Glossary Glossary

Cyber Reconnaissance




Cyber reconnaissance (sometimes referred to as recon for short) is the process of gathering as much intelligence as possible about a target system or network. Penetration testers and security researchers do it to uncover system vulnerabilities and other information like a target’s network infrastructure, employee contact details, and any other data that can serve as attack entry points.

Cyber reconnaissance aims to identify attack vectors or ways attackers could get into a target organization’s network. During reconnaissance, cybersecurity specialists—and possibly the bad actors, too—use techniques, such as footprinting, scanning, enumeration, and social engineering.

Table of Contents

Cyber Reconnaissance: A Deep Dive

What Are The Types of Reconnaissance?

There are two types of reconnaissance: active and passive.

  • Passive reconnaissance involves methods of researching the organization without any direct interaction with it. Methods of passive reconnaissance include open-source intelligence (OSINT), analyzing the target’s websites, exploring documentation, and more.
  • Active reconnaissance activities, on the contrary, involve direct interactions with the organization’s network to gather information. Methods of active reconnaissance include port scanning, vulnerability scanning, and more. Active methods are usually more effective and fast but can be intrusive and even disrupt processes within the organization. Passive reconnaissance is much more stealthy – it’s usually done without alerting the target organization.

What Techniques Are Used to Perform Cyber Reconnaissance?

Cyber reconnaissance is part of an organization’s proactive cyber defense that aims to identify as many potential attack vectors as possible before threat actors can exploit them.

Reconnaissance may involve using several tools and solutions, including vulnerability scanners and attack surface management (ASM) platforms, to make an inventory of all potential attack entry points. These tools enable security teams and ethical hackers to perform these techniques:

Cyber Reconnaissance techniques
  • Footprinting: Digital footprinting refers to the process of gathering information about a target’s network infrastructure, such as its IP address ranges, hostnames, and DNS records. Footprinting can include processes like DNS lookups to determine a target’s domains and IP addresses and WHOIS queries to obtain the ownership and administrative details of domain names.
    Footprinting includes both passive and active techniques. A DNS lookup is an example of passive footprinting, while running a traceroute command is active footprinting – it can trigger an organization’s intrusion detection system (IDS). 
  • Enumeration: This involves identifying domains associated with a target organization and uncovering subdomains tied to them.
  • Port scanning: Ethical hackers can probe a target system or network for open ports and services. They can do so by sending packets to a range of ports on a system to determine which are open and exploitable. They can also use external attack surface management (EASM) tools for port scanning.
  • Web application scanning: Web applications are prime targets, as they typically store sensitive data or may be prone to denial-of-service (DoS) attacks. Scanning them to identify and test security vulnerabilities automatically is a vital reconnaissance technique.
  • Wireless network scanning: This is the process of examining a wireless network’s security settings to determine vulnerabilities that attackers can exploit.

Why Is Cyber Reconnaissance Important?

Threat actors make calculated moves before launching full-blown attacks. They observe which areas in a target system can serve as entry points. In a way, they also perform their version of reconnaissance.

Therefore, making cyber reconnaissance a part of an organization’s cybersecurity strategy enables security teams to examine their systems through cyber attackers’ eyes. In particular, cyber reconnaissance helps organizations in these areas:

  • Risk management: The process allows organizations to analyze which areas in their IT environments are most prone to cyber attacks.
  • ASM: Reconnaissance exposes threat vectors that make up an organization’s attack surface, allowing security teams to manage and reduce it.
  • Vulnerability management: By performing techniques that test a system’s security, cyber reconnaissance helps organizations understand and mitigate the most vulnerable areas, improving its security posture.
  • Regulatory compliance: Since the process brings to light system vulnerabilities, entities can work toward securing their whole IT infrastructure and ultimately comply with industry standards and regulations.

Penetration testing – a necessary activity for every organization – usually starts with a reconnaissance phase as well.

To get ahead of attackers, security teams must regularly put cyber reconnaissance into practice. Doing so enables them to protect their systems based on what the enemy may already be seeing.

Key Takeaways

  • Cyber reconnaissance refers to the process of gathering information about a target system or network.
  • It is an essential part of an organization’s proactive cyber defense strategy.
  • The goal of reconnaissance is to find and eliminate potential attack vectors and vulnerabilities.
  • Cyber reconnaissance techniques include footprinting, scanning, and enumeration.
  • Security teams use tools like ASM platforms, network scanners, and vulnerability scanners to perform reconnaissance.

Attaxion uses modern reconnaissance methods to uncover hidden vulnerabilities and help expand your attack surface intelligence. Schedule a free demo tailored to your organization now.

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