The explosive growth of the Internet has brought many good things: electronic commerce, easy access to vast stores of reference material, collaborative computing, e-mail, and new avenues for advertising and information distribution, to name a few. As with most technological advances, there is also a dark side: criminal hackers. Governments, companies, and private citizens around the world are anxious to be a part of this revolution, but they are afraid that some hacker will break into their Web server and replace their logo with pornography, read their e-mail, steal their credit card number from an on-line shopping site, or implant software that will secretly transmit their organization's secrets to the open Internet. With these concerns and others, the ethical hacker can help. This paper describes ethical hackers: their skills, their attitudes, and how they go about helping their customers find and plug up security holes. The ethical hacking process is explained, along with many of the problems that the Global Security Analysis Lab has seen during its early years of ethical hacking for IBM clients.
What is ethical hacking?
With the growth of the Internet, computer security has become a major concern for businesses and governments. They want to be able to take advantage of the Internet for electronic commerce, advertising, information distribution and access, and other pursuits, but they are worried about the possibility of being “hacked.” At the same time, the potential customers of these services are worried about maintaining control of personal information that varies from credit card numbers to social security numbers and home addresses.
In their search for a way to approach the problem, organizations came to realize that one of the best ways to evaluate the intruder threat to their interests would be to have independent computer security professionals attempt to break into their computer systems. This scheme is similar to having independent auditors come into an organization to verify its bookkeeping records. In the case of computer security, these “tiger teams” or “ethical hackers” would employ the same tools and techniques as the intruders, but they would neither damage the target systems nor steal information. Instead, they would evaluate the target systems' security and report back to the owners with the vulnerabilities they found and instructions for how to remedy them.
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