Ever since the internet was created, there has been a rise in the number of its users every single decade. That’s because of the wide range of services that are available to us through the internet. Organizations use it to develop web applications for their users, to provide ease of living. It helps them to easily contact every single user on a personal level and meet the needs of their customers. However, if there is an improper configuration or the code was poorly written on web servers by the developer, then it can pose a threat to the organization. These vulnerabilities can be used to get benefits by accessing the sensitive data of the web servers without authorization. This is known as Server Hacking.
What are Web Servers and How Do They Work?
A web server is a hardware that is used to either store or host software and files of the webserver. Software or hardware whether they are alone or together indicates a web server. They run on a variety of operating systems that are connected to the back-end database and are used to run plenty of applications. In the recent past, there has been a tremendous increase in the use of web servers because most of the online services are provided in the form of web applications only. Web servers are used to host web or website or web application data.
To access a web server one needs the domain name of a website. The domain name helps to ensure that the content of the website is delivered to the user who requested it by the use of HTTP or in a more expanded form, the Hypertext Transfer Protocol. The application of a web server involves the transfer of files, communicating via emails, and much more. They are very useful and an integral part of today’s internet-oriented world. They are so powerful that can successfully deliver the same file to thousands of website users at the same time.
The Security Issues in Web Servers and the Work of an Ethical Hacker
As mentioned above, a web server might have some vulnerabilities like inappropriate permissions of the directory, an improper configuration in SSL certificates, unnecessary services, default setup, lack of security, bugs, etc. and because of these vulnerabilities, they become subject to attacks on network-level and operating systems. Web servers are hardware used to store or host software and website files, such as images, scripts, texts, etc.
Most of the time, attackers take advantage of these vulnerabilities by using them to get unauthorized access to web servers to exploit them. Hackers might even do it as a team to gain financial benefits from a big organization. On the other hand, the work of an ethical hacker is to counteract these attackers by using certain defensive measures to protect their web servers. They look out for vulnerabilities and fix them so that an attack doesn’t happen.
A Step By Step Process of How Hacking is Done by an Attacker
- Gathering of Information using Footprinting
All sorts of information related to the target or victim is gathered by using different types of passive methods, tools, or ways like internet surfing, social engineering, operating system detection, network enumeration, etc. Footprinting refers to the use of different tools for gathering all the required information related to the target of the attacker. The main aim of this phase is to have the least amount of interaction with the target while simultaneously gaining important, confidential, or personal information about them. The attacker makes sure to not get detected by or alert the target audience. Through the method of footprinting, the vulnerabilities of the webserver that is getting attacked can easily be exploited at a quick rate. Tools used in web server footprinting like Maltego and Nessus reveal details about the operating system, running services, applications, and much more.
- Scanning for Vulnerabilities in the Web Server
The next important step after the information has been gathered is vulnerability scanning. For this purpose, a vulnerability scanner is used, which is a computer program designed to discover the weaknesses of computers and networks. Some of the commonly used vulnerability scanning methods are network services, port scanning, and OS detection. The tools that are mostly used for scanning are Nikto, Nmap, and Nessus. Besides these, there are plenty of other methods and tools that can be used to do a vulnerability scan.
- Session or Cookie Hijacking
Session hijacking refers to the exploitation of the web session. For this sort of attack, the hijacker takes over users’ sessions to gain unauthorized access to the webserver. It is used for hijacking web applications and browser sessions most of the time. To successfully to a session hijack, the attacker needs to know the session key or ID, which can be obtained by either stealing the session or by clicking on some harmful link provided by the attacker to the target. Once the key is obtained, the server would treat the attacker’s connection as the initial session.
- Attacking to Extract Passwords
It refers to cracking passwords to gain unauthorized access to the target system of the user. It can be done by attacks such as social engineering, dictionary attack, password guessing, or by using the stolen information of the user.
Defensive Measures that an Ethical Hacker Can Take to Protect a Web Server
- Keeping the web server in a secure and isolated environment through security devices like IDS, IPS and firewalls are very essential for protecting it from threats.
- Website change detection can be used for detecting unexpected activities or changes in the webserver. Scripting focuses on inspecting file modifications to specifically detect hacking attempts.
- Furthermore, having minimum services, disabling tracking and unnecessary insecure ports, only allowing encrypted traffic and continuously monitoring it to detect any unauthorized activity, and using 80 HTTP have proven to be successful methods of securing the webserver on different levels.
There are various ways in which hacking can be done with the use of different sorts of methods and tools. An ethical hacker needs to know about these tools from the point of view of the hacker to counteract an attack. They learn the best techniques and defensive measures to protect web servers.