What Is Ethical Hacking? All You Need To Know

What is ethical hacking

Table of Contents

A security breach is analogous to a crack in any system. If a network has even the tiniest opening for hackers, they will find and exploit it. 

As with water flowing through the crack in a dam and causing it to crumble, hackers can cause havoc on computer networks by using those same small gaps in security to take over entire systems and networks.

That said, it is not surprising that the word “hacker” has acquired a negative connotation since many people have associated it with cybercriminals. 

However, the term can be used positively to refer to individuals known as “ethical hackers” who look for vulnerabilities in systems and then report them to system administrators to fix them before malicious hackers take advantage of them. This process is known as “ethical hacking”. 

Let us delve a little deeper into the details of what is ethical hacking. 

Key Takeaways

  • Learn about ethical hacking
  • The difference between ethical hacking and unethical hacking
  • Learn what ethical hackers do
  • Learn about how ethical hacking works
  • Advantages and disadvantages of ethical hacking
  • Know some of the ethical and legal issues of hacking

What is Ethical Hacking?

Ethical hacking is the practice of testing and identifying security weaknesses in a computer system, network, or software. This is done with the help of an ethical hacker using various tools and techniques. 

He identifies vulnerabilities, assesses the extent of damage malicious hackers can cause, and provides recommendations on how to fix those issues.

His main goal is to prevent the stealing of sensitive information, infiltration in security systems, privacy invasion, or money extortion caused by introducing viruses, spyware, malware, ransomware, etc., funded by fraudulent or terrorist groups or an enemy nation.

An ethical hacker attempts to counter the menace of unethical hacking that has created huge losses for all countries, organisations, and companies. We can understand this from the research that says data breaches will cost organisations $4.35 billion in 2022.

As you are already acquainted with the concepts of ethical hacking, let us also quickly recap the fundamental differences between a malicious hacker and an ethical hacker.

The Difference Between Ethical Hacking and Unethical Hacking

Ethical Hacking Unethical Hacking
1. Widely known as White Hat Hackers. This term is based on mid-1960s western movies, where the good guys used to wear white hat. They are also known as “Penetration hackers”. 1. Widely known as Black Hat Hackers. This term is based on mid-1960s western movies, where the bad guy wears a black hat. They are also known as “Phreakers” or “Crackers”.
2. It is a legal hacking method as access to the target network or system is authorised. 2. It is an illegal hacking method as access to the target network, or system is completely unauthorised.
3. It provides access to the computer network to detect security flaws, troubleshoot vulnerabilities, and produce an assessment report for the system administrator. 3. The malicious hacker gains access to a computer network with the intent of personal gain, defacing the website, crashing back-end servers, inserting viruses, financial loss, or harming the reputation of the organisation.
4. The hacker accesses the security system with the goal and responsibility of detecting the vulnerabilities, reporting them, and resolving them. 4. It has unreported access and attains no accountability for any harm caused to the target.
5. Uses the same hacking tools, techniques, tricks, and skills as ethical hacking. 5. It also uses the same skills, tools, and techniques as unethical hacking.

How Does Ethical Hacking Work?

How Does Ethical Hacking Work?

Below are the important steps that every ethical hacker must follow in order to establish a strong cybersecurity foundation

1. The initial stage is to plan, analyse, and surveillance. Here, the types of attacks and possible vulnerabilities are analysed. The test goals, the scope of operation, and access are fixed. The intel about the target is collected through IP addresses, TCP or UDP services, or network hosts.

2. Scanning is performed using dialers, network analysers, sweepers, and network mappers. Also, penetration testing is done to identify the intruder’s user accounts, login passwords, IP addresses, and other behaviours. This is done to find quick and simple ways to log into his network and search for data.

3. To look for a target’s weak spots and gaps, vulnerability scanning is performed using automated technologies like Acunetix, Be SECURE, Burp Suite, Tenable Nessus, etc.

4. Port Scanning is run to analyse IP addresses, hosts and ports of the target host to determine whether the intruder is sending or receiving data. It is done using port dialers, scanners, and other data-gathering tools or applications.

5. Network Scanning identifies active network devices and detects network vulnerabilities to fortify a company’s network by locating its gaps and weaknesses.

6. Attempts are made to acquire access to an intruder’s weaknesses by staging web application trials or attacks, such as launching malicious software applications, stealing confidential data, gaining unauthorised access, demanding ransom, etc. 

7. Create firewall protection for the network infrastructure using password protection, securing potential entry points and vulnerability scanning. 

8. Attack simulation is performed to determine whether the target’s vulnerability can be exploited to continue having access through the same channels.

9. Once the ethical hacker gains access to the target’s system,  using the hijacked system as a launching pad, the attacks are launched repeatedly, with trojans, backdoors, executing DDoS attacks, or stealing the entire database. 

10. Next, reinspection of the entire organisation’s security infrastructure is undertaken by adjusting the firewall settings against the anticipated threats, determining the source of vulnerabilities, and preventing the systems from being hacked.

11. The clearing of their track is the final and important step in ethical hacking as the hacker does not want to get caught or leave behind any trace that could be used to hunt them down. It includes editing, distorting, erasing logs, and removing directories, software, programmes, etc.

