What Is Ethical Hacking?

In the 1960s, skilled professionals were re-developing mainframe systems while also working to improve their efficiency. So, the term ‘Hacker’ had its origins at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Today, it is a widely used term. We use it to refer to skilled programmers who can access a computer system without any authorization. The hackers' intentions might be wrong, like, for example, cracking passwords to obtain confidential information.

With both individuals and companies relying on the Internet and e-commerce, malicious hackers are becoming increasingly common. In fact, in recent years, films and tv shows glorify this description of a "malicious hacker." And as a rule of thumb, what makes a hacker malicious is his intention to steal valuable information.

But is all hacking bad? Not at all. There is another type of hacking called Ethical hacking.

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In this article, we will dig deep into 'What is Ethical Hacking' and cover several other topics. What do we mean by it, and more importantly, do we need it? Let's find out.

What is Ethical Hacking - Different Ethical Hacking Practices.

Before we define the term, let's first understand what is ethical hacking is. In simple terms, it is the process of finding weaknesses in a system and then using those weaknesses to gain unauthorized access. It is no surprise that hacking is illegal, and many individuals have found themselves behind bars because of it. Therefore, this hacking is called unethical hacking.

Did you know that hacking can be legal if you can get permission for it? Companies hire experts to hack into their systems to find their weaknesses. It helps the businesses rectify them and prevent malicious hackers from gaining confidential information as well.

In summary, the individuals who hack into systems legally with permission, without any malicious end-goal, are known as ethical hackers. And the process is called ethical hacking.

Some of the different ethical hacking practices are:

  • Web server hacking
  • Hacking wireless networks
  • System hacking
  • Social engineering
  • Web application hacking
Related Article: Ethical Hacking Tutorial for Beginners

Now that we know what is ethical hacking is let's look at the evolution of ethical hacking.

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Evolution of Ethical Hacking

There are four high points in the history and evolution of ethical hacking.

  • Ethical hacking brought the practice of defense into the digital world. Attacking your defense to locate your weaknesses and using that to an advantage is one of the critical ethical hacking concepts. Technically, the idea behind it had been around for more than a thousand years.
  • In 1995, Netscape launched the first Bug Bounty Program. It gave rewards to hackers for reporting vulnerabilities before somebody could exploit them. 
  • In 2014, Google paid white hat hackers about $1.5 million.
  • In 1995, IBM's John Patrick first used the term "ethical hacking."

Core Principles of Ethical Hacking

Ethical hackers follow four core principles:

  • Staying legal: Hackers need legal permission to access and perform security assessments.
  • Determining the assessment scope: To stay within approved legal boundaries, the ethical hacker should define the assessment’s scope.
  • Reporting vulnerabilities: The hacker should report any vulnerabilities he finds to the organization.
  • Taking data-sensitive information into consideration: Usually, ethical hackers sign a non-disclosure agreement for the organization before starting the assessment.

Types of Hackers

Typically, there are three types of hackers.

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White Hat Hacker

An ethical hacker is also known as a white-hat hacker. They gain access to a system with proper approval to find out vulnerabilities. They intend to fix them before a malicious hacker exploits them.

Black Hat Hacker

Black hat hackers are also called crackers. They hack into a system without any permission and harm its network or steal confidential and sensitive information. This hacking is illegal and includes work like stealing corporate data, damaging systems, violating data privacy, etc.

Grey Hat Hacker

The last type of hacker is the grey hat hacker, a combination of both black hat and white hat hacker. They usually hack for fun, and they exploit a system without the owner's knowledge.

Skills Required to Become a Certified Ethical Hacker

The top skills to become an ethical hacker include:

  • Excellent computer skills
  • Programming skills
  • Database management systems (DBMS)
  • Cryptography
  • Linux
  • Reverse engineering
  • Wireless technologies
  • Web applications
  • Networking
  • Critical thinking and problem-solving.
Related Article: Reasons to learn Ethical hacking

Phases of Ethical Hack

Ethical hacking is divided into six phases, which include:

Planning and Reconnaissance

Reconnaissance refers to gathering information relevant to the target system, including operating systems, IP configuration, detecting services, etc. In this phase, some of the tools used are Nmap, Hping, Google Dorks, etc.


In the scanning phase, the hacker examines the target machine or the network for any weaknesses. Tools used in this process include Nessus, Nexpose, and NMAP.

Gaining access

In this phase, the identified weakness is exploited using several methods. The hacker tries to enter the target system without raising any alarms. The main tool used in the process is Metasploit.

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Maintaining access

This phase is essential, as the hacker installs backdoors and payloads onto the target system. Payloads are activities performed on a system after gaining unauthorized access. Backdoors help the hacker gain access quickly.


It is the last stage in the ethical hacking process. In this phase, the ethical hacker makes a report with the results. It includes the tools used, the success rate, vulnerabilities found, and the exploit processes.

Related Article: Top 15 Ethical Hacking Tools

Limitations of Ethical Hacking

Although ethical hacking can be beneficial for organizations and individuals, limitations exist for it. Three main ones are:

Ethical hacking can have a limited scope: Although it's not impossible to discuss out-of-scope attack potential with an organization, limitations exist to make an attack successful.

Limited resources: Computer power and budget are two limited primary resources in ethical hacking. Unlike malicious hackers, white hat hackers have time constraints.

Restricted methods: Organizations ask ethical hackers to avoid test cases that make servers crash:— for example, Denial of Service (DoS) attacks.

Wrapping Up

As the number of internet users increases, businesses are relying on the Internet more and more. With the numbers rising, there is a greater risk of security breaches and leakage of data. Malicious hackers are finding ways to cause damage to businesses, so organizations need new plans and security measures to prevent dangerous attacks.

Therefore, the demand for skilled, ethical hackers is also increasing day by day. It is vital and has a positive future ahead.

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Last updated: 03 Apr 2023
About Author

I am Ruchitha, working as a content writer for MindMajix technologies. My writings focus on the latest technical software, tutorials, and innovations. I am also into research about AI and Neuromarketing. I am a media post-graduate from BCU – Birmingham, UK. Before, my writings focused on business articles on digital marketing and social media. You can connect with me on LinkedIn.

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