Footprinting | Information-Gathering Methodology



Footprinting is defined as the process of creating a blueprint or map of an organization's network and systems. Information gathering is also known as footprinting an organization. Footprinting begins by determining the target system, application, or physical location of the target. Once this information is known, specific information about the organization is gathered using nonintrusive methods. For example, the organization's own web page may provide a personnel directory or a list of employee bios, which may prove useful if the hacker needs to use a social-engineering attack to reach the objective.
The information the hacker is looking for during the footprinting phase is anything that gives clues as to the network architecture, server, and application types where valuable data is stored. Before an attack or exploit can be launched, the operating system and version as well as application types must be uncovered so the most effective attack can be launched against the target. Here are some of the pieces of information to be gathered about a target during footprinting:
  • Domain name
  • Network blocks
  • Network services and applications
  • System architecture
  • Intrusion detection system
  • Authentication mechanisms
  • Specific IP addresses
  • Access control mechanisms
  • Phone numbers
  • Contact addresses
Once this information is compiled, it can give a hacker better insight into the organization, where valuable information is stored, and how it can be accessed.

Footprinting Tools

Footprinting can be done using hacking tools, either applications or websites, which allow the hacker to locate information passively. By using these footprinting tools, a hacker can gain some basic information on, or "footprint," the target. By first footprinting the target, a hacker can eliminate tools that will not work against the target systems or network. For example, if a graphics design firm uses all Macintosh computers, then all hacking software that targets Windows systems can be eliminated. Footprinting not only speeds up the hacking process by eliminating certain toolsets but also minimizes the chance of detection as fewer hacking attempts can be made by using the right tool for the job.
For the exercises, you will perform reconnaissance and information gathering on a target company. I recommend you use your own organization, but because these tools are passive, any organization name can be used.
Some of the common tools used for footprinting and information gathering are as follows:
  • Domain name lookup
  • Whois
  • NSlookup
  • Sam Spade
Before we discuss these tools, keep in mind that open source information can also yield a wealth of information about a target, such as phone numbers and addresses. Performing Whois requests, searching domain name system (DNS) tables, and using other lookup web tools are forms of open source footprinting. Most of this information is fairly easy to get and legal to obtain.

Footprinting a Target

Footprinting is part of the preparatory preattack phase and involves accumulating data regarding a target's environment and architecture, usually for the purpose of finding ways to intrude into that environment. Footprinting can reveal system vulnerabilities and identify the ease with which they can be exploited. This is the easiest way for hackers to gather information about computer systems and the companies they belong to. The purpose of this preparatory phase is to learn as much as you can about a system, its remote access capabilities, its ports and services, and any specific aspects of its security.

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