Take a Look: How To Prevent Cybersecurity Attacks: An Ultimate Guide

As we have already discussed the concepts of ethical hacking, we know that everything comes with its limitations. Let us enumerate the advantages and a few disadvantages of ethical hacking in the next sections. 

What Do Ethical Hackers Do?

Let us enlist some of the tasks and goals performed by ethical hackers to understand the job better.

  • They use their skills, tools, and techniques to strengthen the security wall of the organisation by detecting the security gaps and vulnerabilities that may lead to a security breach.
  • They ensure to work in a predefined scope with the written permission of access, follow the client’s instructions, carry the protocols professionally, protect the organisation’s data privacy, and report the security assessment and vulnerabilities back to the organisation. 
  • Next, they present a maturity evaluation report highlighting the overall risks, vulnerabilities, and recommendations for improvement to the organisation.
  • They possess specialised computer coding skills in specific domains like a scripting language, OS expertise, deep networking knowledge, proficiency in cybersecurity principles, and gap assessments.
  • Ethical hackers ensure clients’ trust by securing data and products, real-world network and system assessments, tracing weak areas and fixing them; establishing a secure network to prevent security breaches; protecting breached databases, defending national or organisational security against terrorists or illegal attacks; and many more.

You must be curious to know the functional details of ethical hacking. Let us address this very query in our next section.

Also Read: How To Build A Career In Ethical Hacking

Advantages of Ethical Hacking

Ethical hacking is a legal profession as it has various advantages in IT network systems. Here are a few of them:

  1. It helps recover lost information or passwords lost in any hacker attack or unintentional user command.
  2. Prevents misuse of sensitive data lost in hacking attacks.
  3. It tests the established security status of an organization’s network system.
  4. Ensure national security against malicious attackers.
  5. It performs penetration testing and hence improves the cybersecurity of the company.
  6. It protects the database, ensures privacy and copyrights, and strengthens secure organisational communication.

The assessment report and possible future action produced by the ethical hacker ensure transparency, accountability, and responsibility towards handling the sensitive database.

The Disadvantages of Ethical Hacking

A few of the disadvantages of ethical hacking are as follows:

  1. The predefined scope of access and the authority to check potential threats create limitations to its operations.
  2. Ethical hackers can’t take decisive actions on their own against the intruders to halt them altogether. This inability suppresses their decision-making and enhances the possibility of future attacks of the same kind on the system.
  3. Ethical hacking comes with constraints in time, technology, infrastructure, and budget resources as compared to sponsored unethical hackers.
  4. Restrictions imposed on testing methods by organisations lead to server crashes. 

Being an area that deals with high-end data and security processes, the ethical and legal issues attached to hacking can’t be sidelined. These issues are discussed in this section, which should be kept in mind.

Ethical and Legal Issues of Hacking

  • Personal privacy of the user may get co-operated as the network system contains a large-scale database and info transfer like passwords, health records, addresses, bank account details, etc.
  • The illegal and unauthorised access of accounts leads to the commission of criminal activity and a considerable loss of financial and data loss to the organisations. 
  • It leads to the leakage of high-security information, the loss of ownership and access and property rights.
  • The trade secrets database leakage may have enormous consequences as it may misbalance the competition of software or hardware companies.
  • The online monetary frauds pursued to achieve personal gains lead to financial and personal damage to individuals and organisations.
  • Identity frauds where stealing of identity and impersonation is carried out for personal or illegal use may personally threaten the person legally or financially.
  • Piracy or stealing copyright-protected data such as movies, computer programmes, ebooks, etc., leads to copyright issues.

Also Read: Cybersecurity Basic Interview Questions


The twenty-first-century networking system, where even a child has an online presence, deals with a galaxy size of datasets every minute. 

Groups of people and organisations are paying loads of money to these hackers to obtain the database or manipulate the networks for our better or worse.

Whether we want it or not, data leakage is a menace to all of us. It’s good to understand the variety of hackers better and to know that a category of legally authorised hackers ensures our data privacy and our economic and intellectual rights.

It will be all the more beautiful for us to know that you are also interested in becoming a good ethical hacker. Let us know in the comment section below.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

  • 1. What is meant by ethical hacking?

    Ethical hacking is a skill that involves breaking into a company’s security network systems to exploit security flaws and identify the company’s cybersecurity gap, conducting quality assurance tests, and implementing data security regulatory compliance while being granted access to typically unauthorised computer systems.

  • 2. What are the five types of hackers?

    Although hackers can be differentiated into various types, the major ones based on their intent of hacking are:
    1. Blue hat hackers
    2. White hat hackers
    3. Grey hat hackers
    4. Script kiddies
    5. Phreakers

  • 3. Is ethical hacking easy?

    Every skill is challenging at first but is simple once practised and mastered. Understanding the concepts involved is essential. Good ethical hacking courses can help you learn basic foundational concepts quickly. Also, keeping updated with the technology and hacking methods is a must to counter the dynamic unethical hacking processes.

  • 4. How do I become an ethical hacker?

    Although ethical hacking is simple but definitely not easy, you can start with the basics by taking good courses available online at Verzeo, Globlatechcouncil, IIT Kanpur, MIT Management Executive Education, LinkedIn, and so on.

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