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What are the 5 Phases of Ethical Hacking?

Author : PyNet Labs
Last Modified: March 4, 2024 
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With the increasing number of organizations shifting to the digital world, the importance of protecting data from hacking and cyber-attacks has become more critical than ever. Many companies are now recognizing the potential risks associated with these attacks and considering proactive measures, such as ethical hacking. But how can ethical hacking help in saving organizations from such attacks? Phases of ethical hacking comprise some crucial steps that ethical hackers take in order to find vulnerabilities and take security measures in order to protect data.

In this blog, we will mainly focus on Ethical Hacking, the 5 phases of ethical hacking, and frequently asked questions. Let’s Begin!

What is Ethical Hacking?

The goal of ethical hacking is to get a better knowledge of a system’s security by exploiting its weaknesses in a controlled environment. When conducting an ethical hack, a security expert or researcher acts similarly to a malicious hacker. This helps in the early detection and identification of security concerns, making it harder for hackers to exploit.

The success of a company’s security strategy can be analyzed and strengthened with the help of ethical hacking, also known as White Hat Hacking. You can also checkout our Ethical Hacking Course.

Importance of Ethical Hacking

Ethical hacking is important because it allows networks to be protected from cyber threats and is a specific type of penetration testing run for security purposes.

Three major importance of ethical hacking are given below:

  • It helps you detect all the vulnerabilities in your network, allowing you to resolve vulnerabilities before criminals or hackers can cause harm quickly.
  • It is used to analyze weak areas in your network and improve its security by installing stronger security measures.
  • It allows for training to be provided to employees regarding cybersecurity issues, ensuring that they do not fall victim to scams or other threats.

Types of Ethical Hacking

Common types of ethical hacking are given below:

  • Web application hacking: It is the process of exploiting software on HTTP by exploiting the software’s visual Chrome browser, interfering with URIs, or conspiring with HTTP features not available in the URI.
  • System hacking: Attackers use system hacking to get access to personal computers on the network. The IT security professionals counter these attacks with defensive measures such as password busting, privilege escalation, malicious software creation, and packet sniffing.
  • Web Server Hacking: Web information created by application software databases in real-time. Therefore, attackers obtain credentials, passcodes, and company details from web applications through gluing, ping deluge, port scans, sniffing attacks, and social engineering techniques.
  • Hacking Wireless Networks: This happens because wireless networks use radio waves while sharing data; through this, attackers can easily stream into the system from a nearby location. Typically, attackers use network snorting to locate, and bypass detected wireless networks.
  • Social Engineering: Social engineering allows the public to be manipulated into revealing sensitive information, and attackers use eugenics because attacking trust in difficult times is easier than figuring out how to trick devices.

We now have a basic understanding of ethical hacking; let’s understand the phases of ethical hacking and how they assist in minimizing the attacks.

What are the Phases of Ethical Hacking?

Ethical hackers are employed by organizations to replicate the effects of a cyberattack on their systems as well as networks. Ethical hackers need a lot of knowledge and expertise before they can find every vulnerability and use them to their advantage.

The purpose of this hypothetical attack is to draw attention to all of the enterprise’s weak points and address how to strengthen these weak points. The 5 phases of ethical hacking are:

  1. Reconnaissance
  2. Scanning
  3. Gaining Access
  4. Maintaining Access
  5. Covering Track

While every ethical hacker doesn’t need to follow the above-discussed phases in a similar order, now, let’s understand the phases of ethical hacking in detail.


Reconnaissance is the first phase of ethical hacking which is also known as penetration testing. Before initiating an attack, hackers do research on their targets and uncover useful information like previously used passwords, identities of important individuals as well as the safety precautions that have been taken.

There are typically three categories for which data is gathered. These are:

  • Host
  • People
  • Network

In this stage, the ethical hacker has two options for gathering information. These are:

  • Active reconnaissance: Active reconnaissance is a deliberate effort to look for information regarding the target network system, server, or application to increase the possibility of the hacker’s exposure inside the system.
  • Passive reconnaissance: Passive reconnaissance is the stealthier method of gathering intelligence. This includes looking for IP addresses and other crucial information and obtaining data on the company’s main members and significant details.

