Saying ethical hacking might seem like an oxymoron. Still, unlike what we read in the generalizations of the mass media on cybercrime, the hacker, in the exact sense of the term, is not the number one enemy of networks and corporate security. Unlike crackers, lamers, and copyright pirates, the hacker (also known as white hat, ethical hacker) is the only figure among those mentioned who does not act for criminal purposes but for the sake of knowledge, often lending his expertise for prevention purposes.
While in the common imagination, he remains the brilliant and somewhat nerd adolescent of the film Wargames, in reality, the hacker is very often a professional who combines all-around skills on computer systems, networks, and software, as well as on the human and sociological aspects of safety. Transversal skills are the basis of ethical hacking and which, unfortunately, need to be improved in corporate IT teams trained and engaged in a fragmented way in daily work.
Ethical hacking brings out important aspects of corporate data security, and, for this reason, in addition to technical competence, professionals in this trade are required to have essential confidentiality and reliability skills. In the absence of a specific training course for ethical hacking, certifications have arisen, such as CEH ( Certified Ethical Hacker ) promoted by the International Council of Electronic Commerce Consultants (EC-Council), which is only partially representative of a constantly evolving field.
What is ethical hacking for?
The protection of networks, systems, and data is a vital aspect of the company’s business, for its image towards customers, for compliance with service contracts, and for consumer protection legislation. Infrastructure attacks represent an ever-increasing risk, which can be mitigated using state-of-the-art prevention tools, system adjustments, software, internal processes, and appropriate professional services.
Among the services useful for risk reduction, ethical hacking is the one that has the task of testing, verifying, and therefore finding the weaknesses and points of improvement of corporate defense systems. A task not limited to the testing of some apparatus or configuration but of the protection system, aimed at identifying weak points hidden in the folds of the systems, in the connections of the different defenses, as well as in the arbitrary behavior of the employees, in the incompetence and in the human error of administrators.
The penetration test in ethical hacking
Among the best-known services entrusted to ethical hacking are penetration tests, i.e., penetration tests into corporate defenses. These are services carried out with specific methods and require freedom of action and impartiality on the part of the professionals in charge. While internal IT and security teams tend to look at protections based on how they designed and deployed them, ethical hacking is done by people who have no involvement in the company and are therefore able to analyze systems agnostically, with logic different from those considered by the company.
To give a practical example in the case of corporate networks, the penetration test can be conducted according to the methods of the Open Source Security Testing Methodology Manual: having as objectives the internal or external access to the LAN or, again, the verification of the responses to different scenarios of attack or compromise, always possible, of some component.
The product of ethical hacking is a detailed report of the results, usually presented in different forms to be understood by different business leaders. On the one hand, the management must understand the state of exposure to risk, the possible economic damage to which it is exposed, or even the results obtained through expensive technological upgrades and new safety procedures. On the other hand, the technical staff must know the vulnerabilities found and the impact on networks and systems in use in the smallest detail.
The technical indications can also be completed with indications of the remedies applied by the system administrators: more effective configurations, software, and infrastructural updates. Remedies may also include training people, updating management practices, and reviewing company policies.