What Exploits Do Hackers Use?
Working as a cybersecurity specialist can be an exciting career choice. Some people may be aware of what is involved in preventing attacks from malicious hackers. What’s less well known are the actual tools and exploits hackers leverage against a company’s best defenses. If you are interested in becoming an ethical hacker, the first thing you should learn is the tools of the trade of a black hat hacker.
What Exploits Do Black Hat Hackers Use?
It’s important to understand that there are essentially two types of hackers in the world. Cybersecurity specialists are also known as white hat hackers or ethical hackers. Black hat hackers, or unethical hackers, are criminals who use network exploits to commit crimes. Excelling as a cybersecurity specialist means knowing about the following exploit options commonly used by black hat hackers.
Malware (malicious software) is a broad term that covers many of popular exploits used by black hat hackers. Malware encompasses the software-based attack methods which work from within a compromised host system. A virus, worm, or trojan would be considered malware, but an SQL attack or attempt at garnering someone’s password through social manipulation wouldn’t be categorized as malware.
A computer virus is one of the most well-known exploits in a black hat hacker’s toolbox. This is in part because they reflect something everyone is quite familiar with, biological viruses. A biological virus attacks cells in the body and forces them to create new copies of the virus. A digital virus does something similar with executables on a computer. A computer virus can insert a copy of itself into programs and spread exponentially.
One of the biggest benefits of using a virus-based attack is its autonomy. A virus can attack vulnerable systems by itself without user intervention. In fact, many computer viruses will even use infected systems to email themselves to other computers. This is particularly worrisome in corporate environments since people are in constant contact with one another. Contact details, and even compromising information, are often easy to extract from a virus-infected system.
Keyloggers might not seem like much of a threat at first glance. After all, the programs simply record keypresses sent from a computer’s keyboard. But the threat of a keylogger becomes clearer when you consider how much sensitive information is typed into a computer.
A keylogger will log everything that’s typed within the system. This even includes information that’s hidden on-screen such as passwords. The problem becomes even more worrisome when you factor in social exploits. Personal information can be used for identity theft, blackmail, and as a basis to work out security information not caught by the keylogger. And a keylogger will keep track of every conversation typed out on a computer, personal or professional, and make it accessible to hackers.
Trojans mimic the function of the legendary trojan horse. In the story, invaders hid within a seemingly innocent wooden horse. A computer trojan hides malicious code inside a program that appears to be something quite harmless.
Trojans are similar in some respects to viruses. Both a trojan and a virus exist as executable code which appears to be safe. One of the primary differences is that a virus infects standard computer programs, it turns a safe program into a threat. However, a trojan is coded as a threat that appears to be a safe program. This is common among simple programs like help files. A help file needs to display properly formatted text. Any programmer can replicate that function, and many black hat hackers code that program around core functionality intended to compromise a host system.
A computer worm provides another example of code that mimics some behavior seen in biological systems. A computer virus and a computer worm are similar in many ways, but they mirror an important difference between biological worms and viruses. A biological virus is ultimately dependent on host cells to replicate, and similarly a computer virus needs to infect executables to spread. However, biological worms can crawl their way through different environments, moving through different computer systems to infect the network.
A worm can enter a system through physical means such as an infected USB drive. However, many of them continually scan networks for vulnerabilities. When a vulnerability is found, they can spread from one computer to another over the network. They don’t even need a human being to interact with them to activate within a new system. A computer worm is far more autonomous than a computer virus. This can make it a more difficult threat to counter.
DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attacks are among the most common techniques that are directly leveraged against a network. A DDoS attack tries to overload a digital server with legitimate requests that are performed too rapidly for it to manage. A computer server that tries to fulfill too many requests will usually go offline. The exact nature of the failure will differ by the type of DDoS attack used and the underlying server platform. However, a DDoS attack can almost always take a server offline if it’s not properly countered by a cybersecurity specialist.
A DDoS attack is launched and directed by a black hat hacker, and most DDoS attacks launch from thousands of computers that have been compromised by some form of malware. For example, a worm might be programmed to look to a specific URL for information about a DDoS target. If found, the worm would attack the specified destination. If thousands of systems are infected by the same worm, then a black hat hacker can unleash a small army of infected systems with a single command. These networks of infected computers are known as a botnet.
SQL (Structured Query Language) injection is a more hands-on technique than most of the other tools in a hacker’s arsenal. SQL injection works by hijacking interaction between an external system and a company’s internal databases. SQL is itself a programming language that either requests information from a database or tells it to store new information.
A hacker working with SQL injection tries to find a way to send valid SQL commands to a company’s database. This is made easier because a website will store most of its information within a single database. This will include innocuous data like the description of an item sold on a website. However, the same database may also contain the credit card information of everyone who’s bought that item in the past.
And of course, a company’s own internal data is also stored in a database. Company secrets, authorizations for secure data, and even the l payroll might be accessible to a black hat hacker that has worked their way into a system through SQL injection.
Have you heard of someone fishing for a compliment or fishing for information? Phishing is somewhat analogous to those ideas. It’s one of the least malware-based forms of black hat exploits as it’s about making and exploiting social connections. This can occur through digital methods such as email, but it’s just as likely to occur after work hours at a bar close to an employee’s office.
Phishing attempts can involve almost any type of information. Black hat hackers try to extract personal information from their targets. This might include birthdays, family names, pets, and similar information. Then used later as the black hat hacker tries to break into the person’s digital accounts. Think about how often you use personal information for passwords or as a security question. It often won’t take much discussion with someone to learn about their possible answers to password hints past their favorite pet or sports team.
As with many of the other exploits, ransomware takes an offline concept into the digital world. Unfortunately, as the name suggests, this implies a black hat hacker holding data for ransom. This begins using a virus, worm, or trojan. The malware will infect a system and encrypt the files on it. The only way to get access to those files is using a decryption key. However, that’s where the ransom comes in. The black hat hackers will contact the computer’s owner and demand payment in exchange for the decryption key.
Now that you know what exploits a black hat hacker uses to penetrate vulnerable computers and networks, it is time to learn the defensive tactics an ethical hacker can use to stop those exploits. If you are interested in becoming an ethical hacker, Peloton College offers a cybersecurity program that can prepare you to support organizations in safeguarding their computers and networks. Our comprehensive curriculum will prepare you for the many certifications that support your degree in cybersecurity. Join forces with Peloton College to become an ethical hacker today.
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The Associate of Applied Science in Cybersecurity training program prepares and supports you in obtaining several certifications in support of their cybersecurity career including CompTIA’s A+, Network+, Security+, Linux+, Pentest, & CySA+. AAS in Cybersecurity training program graduates will typically qualify for entry-level employment in roles such as Information Security Analysts and Computer Network Support Specialists.
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