Vulnerability scanner

Main article: Vulnerability scanner

A vulnerability scanner is a tool used to quickly check computers on a network for known weaknesses. Hackers also commonly use port scanners. These check to see which ports on a specified computer are “open” or available to access the computer, and sometimes will detect what program or service is listening on that port, and its version number. (Note that firewalls defend computers from intruders by limiting access to ports/machines both inbound and outbound, but can still be circumvented.)

Password cracking

Main article: Password cracking

Password cracking is the process of recovering passwords from data that has been stored in or transmitted by a computer system. A common approach, known as a brute-force attack, is to repeatedly try guesses for the password.

Packet sniffer

Main article: Packet sniffer

A packet sniffer is an application that captures data packets, which can be used to capture passwords and other data in transit over the network.

Spoofing attack (Phishing)

Main article: Spoofing attack

A spoofing attack involves one program, system, or website successfully masquerading as another by falsifying data and thereby being treated as a trusted system by a user or another program. The purpose of this is usually to fool programs, systems, or users into revealing confidential information, such as user names and passwords, to the attacker.


Main article: Rootkit

A rootkit is designed to conceal the compromise of a computer’s security, and can represent any of a set of programs which work to subvert control of an operating system from its legitimate operators. Usually, a rootkit will obscure its installation and attempt to prevent its removal through a subversion of standard system security. Rootkits may include replacements for system binaries so that it becomes impossible for the legitimate user to detect the presence of the intruder on the system by looking at process tables.

Social engineering

Main article: Social engineering (computer security)

When a Hacker, typically a black hat, is in the second stage of the targeting process, he or she will typically use some social engineering tactics to get enough information to access the network. A common practice for hackers who use this technique, is to contact the system administrator and play the role of a user who cannot get access to his or her system. Hackers who use this technique have to be quite savvy and choose the words they use carefully, in order to trick the system administrator into giving them information. In some cases only an employed help desk user will answer the phone and they are generally easy to trick. Another typical hacker approach is for the hacker to act like a very angry supervisor and when the his/her authority is questioned they will threaten the help desk user with their job. Social Engineering is very effective because users are the most vulnerable part of an organization. All the security devices and programs in the world won’t keep an organization safe if an employee gives away a password. Black Hat Hackers take advantage of this fact. Social Engineering can also be broken down into four sub-groups. These are intimidation, helpfulness, technical, and name-dropping.

  • Intimidation As stated above, with the angry supervisor, the hacker attacks the person who answers the phone with threats to their job. Many people at this point will accept that the hacker is a supervisor and give them the needed information.
  • Helpfulness Opposite to intimidation, helpfulness is taking advantage of a person natural instinct to help someone with a problem. The hacker will not get angry instead act very distressed and concerned. The help desk is the most vulnerable to this type of Social Engineering, because they generally have the authority to change or reset passwords which is exactly what the hacker needs.
  • Name-Dropping Simply put, the hacker uses the names of advanced users as “key words”, and gets the person who answers the phone to believe that they are part of the company because of this. Some information, like web page ownership, can be obtained easily on the web. Other information such as president and vice president names might have to be obtained via dumpster diving.
  • Technical Using technology to get information is also a great way to get it. A hacker can send a fax or an email to a legitimate user in hopes to get a response containing vital information. Many times the hacker will act like he/she is involved with law enforcement and needs certain data for record keeping purposes or investigations.

Trojan horses

Main article: Trojan horse (computing)

A Trojan horse is a program which seems to be doing one thing, but is actually doing another. A trojan horse can be used to set up a back door in a computer system such that the intruder can gain access later. (The name refers to the horse from the Trojan War, with conceptually similar function of deceiving defenders into bringing an intruder inside.)


Main article: Computer virus

A virus is a self-replicating program that spreads by inserting copies of itself into other executable code or documents. Therefore, a computer virus behaves in a way similar to a biological virus, which spreads by inserting itself into living cells.

While some are harmless or mere hoaxes most computer viruses are considered malicious.


Main article: Computer worm

Like a virus, a worm is also a self-replicating program. A worm differs from a virus in that it propagates through computer networks without user intervention. Unlike a virus, it does not need to attach itself to an existing program. Many people conflate the terms “virus” and “worm”, using them both to describe any self-propagating program.

Key loggers

Main article: Keystroke logging

A key logger is a tool designed to record (‘log’) every keystroke on an affected machine for later retrieval. Its purpose is usually to allow the user of this tool to gain access to confidential information typed on the affected machine, such as a user’s password or other private data. Some key loggers uses virus-, trojan-, and rootkit-like methods to remain active and hidden. However, some key loggers are used in legitimate ways and sometimes to even enhance computer security. As an example, a business might have a key logger on a computer used at a point of sale and data collected by the key logger could be used for catching employee fraud.