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5 Phases of Ethical Hacking

Rob Behnke

Did you know that every 39 seconds there is a cyberattack in this world. Victims of these cyberattacks range from startups to multi-billion dollar organizations. No company, regardless of size, would want their data to be leaked or their applications to be misused. This is where ethical hackers come to the rescue. 

Organizations that want to protect their systems from getting hacked often hire ethical hackers to harden their systems against cybersecurity threats. Ethical hackers find the security loopholes and weaknesses that can be exploited by hackers and then work on improving the security of the system.

Hacking doesn’t happen like in the movies where an evil operative opens a laptop, types something into a system, and then it’s hacked. Ethical hacking is a process that requires careful research and multi-stage attacks.

The steps an ethical hacker follows can be broadly distributed into the following 5 phases:

Phase 1: Reconnaissance   

The first and important phase of ethical hacking is reconnaissance. Reconnaissance means exploring the target to gain as much information about it as possible. More target information will result in easier access to the target. Abraham Lincoln said: "Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” This is what applies here in the first phase of ethical hacking, i.e. if you want to penetrate into the network, allocate time to understand the network. The information gained during reconnaissance highlights potential targets and methods of exploitation.

Phase 2: Scanning

At the second phase of ethical hacking, white hat hackers come in direct contact with the target system or network. In the scanning phase, ethical hackers send requests to the target systems and interpret the responses. Scanning of targets offers useful information such as IP addresses, open ports, information about the installed operating system, and services running on the target. Ethical hackers scan the targets to identify the vulnerabilities and weak points that exist in them. The most common tools related to the scanning phase of ethical hacking are: Network Mapper (Nmap), Nessus, and OpenVAS.

Phase 3: Exploitation

After gathering enough information about the target, the next and third phase of ethical hacking is to gain access to the target by exploiting the vulnerabilities and weak points in targets identified during reconnaissance and scanning. A successful vulnerability exploit grants the control of the target to penetration testers. For example, an ethical hacker that identifies open FTP ports on the target during the scanning phase may be able to exploit the FTP service to plant malware. For vulnerability exploitation, the Metasploit Framework is one of the most famous and commonly used tools.

Phase 4: Maintaining Access

As stated earlier, the exploitation or phase 3 of ethical hacking grants the penetration testers access to the target. Now, in this fourth phase, pentesters try to maintain extended access to the target by acquiring elevated privileges on the system, deploying persistence mechanisms, etc. Examples of tools used to gain persistence include keyloggers, backdoors, and other malware.

Phase 5: Reporting

Reporting is the fifth and final phase of ethical hacking and a major differentiator between ethical hackers and black hat hackers. At this phase, penetration testers summarize all the steps they have taken from footprinting to gaining access to systems. The main purpose of reporting is to make the organizations aware of the flaws, weaknesses, and vulnerabilities in their security architecture so they can defend themselves before it becomes too late.     

To learn more about how Halborn conducts ethical hacking and to find out how we can help your blockchain company from getting hacked, contact us at [email protected].

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