When it was believed that 2018 would be the year with the highest number of data breaches, the first half of the year 2019 proved this wrong with at least 3,800 publicly disclosed breaches and the number of exposed records crossing the 4 billionth mark. Breaches have increased in complexity and frequency and as cybercriminals reinvent their techniques, businesses are bearing the brunt of the damages caused by these breaches.
With the rise in cybercrime, business-owners are revisiting their digital security strategies and employing the services of ethical hackers to tighten their security defenses.
What does an ethical hacker do? An ethical hacker is a professional who possesses the skills of a hacker and uses them, with an organization’s consent, to hack into the systems to check for vulnerabilities.
However, before we delve deeper into ethical hacking, there is a reason why hiring an ethical hacker is critical to a business’s digital security.
How data breaches affect organizations
- The breach that exposed an estimated 383 million guests saw giant hotel Marriot incur a $123 million in fines imposed by the British authorities. Businesses are incurring hefty losses in the form of fines slapped on them by authorities for failing to secure their networks and systems adequately against cybercrime.
- On another level, businesses are incurring fines for noncompliance to GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) rules. Fines can go as high as €20 million ($24.3 million) or 4 percent of their total revenue which is usually even higher for businesses.
- In the Ponemon Institute 2019 report on the cost of a data breach, the average cost of loss of business as a result of the data breach was estimated at $1.42 million which translates to 36% of the total average cost of data breaches. Loss of customer trust, a damaged reputation, and operational downtime are three of the highest losses a business can incur when a data breach occurs.
- The cost of data breach management including compensating affected customers, the cost of legal battles from affected customers as in the case of Target, and the cost of implementing new security strategies cannot be underestimated.
The bottom line, faster detection, and response to an attack can save an organization up to an average of 25% in costs related to the breach.
What is ethical hacking
Hacking has its two sides. There is malicious hacking done by cybercrooks and there is ethical hacking performed by authorized professionals. Ethical hacking involves gaining access to an organization’s systems the same way cybercriminals do it, but with the aim of identifying vulnerabilities within the system and resolving them before an attack occurs.
Ethical hackers use the same techniques used by their malicious counterparts to probe systems, networks, databases, and infrastructure. Once vulnerabilities are discovered a detailed report is compiled with recommendations on how to resolve the weaknesses that have been discovered in the system.
Phases of ethical hacking
Like any other project, ethical hacking can be effective when the right procedure is followed. The process of ethical hacking is divided into 6 phases.
- This is more of a preparation phase where information is collected to get to know the target system and to help the hacker gain access to the system. Reconnaissance includes footprinting, scanning, and enumeration processes using tools like NMAP, Metasploit, Hping, and Google Dorks.
- This is the phase where an ethical hacker starts to scan the target for vulnerabilities. Scanning is in three levels; port scanning, vulnerability scanning, and network mapping.
- Gaining access. Here, the system is actually hacked and acts as a malicious hacker by misusing usernames/passwords, trying to install malware into the system, altering or hiding data, or breaking into a poorly secured network.
- Maintaining access. A hacker attempts to stay logged in the system in the background long enough without being discovered by users.
- Covering tracks. Here the hacker clears all evidence that can point to him including deleting logs of all activities engaged in during hacking, uninstalling applications used or clearing all folders created.
- When all is done, the ethical hacker owes his employer a report of his findings, his activities during the hacking process, tools used, weaknesses found, and resolution recommendations.
Requirements of ethical hacking
- Ideally, an ethical hacker should have knowledge in hacking, computer and networking systems, and programming languages. He is naturally a problem-solver with an eye for detail who spends his time cracking puzzles and offering mitigation measures.
- An ethical hacker works on the defensive. In other words, he works strictly with the aim of preventing attacks and so is required to be extra cautious with the organization’s information, systems, and networks.
- On the other hand, without access to the entire system, an ethical hacker may be limited in delivering the expected results. Still, he should operate within the limits given by his client.
- At the very least, an ethical hacker needs to have a CEH certification. This is not only a validation of skills but also an indication that a professional has had some experience in the cybersecurity field.
A career in ethical hacking
Ethical hackers are on high demand given the seriousness with which businesses take cybersecurity. It is expected that by 2021, the cybersecurity field will have at least 3.5 million jobs with a certified ethical hacker earning an average salary of $71,331.
With this in mind, here is what it takes to pursue a career in ethical hacking.
Get to know
This is the very first step once you have considered a career in ethical hacking. Get to know about hacking in general including the different types of hacking as well as the fundamentals of ethical hacking joining forums and reading widely, online and offline. Find out what makes a good ethical hacker.
It is also important to note that ethical hacking is a challenging career that requires serious thinking, solving puzzles, working under pressure, and a keen eye for detail.
Check your academic qualifications
While there is no strict requirement as to which academic degree is required to pursue a career in ethical hacking, a degree in information technology, computer science, computer programming, or mathematics will give you an added advantage.
The right skills
- Learn some programming. A qualified ethical hacker has in-depth knowledge in several programming languages particularly those commonly used languages like Java, Python, C++, Ruby, Perl, and PHP.
- Familiarize with various operating systems. These include Windows, Linux, iOS, and macOS.
- Learn the basics of networking like routers and switches.
- Familiarize with tools used by hackers including NMap, Wireshark, Metasploit, and others.
- Familiarize with hacking techniques like DDOS attacks, Buffer overflow, password cracking, and SQL injection.
Non -technical skills
- Attention to detail
- Analytical skills
- Communication skills
Training and certification
Unlike in other fields, certification is crucial in ethical hacking because it sets legitimate hackers apart from the rest in addition to validating your skills in ethical hacking.
Of the many certifications available, the CEH certification is the most preferred by recruiters. Offered by the EC and other accredited training institutions, this certification training equips professionals with knowledge in digital security fundamentals, and the tools and techniques used for attacks. It requires a professional to have a graduate degree in an IT course with two years of experience in the information security field.
Other certifications you can pursue as an ethical hacker include:
- ECSA (EC-Council Certified Security Analyst)
- CISSP (Certified Information Systems Security Professional)
- Licensed penetration tester
- CHFI (Computer Hacking Forensic Investigator)
The hacking landscape keeps changing with new technologies coming up every other day. As a white-hat hacker, apart from updating your skills, you need to be constantly updated with the developments and new techniques in this field. Becoming an expert in ethical hacking is a process that takes time, hard work, learning, and practice. In the end, experience counts a great deal because with experience a professional will continue perfecting skills.