What Certifications do Ethical Hackers Need? - FTC Florida Technical College

What Certifications do Ethical Hackers Need?

Ethical hackers have an important role within the IT world. The job allows ethical hackers to identify the same types of security holes that illegal hackers would try to find. The main difference is that an ethical hacker works with companies to ensure that those security holes are properly patched and secured. It’s clear that ethical hackers can do a lot of good in the world, but it’s often less clear how to become one. Thankfully, there is a straightforward way to become an ethical hacker. And it begins by completing a formal education in information technology with an emphasis in cybersecurity. 

What Do You Learn During a Cybersecurity Program?

This program will prepare you for a role as an entry-level cybersecurity specialist. Some of the subject matter that you will learn during this formal education includes:

Foundational Elements

Learning how to hack into an electronic system will require a basic understanding of it. As such, you will see questions related to the foundational elements of computers within the cybersecurity coursework. And this is true for elements that have some relation to hacking or security risks. 

For example, hackers often target a machine’s networking interfaces. Because hacking puts an emphasis on networks, the cybersecurity program will also touch on them. If a security flaw within a system can function as an entry point for hackers, then elements of those systems will be in the coursework. The bulk of an ethical hacking education will be on exactly that, hacking. This involves most notably penetration testing. 

Penetration Testing

Penetration testing, or pen testing, is shorthand for different hacking procedures. We usually think of a test as a focused and singular entity, but penetration testing is more of a diagnostic toolbox than a single procedure. It’s a way of testing various vulnerabilities within a computer system’s security setup. The ethical hacker tries to penetrate the computer’s security system through a collection of methods.

Computational Systems

Hacking works with many different systems, and this becomes self-apparent when looking at penetration testing. Penetration tests can target almost any element of a computational system. This can include a computer’s dedicated hardware input points or its network and even operating system. And common software exploits are also part of the penetration testing system. 

Automated or Manual Efforts

We perform penetration testing through a combination of two separate methods. Penetration testing can be done with automated systems or through our own manual efforts. Automated testing involves running a program to automatically scan for and exploit common vulnerabilities. Manual testing is often more involved. This might also work alongside methods of social engineering which could turn up passwords or other personal information. Manual involves more creative and thorough attempts to get into a system. However, penetration testing involves a mix of both automated and manual methodologies. This is especially true as a test turns toward escalation. 

Continue the Hack

Once we get into a system through the initial penetration testing, we need to see how far we can take the process. This involves using our current point of access to try and hack even further into the system. A classic example would be getting entry into a system by taking on the identity of an employee. From there we might get additional points of access by using the account’s legitimate security privileges. This part of penetration testing is like a game of digital leapfrog where we try to leap from one point of security clearance to another.

Tools of the Trade

Penetration testing requires us to use a wide variety of different tools. Likewise, we need to understand how those tools operate to intelligently leverage them against different parts of a system. 

Looking Into Vulnerability Identification

Vulnerability identification can be seen as the flip side to penetration testing. Penetration testing will help identify specific points of vulnerability within the system. We can think of it as a wide spectrum analysis of a system’s security. As a penetration progresses, you document those findings. This larger process is called vulnerability identification. It’s both a checklist of security flaws and a plan for security breach mitigation and prevention. 

This also highlights another reason why ethical hacking puts an emphasis on the fundamentals of computing. It’s not enough to simply detect a vulnerability within a specific system. Not only do unethical hackers try to find a single point of entry into a system, but they also work with the system as a whole to find and document every potential point of entry. Properly securing a system means identifying every vulnerability so that it can be locked down. And as we’ll soon see, there’s a lot of different vulnerabilities to be aware of. 

Working With Specific Vulnerabilities

SQL is one of the most important aspects of system security. SQL stands for Structured Query Language. It’s the language used by most database systems. From a security standpoint, the most important part of SQL is that it allows for two-way communication. Anytime we can communicate with a system we’ll have an opportunity to look for ways to exploit that dialog. The cybersecurity coursework covers many aspects of SQL. But two of the most important are SQL injection and blind injection. 

SQL Injection

SQL injection typically works by hijacking the normal back and forth between a database and automated systems like a web-based frontend. For example, consider a website that allows people to search product catalogs for chairs. In the simplest form of SQL injection, we might examine the site’s URL to see criteria passed from the web interface to the database. When we searched for a chair, we might also see other information passed upon the web form’s submission. We can just take that information, modify it on the command line, and log right into a system. This can also lead to user privilege escalation as we use a login to change permissions and privileges. 

