“Every day, all over the world, computer networks and hosts are being broken into. The level of sophistication of these attacks varies widely; while it is generally believed that most break-ins succeed due to weak passwords, there are still a large number of intrusions that use more advanced techniques to break in. Less is known about the latter types of break-ins, because by their very nature they are much harder to detect.”
This is the opening of a research paper titled “Improving the Security of Your Site by Breaking Into It.” It was one of the first detailed accounts of ethical hacking, the process of intentionally infiltrating an organization’s network to discover vulnerabilities, which the paper’s authors described at the time as “an unusual approach to system security.” It was written more than 20 years ago, yet its premise remains as relevant as ever.
What has changed since this report is the volume and complexity of computer networks, and the enhanced levels of sophisticated attacks. And then there’s the most significant development of the last few years: increased mobility.
Ethical hacking techniques have evolved to address the ubiquity of smartphones and tablets and personal devices allowed by Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policies, all easily accessing corporate networks and data.
Ethical hacking of mobile devices and applications is a sophisticated process that includes:
- Jailbreaking and rooting Apple iOS and Android systems using tools such as redsn0w and Absinthe.
- Analyzing filesystem data using tools like SqliteSpy, Plist Editor, and AXMLPrinter. The goal is to extract sensitive mobile device use information such as the SMS history, browser history, GPS history, and user dictionary keywords.
- Identifying malware and information leakage threats in mobile applications using reverse engineering tools such as class-dump, JD-GUI, dex-translator, and apktool.
- Discovering security flaws in mobile applications using iAuditor, Cycript, Mobile Substrate, TaintDroid, and DroidBox.
- Using wireless network analysis tools to identify and exploit wireless networks, crack WEP and WPA/ WPA2 access points, bypass enterprise wireless network authentication requirements, and harvest user credentials.
- Intercepting and manipulating mobile device network activity to manipulate the actions taken by a user in an application and to deliver mobile device exploits to vulnerable devices.
Ethical hacking is no longer an “usual approach to system security.” But the tools and techniques used will continue to evolve as network security and the methods of exploiting them grow more complex and sophisticated. Ethical hacker training will, therefore, continue to play an important role in identifying and fixing network vulnerabilities.