other social engineering techniques like shoulder surfing to gain access to crucial information or playing the kindness card to trick employees to part with their passwords.
  • Making attempts to evade IDS (Intrusion Detection systems), IPS (Intrusion Prevention systems), honeypots, and firewalls.
  • Sniffing networks, bypassing and cracking wireless encryption, and hijacking web servers and web applications.
  • Investigating issues related to laptop theft and employee fraud.

Ethical hackers are legally required to report any issues they find during the course of their work, since this is privileged information that (in theory, at least) could be used for illegal purposes. Of course, even the most sophisticated ethical hacking skills are wasted if the organization fails to adequately respond to any of the problems or weak spots that are found and reported.

Find Our Ethical Hacking Courses in Top Cities

What Skills and Certifications Should an Ethical Hacker Obtain?

If you’re a former “bad hacker” who has decided to replace your black hat with a white one, then you’re most likely familiar with the tricks of the trade. However, you also should realize that ethical hacking skills (as with unethical hacking skills) are constantly evolving. Since the good guys are always trying to keep up with the latest schemes, it’s important to maintain your edge by keeping an ear to the ground.

As with any profession, passion for the industry is one of the key aspects of success. This, combined with a solid knowledge of networking and programming, will help a professional succeed in the ethical hacking field. Knowing how to think like a black hat hacker is central to developing one’s ethical hacking skills, but you also need to have a clear concept of your ultimate goal to enhance your employer’s (or client’s) security.

As with other computer and network security roles, ethical hackers are in high demand, and this demand is only increasing as the severity and cost of cyber attacks continues to surge. As you might expect, organizations that desperately need skilled and certified ethical hackers are willing to pay a premium. In the United States, the average annual salary for a certified ethical hacker is $90,000, but salaries typically go well beyond the $120,000 range for experienced professionals.

For security professionals, forensic analysts, intrusion analysts, and most importantly—people aspiring to hone their ethical hacking skills and enter these fields—the CEH (v11) certification is an obvious choice. In fact, many IT companies have made CEH certification a required qualification for security-related positions. Regardless, having the latest CEH certification will help open doors to a lucrative and rewarding career.

Simplilearn’s CEH (v11) – Certified Ethical Hacking course training informs its students of the finer nuances of trojans, backdoors, and countermeasures, providing a better understanding of IDS, firewalls, honeypots, and wireless hacking, among other, more advanced focuses. 

Ethical Hacking vs. Penetration Testing

When it comes to ethical hacking and penetration testing, there are a lot of similarities between the two. Both involve using various tools and techniques to assess the security of a system. However, there are also some key differences between the two approaches.

Ethical hacking is typically done with the permission of the owner of the system being tested. This means that the ethical hacker has a clear understanding of what they are allowed to do and what they are not allowed to do. They will also typically have signed a contract that outlines the scope of the work and any limitations.

Penetration testing, on the other hand, is usually done without the permission of the system owner. This is because the penetration tester is trying to replicate the actions of a real attacker. This means that they may not be aware of all the limitations that are in place. As such, they may end up doing more damage to the system than an ethical hacker would.

Overall, ethical hacking is more focused on testing the security of a system and identifying potential vulnerabilities. Penetration testing is more focused on trying to exploit those vulnerabilities to gain access to the system.

Ethical Hacking Techniques

Ethical hacking techniques can be used in order to test the security of systems and networks. By simulating real-world attacks, ethical hackers can help organizations find vulnerabilities and take steps to mitigate them.

Common ethical hacking techniques include password cracking, social engineering, denial of service attacks, and SQL injection. Password cracking involves using specialized software to guess passwords, often using a dictionary of common words or permutations thereof. Social engineering relies on tricking people into revealing sensitive information, such as passwords or credit card numbers. Denial of service attacks overload systems with requests, preventing legitimate users from accessing them. SQL injection inserts malicious code into webforms in order to access databases containing sensitive information.

Careers for Ethical Hackers

As the world increasingly relies on technology, the need for ethical hackers grows. Ethical hackers are responsible for testing systems and identifying vulnerabilities before they can be exploited by malicious actors.

There are many different career paths open to ethical hackers. Some work as independent consultants, while others are employed by companies or government organizations. Many ethical hackers also choose to specialize in a particular area, such as web security or network security.