Blind SQL Injection

We can move this manual process into something more automated by using blind SQL injection. This process is performed when manual injection attempts don’t display enough information to build upon, hence it’s considered blind. Blind SQL injection is automated through a rapid series of SQL queries to provide additional information for entry into the system. 

File Based Exploits

The coursework also investigates most aspects of file uploading and execution. We all know the dangers of downloading and executing random files from the Internet. File based exploits operate in a similar manner on servers. The process begins with an arbitrary file upload. This can be performed in several ways. Different methods will provide us with differing levels of freedom to escalate our entrance into the system, but the most important point is simply managing to get a file onto the system. Once the file is uploaded, a hacker can use a variety of different methods to execute it. 

Command Injection

For example, a hacker might use a vulnerability present in many Unix based systems called bash vulnerability exploration. This would target a flaw in those systems that executes commands from environment variables. They might also get the ability to add information to commands that are executed on a regular basis through an automated process. Hackers might even gain full root access to a system, which would provide the ability to run any executable. Ultimately, they would work through the vulnerabilities to perform some form of command injection to trigger execution of the file they uploaded. 

Cross-Site Scripting (XSS)

The coursework doesn’t just stop at a corporate machine though. It also looks at vulnerabilities that would allow hackers access to a customer’s computers. The most common way to do that is through something known as XSS or cross-site scripting. 

XSS attacks take advantage of web browsers that operates within our computer. Initial attacks against a corporate computer can provide access to the templates used to put together websites or the data used within them. Once hackers have access to that data, they can insert scripts that will execute on a website. 

Client-Side Scripts

These programs are what’s known as client-side scripts. The client, in this case, refers to a customer’s web browser. The browser accesses a compromised webserver to download a webpage. The page tells the browser that it needs to execute a script. The web browser, fully trusting the site, will then execute that script. Depending on the nature of the browser this may open any number of vulnerabilities in the user’s computer. This highlights that a single successful hack of a corporate server can result in hundreds of thousands of compromised systems. 

These examples also highlight why vulnerability identification is so important. An ethical hacker needs to identify and document all these potential security threats. It’s only by doing so that a system can be secured to protect the safety of both a company and its customers. 

The Importance and Benefits of a Formal Education

There’s several important reasons why a formal education is the most effective way to become a ethical hacker. One of the most significant reasons comes down to immersion. As we’ve seen, ethical hacking touches on different subjects. It’s not enough to approach ethical hacking as a singular entity. You need to take a more fluid approach when learning about hacking. This means approaching the study through an immersive approach that combines real world experience, group study and guided education by industry experts. 

Industry Experienced Instructors

A formal education is led by experts who understand the coursework, and they also have the real-world experience needed to convey the subject in a variety of different ways. You can think of it as a tour of an academic subject led by someone who’s lived in it rather than just visited. 

Classmate Collaboration

The learning process is further aided by the presence of our peers. It’s true that we can get a lot out of studying on our own but studying in a group can provide help that you’d never notice. Your peers can provide a perspective on the subject that you may often miss without them. For example, you might feel like you have a solid grasp on a specific area, but your peers can point out when you have the wrong assumptions. 

Likewise, you might feel that you haven’t gotten the hang of a subject, but you can better assess your own strengths when comparing them to your peers. Group study is a fantastic way to remove subjectivity and bias from your own self-appraisal. It’s a great way to not only study, but also build up confidence in your skills. 

Topic Immersion

Again, much of the coursework’s strength comes from immersion. You are not just approaching it from the perspective of a single subject or a single way to take in the information. A formal education will instead highlight that there are several ways to approach any given subject. 

Ethical hacking coursework will find and emphasize the most effective learning methods for any given individual. Doing so in a group environment benefits everyone involved within that immersive experience. This can even be expanded into valuable tertiary experiences like hacking competitions. 

Information Technology Degree Program

The Bachelor Degree program in Information Technology with emphasis in Cybersecurity introduces you to a variety of topics, such as assessing the security vulnerability of computer and network systems, various computer and network safeguarding solutions, and managing the implementation and maintenance of security devices, systems, procedures and counter measures.  As a graduate of the program, you will be prepared for an entry-level career as an information support analyst, junior ethical hacker, or network and security support analyst related jobs.

Ready to move from the classroom to a career? Florida Technical College is here to help. Contact us to learn more about completing the information technology degree program at Florida Technical College.