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How Does Ethical Hacking Work?

[fa icon="calendar"] Jan 5, 2023 11:35:00 AM / by Paul Ricketts

Information security breaches happen. You’ve probably heard about more than a handful in the last several years. Data breaches are a challenge that all organizations face in today’s technologically advanced world.

With those advances comes the darker side of technology – malicious hackers, cybercriminals, and cyberattacks. Protecting sensitive data is more important than ever, and companies are acknowledging the potential risks and finding ways to mitigate them. One solution is ethical hacking.

Many organizations are employing ethical hackers to help prevent data breaches from happening. Ethical hackers use the same tools and techniques as malicious hackers to identify vulnerabilities in an organization’s systems and security practices. Then, they use their cybersecurity skills to mitigate weaknesses and analyze and improve network infrastructure, security policies, and end-user practices to protect the organization from threats.

The Five Phases of Ethical Hacking

Identifying and exploiting system weaknesses is a challenging task that takes time and patience. Ethical hackers must bypass authorization and authentication systems and then investigate the network for potential breaches and security threats to find vulnerabilities. They must act in the same way that a real malicious hacker would.

Ethical hackers typically use a methodology that involves several steps. While white-hat hackers may use these steps in varying orders, they do offer a systematic approach that often produces positive results. Here are the five phases of ethical hacking:


Before doing any penetration testing, ethical hackers will gather as much information as possible by footprinting the system. This is the reconnaissance phase. During this phase, the hacker will document the company’s request, find valuable system configuration and login data, and investigate the networks. The information that is gathered is critical to conducting attacks, and it includes:

  • Naming conventions
  • IP addresses
  • Network services
  • Servers handling network workloads
  • Names and login credentials of network users
  • Physical location of the targeted machine


In the scanning phase of ethical hacking, the hacker starts testing the networks and machines to discover potential attack surfaces. Using automated scanning tools, information on all machines, services, and users within the network is gathered. Typically, there are three types of scans:

  • Port scanning – This identifies any open ports on the network, which makes an effective mechanism for locating open doors to access an organization’s systems.
  • Network mapping – This detects active devices on a network and helps hackers find ways to exploit the network.
  • Vulnerability scanning – This type of scanning targets the vulnerabilities and weak points of a network and tries numerous ways to exploit those weaknesses. Some of the tools used during this phase include Netsparker, Nmap, OpenVAS, etc.

Gaining Access

Once the ethical hacker has exposed vulnerabilities using the first two steps, they now work to exploit them for administrative access by downloading a malicious application or software, stealing sensitive information, getting unauthorized access, asking for ransom, etc. There are numerous tools a black-hat hacker can use to gain access and enter a system. One common tool used to gain access is Metasploit, and social engineering is a popular attack to exploit a target.

Maintaining Access

This phase involves processes that are used to make sure the hacker can access the application for further use in the future. An ethical hacker will continuously exploit the system for additional vulnerabilities to better understand the level of control an actual attacker would have once they made it past security clearance.

Clearing Tracks

During this phase, hackers will perform tasks that erase any traces of their actions that could lead back to their malicious hacking. These tasks include:

  • Clearing logs
  • Deleting folders created during the cyberattack
  • Uninstalling scripts and/or applications used for the attack
  • Modifying registry values

After completing all five of the phases, the ethical hacker will create a report that details the vulnerabilities found and suggests mitigation methods.

Do You Want To Be a Certified Ethical Hacker?

If the above information interests you, becoming a certified ethical hacker may be a great career path for you. Earning a Certified Ethical Hacking (CEH) certification requires that you pass an official certification exam. To do that, you have to have a thorough understanding of specific skills and concepts related to ethical hacking.

At TrainACE, we are here to help you prepare for the CEH certification exam. Our CEH training course covers all the topics you will be tested on for certification. We are committed to providing high-quality training courses to students like you to ensure you have what you need to earn the certifications required to advance your career.

Paul Ricketts

Written by Paul Ricketts

Originally from the UK, Paul Ricketts is the Director of Marketing at TrainACE in Greenbelt, MD. Having started out in the field of Geographic Information Systems, Paul has a wealth of experience in a wide variety of industries, focused on tech., graphics and data analysis. Having finally settled in the field of marketing, he has spent the last 8 years fine tuning his skills in the art of communication and persuasion.

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