The “Ethical Hacker” and IT Security

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“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

–Sun Tzu, “The Art of War”


A successful insider attack against a large company could cause an average loss of $2.7 million in damages, according to recent findings of Computer Security Institute and the FBI. In addition, earlier this year, MyDoom, the fastest-spreading Internet virus to date, caused $22.6 billion in damages in its first 72 hours. Because attacks are getting more frequent and sophisticated, the independent IT training company New Horizons released its “Ethical Hacker” program, geared toward security officers, auditors, site administrators, security professionals and anyone concerned about the integrity of the network infrastructure.


“The Ethical Hacker program essentially helps an organization secure its infrastructure against malicious attacks by demonstrating to a student how to actually attack the system themselves in order to uncover vulnerabilities in their organization’s systems and gaps in their security,” said John Golden, New Horizons’ vice president of products and programs. “The student is typically a trusted individual employed by an organization to attempt to penetrate networks and computers using the tactics and methods an illegal hacker would use.”


The logic behind the program is simple enough, and not unlike the advice offered to Chinese generals by Sun Tzu centuries ago. “An organization cannot secure its infrastructure unless it engages someone who understands and can replicate the methods and thinking of an illegal hacker,” Golden said. “Although hacking is a felony, it is legal when done under contract between an Ethical Hacker and an organization in order to secure their systems. The Ethical Hacker, therefore, is akin to a security expert whose job it is to understand how the illegal hacker thinks and works, and then preemptively prevent them from having the opportunity to impact an organization.”

The program consists of five days of instruction in an interactive environment where students are taught how to scan, test, hack and secure their own systems, Golden said. The majority of the course takes place in an intensive lab environment that teaches the student about current security systems and methods. Participants are shown how perimeter defenses work and subsequently how to scan and attack the network (in a controlled environment, of course). They then learn how illegal hackers attempt to upgrade their privileges on a system and what steps can be taken to prevent this. Students also learn about topics like intrusion detection, policy creation, social engineering, distributed denial of service (DdoS) attacks, buffer overflows and virus creation.

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