The demand for ethical hacking services is expected to continue to grow in the coming years. This is due to the ever-evolving nature of cyber threats and the need for organizations to protect their systems from attack.

Different Types of Hackers

There are many different types of hackers, each with their own unique skill set and motivations. Here is a brief overview of some of the most common types of hackers:

  • Black hat hackers: Black hat hackers are the type of hackers that most people think of when they hear the word “hacker.” Black hat hackers engage in illegal or malicious activities, such as stealing data or causing damage to computer systems.
  • White hat hackers: White hat hackers are ethical hackers who use their skills to help organizations improve their security. White hat hacking can involve penetration testing (simulating an attack on a system to find vulnerabilities) or security research (finding new ways to improve security).
  • Gray hat hackers: Gray hat hackers are somewhere in between black hat and white hat hackers. They may engage in some illegal activities, but they also use their skills for good. For example, a gray hat hacker might find a security flaw in a system and then tell the company about it so that it can be fixed, instead of exploiting it for their own gain.
  • Script kiddies: Script kiddies are amateur hackers who use pre-written code or “scripts” to launch attacks. They typically lack the technical knowledge to write their own hacking tools, so they rely on others’ work. Script kiddies are often responsible for launching denial of service (DoS) attacks or spreading malware.
  • Hacktivists: Hacktivists are hackers who use their skills to promote a political or social agenda. For example, they might launch cyber attacks against companies or governments that they disagree with, or release sensitive information to the public in order to expose wrongdoing.
  • Cybercriminals: Cybercriminals are hackers who use their skills for personal gain. They might, for example, steal data such as credit card numbers or confidential information, or extort money from individuals or organizations by threatening to release sensitive data.

How Are Ethical Hackers Different From Malicious Hackers?

Ethical hackers are those who use their hacking skills for good, often working with businesses and organizations to help them improve their cybersecurity. Malicious hackers, on the other hand, use their skills for criminal or disruptive purposes.

One key difference between ethical hackers and malicious hackers is motivation. Ethical hackers are motivated by a desire to improve security and make the world a safer place. Malicious hackers, on the other hand, are motivated by personal gain or a desire to cause harm.

Another key difference is that ethical hackers typically have permission to hack into systems, while malicious hackers do not. This permission is often in the form of a contract or agreement between the ethical hacker and the organization they are working with.

While there are some similarities between ethical hackers and malicious hackers, the differences in motivation and permission make them two very different types of people. Ethical hackers play an important role in keeping our systems and data safe, while malicious hackers pose a serious threat to both individual users and organizations.

What Are Some Limitations of Ethical Hacking?

While ethical hacking can be a very useful tool, there are some limitations to consider. First, it is important to note that ethical hacking is not foolproof. There are always risks involved in any type of hacking, even when done for good intentions. Second, ethical hacking can be time-consuming and expensive. Hiring an ethical hacker or security consultant can be costly, and the process of actually conducting an ethical hack can take a considerable amount of time. Finally, ethical hacking is not always legal. In some cases, it may be necessary to obtain permission from the target organization before proceeding. This can be difficult or impossible in some cases.

With all of these limitations in mind, ethical hacking can still be a valuable, if not required, tool for organizations. When used correctly, it can help to identify and fix security vulnerabilities before they are exploited by malicious actors. If you are considering using ethical hacking within your organization, be sure to weigh the risks and benefits carefully to ensure that it is the right decision for you.

Get Trained and Get Ahead in Your Career

Simply getting a bachelor’s degree won’t cut it for today’s most demanding technology professions. If you want to master the latest ethical hacking skills, tools, and techniques—and leverage them into a satisfying and challenging career—it’s more important than ever to update your skills regularly. Simplilearn’s unique applied learning approach gives students (including working professionals) a proven platform to learn from the best, interact with peers, work on industry-aligned projects, and be career-ready upon completion. If you want to learn more about how you can become a certified ethical hacker, check out our CEH (v11) – Certified Ethical Hacker Course. If you’re ready to take your cyber security career to a whole new level, our Post Graduate Program in Cyber Security, with modules from MIT Schwarzman College of Computing and EC-Council will give you comprehensive training in all things cyber security. What are you waiting for?

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