Phases of Ethical Hacking

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Raj Vardhman
Written by
Raj Vardhman

Updated · Nov 16, 2023

Raj Vardhman
Chief Strategist, Techjury | Project Engineer, WP-Stack | Joined January 2023 | Twitter LinkedIn
Raj Vardhman

Raj Vardhman is a tech expert and the Chief Tech Strategist at, where he leads the rese... | See full bio

Florence Desiata
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Florence Desiata


Florence Desiata
Joined June 2023 | LinkedIn
Florence Desiata

Florence is a dedicated wordsmith on a mission to make technology-related topics easy-to-understand.... | See full bio

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Over 24,000 cyber security incidents occurred globally between November 2020 and October 2021.

Behind these attacks are people who are usually called black hat hackers or simply hackers. Because of these hackers, organizations worldwide work hard to enhance their security systems. 

This is where Ethical hackers, a.k.a white hat hackers come in. These hackers enter a system with the owner's consent to identify any vulnerabilities or security issues. 

In addition to fixing the security backdoors, laying out plans to further improve or tighten a computer system's security is also part of their job description. To do this, ethical hackers follow different phases. 

In this article, learn these different phases and understand how ethical hackers counter harmful cyber attacks. 

Key Takeaways: 

  • Ethical hacking is a legitimate and consent-based practice carried out by white hat hackers to identify and address vulnerabilities in computer systems.
  • There are five phases of ethical hacking: reconnaissance, scanning, gaining access, maintaining access, and clearing tracks.
  • The primary goal of ethical hacking is to discover potential security risks before malicious attackers exploit them.
  • Ethical hackers require strong technical expertise in computer networks, systems, and security procedures.
  • Obtaining a CEH Certification can enhance skills and knowledge in various types of ethical hacking and the latest cybersecurity threats.

Ethical Hacking & Its Five Phases

There are at least five phases of hacking: reconnaissance, scanning, gaining access, maintaining access, and clearing tracks. 

five phases of hacking

Below are the five phases of hacking and their definitions. 


Reconnaissance or footprinting in ethical hacking is the first phase of ethical hacking and is also the most important. 

Here, the hacker gathers information and gets to know the target systems through footprinting, scanning, and enumeration.

There are two parts where reconnaissance occurs: active and passive.

Active reconnaissance is where the ethical hacker interacts directly with the computer system to acquire information that can be relevant and accurate. 

However, using this without permission may have a risk of getting detected. The system’s administration can trail your activities and take severe action against you.

On the other hand, passive reconnaissance does not require the hacker to connect directly to a target's computer system. The hacker can instead search for information about the target through an online database, and the target will not be alerted.

Did You Know?

Passive reconnaissance is often compared to "stalking" in the digital world. Like how a stalker gathers information about their target without directly interacting with them, a hacker using passive reconnaissance methods collects information about a target system without directly connecting to it. This analogy helps highlight the difference between active and passive reconnaissance techniques.


The scanning phase in ethical hacking is about:

  • identifying live hosts, ports, and services, 
  • learning the operating system (OS) and architecture of the target system, and 
  • spotting vulnerabilities and threats in the network are all accomplished by scanning.

Vulnerability scanners are the most often used tools because they can search a target network for several known vulnerabilities and potentially detect thousands more. 

As a result, attackers have gained a time advantage over system administrators, who must apply patches to numerous vulnerable areas while also having to discover a single entry point.

Fun Fact!

Vulnerability scanner sometimes uncovers surprising vulnerabilities. In some cases, while scanning target networks for known ]vulnerabilities, ethical hackers have encountered unique and previously unknown security flaws that even the system administrators were unaware of.

Gaining Access

In the third phase, the hacker locates a vulnerable area and attempts to exploit it to enter the system using different tools and methods. When the hacker is in the system, he needs to increase his privilege to the administrator level to install the application that he needs or can modify or hide his data.

Maintaining access

The goal of maintaining access in ethical hacking is to allow the hacker to stay in the targeted systems. This is until he gathers the data he deems valuable and successfully extracts it from the system. 

Here, the hacker can keep the backdoor accessible by installing a hidden infrastructure like trojan horses, rootkits, and channels.

Clearing tracks

To identify an intelligent and skillful hacker is when he leaves no evidence leading to him. 

To accomplish this phase, the attacker must uninstall all the applications he used and any folders they may have created. Additionally, the value of logs and registry entries must be deleted, changed, or corrupted.

This phase is somehow an extension of the maintaining access phase. Here, however, the hacker covers his tracks to help avoid detection while maintaining access to it.

In a nutshell: 

In the "Clearing Tracks" phase of ethical hacking, the goal is for the attacker to leave no trace of their activities behind. By covering their tracks effectively, the hacker increases their chances of remaining undetected while maintaining access to the compromised system.

There are other steps that a hacker can integrate into the process, but these are the typical phases in the ethical hacking methodology.

Strong technical expertise in computer networks, systems, and optimal security procedures is necessary for ethical hacking. 

To be an ethical hacker, you can get a CEH Certification to learn about the latest cybersecurity threats and improve your skills for different types of ethical hacking.

Types of Ethical Hacking

Ethical hacking is a complicated procedure that involves a combination of skills, tactics, and approaches to verify the security of a company's computer systems. 

In terms of cyber security procedures, there are several types of hacking, including:

Types of Ethical Hacking

  • Web Application Hacking - It takes advantage of security flaws in web applications to change data, obtain unauthorized access, or carry out other nefarious tasks. 
  • System Hacking - System hacking is the practice of gaining access to a computer system or network by taking advantage of its flaws
  • Web Server Hacking: This type of cyberattack targets web servers It is a hostile attempt to enter a web server without authorization to steal data, take over the server, or disrupt services. 
  • Hacking Wireless Networks - This is an attack against wireless networks or access points that provide sensitive data, including authentication attacks, wifi passwords, admin portal access, and other information of a similar nature. A hacker can access the system nearby since wireless networks use radio waves to transmit data.
  • Social Engineering - This attack refers to all methods used to convince a target to divulge sensitive details or carry out a particular action for questionable motives. Criminals utilize eugenics because targeting your natural difficulty trusting is typically more straightforward than figuring out how to spoof your device.

Ethical hacking's main goal is to spot potential security risks and address them before it is exploited for nefarious purposes by other hackers. This testing involves several phases, which will be discussed in the next section.

Wrapping Up

Having your business hacked by malicious actors, called black hat hackers, can cost much money and valuable information. 

Ethical hacking is beneficial to establishments because it allows them to spot issues and help companies with their security needs.


Are ethical hackers legal?

Yes, they are legal because they are trusted to enter the company's organization and computer systems to determine whether their cybersecurity is strong.

Are ethical hackers good or bad?

Compared to black hat hackers, white or ethical hackers have little interest in taking advantage of vulnerabilities for their benefit. 

Why should I become an ethical hacker?

You will have the same skillset compared to black hat hackers, but you get paid with less risk.


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