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Computer networks have become an integral part of business as well as everyday life. At the same time, these systems have become extremely complex, often hosting thousands of software applications, databases, operating systems, servers, processes, and more. Numerous vulnerabilities exist in these complex systems, waiting to be exploited by potential threat actors; determined attackers typically make their way gradually by exploiting several successive vulnerabilities, each time using the obtained information, privilege, or access to progress deeper into the network. Examples of worrisome past incidents include power grids being shut down, smart cars being taken over, and financial institutions being robbed in cyber space. Thus, the ability to assess and improve the cyber-security of computer networks is becoming a priority in most organizations today.
Ethical hacking is an increasingly popular approach to cyber-security assessment. Ethical hackers analyze systems to find breaches, flaws or backdoors, and if their search is successful, they sometimes try to make their way into the systems’ back end (e.g., DBMSs) and exfiltrate sensitive data. But they differ in their intention and what they do with their findings. Unethical hackers’ end-game is illegitimate: they steal data in order to make money (e.g., by selling the data, or by threatening owners to disclose the stolen data and asking for a ransom), or for political reasons (hacktivists, state-sponsored hacker groups creating Advanced Persistent Threats). On the contrary, the ethical hackers’ motivation is to make systems and networks safer. They don’t attack networks without permission, they disclose vulnerabilities responsibly, and they don't compromise the confidentiality, integrity or availability of the attacked systems.
The purpose of this course is to develop students' understanding of and practical experience in ethical hacking techniques. For this purpose, students are invited to explore and attack a virtual computer network set up as a training environment.
Read more about the course's learning objectives in the course plan.
As a prerequisite, participants should have basic programming skills. Knowledge about operating systems (UNIX-based, Microsoft Windows) and communication networks is a definite plus.
The course's main activities are listed below.
There are five lectures, of which four are guest lectures with cyber-security professionals from the industry, professionals who will share their most exciting hacking experiences and anecdotes with the course participants. You can find the planned seminars in the course calendar and under assignments.
The course includes a set of videos that introduce the course as a whole as well as the various subtopics of the course. Additionally, demo videos are offered for the exploits that constitute part of the course. These serve two purposes: (i) To provide some background to the employed exploits, and (ii) to assist students who were unable to perform the exploits solely based on verbal hints. Therefore, the exploit demos are typically released after all other hints relating to a certain exploit have been made available. Finally, a number of interviews with security experts are available in the video section.
A mock corporate network has been rigged in a virtual environment. On various places in this network, flags (information to extract) are placed. The overall objective is to capture all the flags. To assist students, hints are offered for each flag.
To complete the project assignment, students are free to use their imagination and any tools available on the Internet. In the provided material, participants are introduced to specific network and vulnerability scanning tools, exploit platforms, remote control utilities, password cracking tools, and so on. Nonetheless, participants are eventually free to choose methods and tools of their own.
At the start of the course, hackers (students) obtain VPN credentials to connect to the virtual company's office LAN, protected by a firewall. The objective of the mission is to compromise the network as fully as possible. In order to prove that they were able to hack hosts, participants need to collect and submit specific information - so called flags - which take the form of hexadecimal strings. To pass the course, all flags need to be collected.
While the choice of attack platform and tools remains the participants decision, Kali Linux is suggested as a penetration testing platform.
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