The increasing rate of cyberattacks on organizations around the globe has produced huge financial gains for cybercriminals. The vast number of threats includes “Insider attacks,” “Malware,” and now the emergence of COVID-19 threats to mention a few. If these threats are not addressed, there is a likelihood that some organizations may be exposed to higher risks of cyberattacks for years to come.
Cybersecurity Risks and COVID-19
The unexpected outbreak of COVID-19 has increased existing threats and made some organizations defenseless as the reliance on technology grows. Threats emerging from the situation with the pandemic, malwares, remote working, phishing and business emails, and supply chain threats are escalating.
What is Ethical Hacking?
Hacking refers to exploiting weaknesses in a computer network or system to obtain unauthorized access to information; a hacker is a person who tries to hack into computer systems.
Ethical hacking is an approved and systematic process of bypassing system security to identify potential data breaches and threats in a network. The organization that owns the system will give special permission to an Ethical Hacker to perform security assessments. The core steps are: reconnaissance, scanning, exploitation, and maintaining access.
These methodologies allow common vulnerabilities that exist within a system to be discovered and remediated. Ethical hacking or penetration testing also assesses the administrative, technical, and operation controls and policies within an organization’s system. These manual and automated methodologies provide thorough evaluation of assets and risk prioritization and mitigation recommendations. Penetration testing teams can also deliver customized social engineering assessments to determine the resilience of employees and processes.
The Role of an Ethical Hacker
Various Types of Hackers
There are three different types of hackers. Black Hat hackers are individuals who illegally hack into a system for monetary gain. White Hat hackers are individuals who exploit the vulnerabilities in the system by hacking into it with permission in order to defend the organization.
White hat hacking is absolutely legal and ethical. This is also often referred to as penetration testing. In addition to these hackers, we also have the Grey Hat hackers, as the name suggests, the Grey Hat hacker is a combination of both white and black hat hackers. These hackers discover vulnerabilities in the system and report it to the system’s owner; Grey Hat hackers may not seek the organization’s approval. On occasions, Grey Hat hackers also ask to be compensated financially in return for the identification of vulnerabilities.
Regardless of the method used, the techniques and tools tend to be similar between the methodologies. The use of methodologies does provide some significant advantages, and can be used to find the threats to a system or network using well-known attack vectors.
Vulnerabilities discovered by Ethical Hackers include:
- Injection attacks
- Broken authentication
- Security misconfigurations
- Use of components with known vulnerabilities
- Sensitive data exposure
- Social engineering
- Input validation
- Insecure or misconfigured services
Once vulnerabilities are identified, the Ethical Hacker will exploit them and may ultimately gain access to a system. An Ethical Hacker would also attempt to break into systems that do not necessarily have a known vulnerability, but are simply exposed. Ethical Hackers will then document their findings and evidence to report back to the organization or client.
Identifying Risks Using Bug Bounties Ethical Hacking
Bug bounties can be used to strengthen an organization’s security posture. Security researchers can find out bugs to the system before the cybercriminal does. These programs are highly monetized and help reduce cybercrime and protect privacy. The rewards are paid on when the Ethical Hacker finds vulnerability and reports are submitted to the client.
The core difference between bug bounties projects and an independent Ethical Hacker is that bug bounties are open to all while Ethical Hackers are outsourced to one consulting firm.
The Threat of Cyberattack
Cyberattacks does not discriminate against the size of an organization, actually the size is quite irrelevant. Particular areas of interest include the end points on various mobile platforms, networks, and web applications. The idea is to prevent these cyberattacks occurring in the first place.
The Ethical Hacker needs to think and behave like a hacker. The Ethical Hacker has been given approval by the organization to hack their network and perform various penetration tests.
Cyberattack Research and Statistics
A research carried out by Accenture, Ninth Annual Cost of Cybercrime study, states that “The impact of these cyberattacks to organizations, industries and society is substantial. Alongside the growing number of security breaches, the total cost of cybercrime for each company increased from $11.7 million in 2017 to a new high of $13.0 million — a rise of 12 percent” and 68% of business leaders feel their cybersecurity risks are increasing.
