The term hacking generally means unauthorized access over a computer system or into a network. The person who is engaged in such activities is called a hacker. The motive of a hacker can be ethical or unethical.
An ethical hacker works on behalf of an organization to help them identify any existing security vulnerabilities that can be wrongfully utilized by malicious hackers.
A malicious hacker can illegally gain access to steal personal/corporate data, perform fraudulent activities and indulge in fulfilling other illicit purposes. The more the computers are exposed to the outside world for communication, the higher is the chance for them to be hacked.
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Curious to know more about it? Well, let us begin with its history.
A peep into the history of hacking
It all began in Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T) in the 1960s where the term ‘hacker’ originated. It was initially applied to people who spent hours in hardcore programming and were regarded as the most intelligent and intellectually advanced individuals.
They are treated as the forefathers of true hackers of modern times.
Way back in the 1960s, ordinary people hardly had any idea about what hacking meant. Hacking was viewed with positivity and no one minded hackers. They considered hackers to be busy coders, coding all day long confined in a room.
Hackers evolved from the artificial intelligence labs of M.I.T in the 1960s. It commenced in the model train club and later expanded till mainframe computer rooms. However, these hacks were considered fun and harmless technical experiments.
But with time, people other than inside M.I.T, started applying hacking which involved unauthorized access to other devices and often posed as a threat to mankind. These threats can also be called as cyber threats.
For example, hackers (or phreakers) illegally modified telephone lines to make free long distance calls. John Draper (Captain Crunch) did so in the 1970s.
One of the earliest hacker groups called ‘414s’ was raided by FBI in the 1980s and were charged for intruding 60 computers. Hacker groups like “Legion of Doom” or LOD (USA) and “Chaos Computer Club” or CCC (Germany) originated.
The “2600: The Hacker Quarterly” was published, and its contribution is still significant in today’s hacker community.
The LOD, CCC and 2600 Magazine are widely recognized even now. Then came the arrest of Kevin Mitnick, one of the most wanted hackers in the U.S in the 1990s. The FBI arrested him and jailed on charges of breaking into computer systems of several corporations, stealing software and databases.
As time progressed, there has been an increase in the number of hackers. Not all of them are ethical. Many of them are a threat to mankind for their lousy motive of invading others’ privacy, stealing data and exploiting them for wrong purposes.
Let us have a glance at the types of hackers possible.
What are the different kinds of hackers?
Hackers are considered to be highly skilled and knowledgeable in computers. Breaking security is more difficult than building one, and that shows how much expertise they have.
Primarily, there are three most important categories of hackers as follows:
White hat hacker
They are also called ethical hackers who are a part of the same organization they hack. They break into their own security systems to figure out weaknesses and fix them to make it more hack-proof.
Black hat hacker
They are also called crackers. They take advantage of existing loopholes in a system and breaks into it illegitimately for person gain.
They indulge in felonious activities like destroying or stealing data, violating privacy, etc and cause harm to authorized users.
Grey hat hacker
They lie between white hat and black hat hackers. They intend to find the vulnerabilities in the network and then inform the concerned organization to mend it.
Apart from this trio, few other types of hackers are:
They usually find weaknesses in telephone lines and illegally use them.
They are non-skilled individuals who use already made tools to access the computer.
They are people who use hacking as a tool to spread social, religious and political messages. They hijack websites and leave their messages on the hijacked site.
From the above discussions so far, you see hacking is accepted when it is ethical and beneficial, without involving any illicit activities or doing any harm to anyone. So, this leads us to know about ethical hacking.
What is ethical hacking?
Ethical hackers figure out weaknesses and vulnerabilities in different systems using the same techniques as a black hat hacker.
But the former does not misuse these loopholes like the latter but tries to adopt measures so that black hat hackers cannot break into the systems.
Ethical hackers are the ultimate security professionals. They lawfully break into the system and can be trusted with their work.
They must obtain written permission from the concerned organization before hacking. They must maintain the privacy of the organization been hacked.
On finding the weaknesses, they must inform the organization as well as the hardware/software vendors for its rectification.
What are the strategies that are undertaken by an ethical hacker?
The role of the ethical hacker is very crucial. He shoulders the responsibility to protect an organization by figuring out loopholes in their system and informing them for fixing them. He may adopt various strategies to find the weaknesses.
An ethical hacker scans and finds open ports using port scanning tools like Nmap or Nessus. They study every flaw associated with a port and seek remedies for them. They observe patch installations so that they are not misused.
Use of social engineering concepts
Ethical hackers might make use of some social engineering concepts like dumpster diving, shoulder surfing to tackle situations involving critical information.
In this way, they try to prevent circumstances of attacks by black hat hackers.
Some other ways
An ethical hacker opts to evade Intrusion Prevention System, Intrusion Detection Systems, honeypots, and firewalls. They will try sniffing networks, cracking wireless encryption and hijacking web servers or applications.
Observing how well the organizations respond to these and many other techniques aid them to test the organization’s security infrastructure.
On discovering the gaps, they notify the organization.
Who can become an ethical hacker? What are the skills required to be a hacker?
First and foremost, the person seeking to become an ethical hacker must have the passion and zeal for this profession. One must possess excellent knowledge of networking and programming skills.
They generally undertake the Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) training program to master the ethical hacking methodologies. Several IT companies have also made the CEH certification mandatory for them to bag the security posts of their companies.
The hackers are usually more skilled and intelligent than others. They think way faster and in a far more innovative way.
Hackers need to be very good at numbers and mathematics because hacking involves dealing with a massive amount of data, codes, and algorithms.
Good memory and logical reasoning capabilities are essential for hackers so that even the most delicate details are noticed and studied to chalk out the plan.
Lastly, they must be very patient as hacking is complicated and is very time-consuming.
What are some common network hacking techniques?
There are multiple hacking ways, and some of them are discussed here.
Use of scripts
Scripts are specially designed software programs available on the internet. Entry level hackers use it to manipulate data that passes over the network in the quest to find out the way the target system functions.
Advanced level hackers modify the scripts to innovate new methods of hacking.
There exist websites that mimic original legitimate sites. Users consider the site to be the real site and access it. This is dangerous for them as well as a threat to the trusted sites as there are huge chances of theft of data as well as its misuse.
Often, tools are incorporated into the machines to track every keystroke of the user. These are called keyloggers. It aids in information retrieval later.
The network and the systems must be protected from Trojans, malwares, phishing, etc. Trojan horse acts as a backdoor for black hat hackers to gain unauthorized access to a system. Confidential data may be compromised in this process.
Hackers use a set of programs called rootkit to overthrow legal operators from having control over the operating systems.
There can be several other ways like vulnerability scanner, packet sniffer, viruses, worms, ransomware, Denial of Service attacks or unlawful remote access of a system that are undertaken for hacking.
Not all hackers are ethical, so be very cautious and careful with your data and security infrastructure.
Hacking is both a boon and a curse. While ethical hackers use it for the benefit of mankind, malicious hackers misuse it for their gain.
Both the ethical and black hat hackers undertake the same strategies and proceed in the same way to identify faults and weaknesses. But the former does it legally and informs the concerned authority about the existing flaws. But the latter exploits them to satisfy nefarious purposes.
You can hire ethical hackers for your organization to strengthen its security and safety. Ensure that they have the required skills and certifications for the post.
Attacking other systems, gaining unauthorized access to other computers is unlawful, and the punishment is severe. However, if you are a cyber security expert, you can find out malicious codes, deal with hacking and safely use your hacking skills.