Ethical hackers may find it simple to acquire information passively about a target business since almost all of that firm’s data is available to the public.


After reconnaissance, the second phase of ethical hacking is scanning. This phase involves applying the data gathered during reconnaissance to the process of searching for security vulnerabilities in the intended location. Ethical hackers do a variety of scans, some of these are:

  • Network scanning: It involves the identification of the network topology, covering important information such as hosts, firewalls, servers, and routers within the host network. Once the mapping process is complete, white hat hackers can visualize and plan strategically to determine the subsequent actions in the ethical hacking process.
  • Port scanning: Ethical hackers employ automated tools to identify any open ports within the network. This feature enables an efficient method for enumerating the services and live systems within a network and establishing connections with these components.
  • Vulnerability scanning: It is used to identify vulnerabilities and weak points within a target system and thereafter exploit these bugs through various means. The process is executed utilizing automated tools such as Nmap, OpenVAS, Netsparker, and various others.

Gaining Access

After gathering and analyzing as much data as possible in the first two phases, the ethical hacker next launches a full-scale assault on the target system or network. They use all the vulnerabilities they find to take over the machine in order to achieve administrative access.

In the third phase, an attacker tries to deliver a malicious payload to the application by communicating with it across the network, a neighbouring subnetwork, or a locally connected computer. To fake an effort at breaking in, hackers often employ a wide variety of hacking tools and methods, including:

  • Injection attacks
  • Buffer overflows
  • XML external entity

Furthermore, the hacker may proceed to simulate additional attacks, such as DDoS and many others.

Maintaining Access

When breaking into a company’s network, hackers often have some goal in mind or strategy to carry it out. This implies that illegally entering or hacking into the system won’t be sufficient. The ethical hacker must maintain access to the system or network until they achieve their objective. Ethical hackers often accomplish this step using Trojans or other backdoors/rootkits. During this time of keeping access, they may also launch more attacks on the company.

Covering Tracks

The final phase involves the completion of the whole ethical hacking process. Upon completing this step, the ethical hacker has effectively gained access to a system or network using hacking techniques. Hackers carry out steps to remove all signs of their harmful behaviour so that no one can trace their actions back to them. These are:

  • Clearing logs
  • Uninstalling scripts or applications that were used to carry out attacks
  • Modifying registry values

The vast majority of hackers who want to remain undiscovered use methods such as tunnelling and various others.

After completing all 5 phases of ethical hacking, the ethical hacker will write a report detailing the vulnerabilities and provide recommendations for fixing them.

Benefits of Ethical Hacking

As we all know, the primary benefit of ethical hacking is to protect our data from being stolen and misused by malicious attackers, but it also has many other benefits:

  • Detecting vulnerabilities on the part of any attacker so that victims can fix vulnerable areas.
  • Executing a secure network that protects against security breaches.
  • To protect national security by securing the country’s data from terrorists.
  • To gain the trust of clients and investors by providing them with the best protection for them and their data.
  • Helping secure networks with real-world experiences.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q1 – What are the 5 phases of ethical hacking?

The five phases of ethical hacking are – Reconnaissance, Scanning, Gaining Access, Maintaining Access, and Covering Track.

Q2 – What is the 1st phase of hacking?

The first phase of hacking is known as Reconnaissance. In this stage, the hacker seeks to learn as much as possible about the victim. It may include discovering the target’s DNS information, IP address range, and network.

Q3 – What are the 5 stages of cyber security?

The five stages of cyber security are: Identify, Protect, Detect, Respond, and Recover.

Q4 – What is the last phase of ethical hacking?

The last phase of ethical hacking is known as reporting. Here, the Ethical Hacker writes a report detailing his work, including the tools he used, the rate of success, the vulnerabilities discovered, and the methods he utilized to exploit them.


The method of ethical hacking is complex and time-consuming. Successful ethical hacking requires the requisite training skills that are only available to working professionals. The 5 phases of ethical hacking that we discussed in this blog require time, skill, and knowledge to complete successfully.

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