The Cybersecurity Challenge
Organizations will have cybersecurity controls in place to manage risk. However, there can be weaknesses in their security controls. End users are classed as easy targets by cybercriminals. There is a massive challenge in protecting all digital data, such as corporate login credentials and Personally Identifiable Information (PII). There have been several instances of these attacks. One occurrence was the highly destructive WannaCry Ransomware attack.
The emergence of WannaCry began in May 2017 in the Asian region and rapidly spread around the world. In 24 hours, more than 203,000 vulnerable computer systems were infected across 160 countries. Data files were encrypted and users were unable to access information. A typical denial of service attack. The cybercriminals demanded a ransom payment of up to $600 Bitcoin.
The systems affected were already vulnerable— one cause of the vulnerabilities was that the systems were not updated with the latest Microsoft Operating System 2017’s security updates. Organizations affected, including Nissan and FedEx, were heavily affected as this resulted in loss of production and downtime.
Cybersecurity as the practice of protecting networks and computer systems from unauthorized digital attacks, in 2018 WannaCry cyberattack cost the NHS £92m as 19,000 of appointments were canceled. The devastating global cyberattack that crippled computers in hospitals across the UK. £72m in the subsequent cleanup and upgrades to its IT systems.
How Was the WannaCry Attack Delivered?
The approach, although not unique, was delivered via email. The recipients were fooled using social engineering methods to open attachments and releasing malware onto their system through a technique known as phishing. Once a computer has been affected, it locks up the files and encrypts them in a way that cannot be accessed by the data owners. The cybercriminal then demands payment in bitcoin in order to regain access to files and data.
Probably, if an Ethical Hacker was hired in this case to conduct Penetration Testing in vulnerable systems and operating systems, it would have identified, tested, and patched and this would have kept the network secure before the cyberattack. Customer data would have been protected, productivity would have been increased, and negative reputational damage avoided. The key thing for any organization to focus on, first off, are the threats and attention to critical and sensitive data which need protection.
Why Hire an Ethical Hacker or Ethical Hacking Firm?
1. Organization liability
Sharing the risk by hiring an Ethical Hacker or Ethical Hacking firm not only helps the organization’s posture, it also demonstrates commitment to security. It can limit liability if the threat of a cyberattack is realized. Of course, based on other published attacks, the effects usually include data leakage and the publication of PII, customer, and even employee data. There are national and international regulations and standards which an organization will need to adhere to, such as GDPR, HIPPA, and PCI DSS.
2. Reduced risks and costs in the long term
The cost of testing may depend on the size and the assets of an organization. As part of testing controls and physical assets such as firewalls and servers are usually costly to maintain. However, the total cost of ownership compared to investment in protecting and managing cyberattacks can be justified to the top management and the board. An ethical hacking firm or consultant can be hired in order for systems to be safeguarded. This is now a necessity as attacks no longer fall under “if” it will happen rather “when” they will happen.
3. Organization transition to Cloud
Outsourcing to the Cloud and virtualization are now the norm. There have been concerns with the security of data within the cloud and the management of security given to Cloud Service Providers. Ethical Hackers can assist in testing companies’ assets without compromising security.
“Cloud testing is a form of software testing in which web applications use cloud computing environments to simulate real-world user traffic.” Verification of security controls and security consulting firms already provide cloud-based testing services such as performance testing, load testing, and web-based application testing, as well as the testing of environments hosted in the cloud as WAF (web application firewall), encryption, and configuration to ensure in-depth defense within various levels are still operational.
Testing in the cloud can be quite complex. This complexity can be managed by Ethical Hackers as they possess special technical skills and are experienced in writing scripts and applying test cases.
As the number of cyberattacks continues to increase, ethical hacking should be considered as part of an organizations’ ongoing security strategy. Utilizing third-party expert security consulting firms can enable an organization to be ahead and detect issues proactively.
It will also help organizations avoid becoming victims of cyberattacks and serve as evidence that they are meeting their legal and contractual obligations. For more, deploying expert Ethical Hackers can help to become more proactive in managing cyber risks.