Cyber reconnaissance or cyber intelligence gathering involves collecting information about a system. Threat actors usually perform it as the initial phase in cyber attacks. They gather as many details about a target system as possible and analyze them to see which can help them plan and launch cyber attacks.

However, security teams also strategically use cyber reconnaissance in their cybersecurity efforts. They aim to look at their systems the way attackers do so they can immediately see and fix any weaknesses.

Read More about Cyber Reconnaissance

Military forces would scout an area first to gather information about the enemy in a process called “military reconnaissance.” It is the concept behind cyber reconnaissance. Learn more about this cybersecurity process here.

What Are the Use Cases of Cyber Reconnaissance?

Reconnaissance is usually the first phase of various applications, both legitimate and malicious.

Applications of cyber reconnaissance

Legitimate Applications of Reconnaissance

Security teams and business leaders gather cyber intelligence through these processes:

  • Penetration testing: Ethical hackers use reconnaissance techniques during penetration testing, a cybersecurity practice that simulates attacker behavior to identify vulnerabilities before malicious actors can exploit them. It helps organizations proactively address security weaknesses and strengthen their defenses.
  • Merger and acquisition (M&A)-related research: During M&As, companies may conduct reconnaissance to evaluate a target company’s IT infrastructure and identify potential security risks associated with the business move.
  • Threat intelligence gathering: Organizations can use reconnaissance techniques to obtain information about attacker infrastructures, allowing them to stay informed and adapt their security posture accordingly. Reconnaissance also enables them to identify attackers’ methods and determine their impact on their organization.

Malicious Applications of Reconnaissance

Threat actors also use reconnaissance techniques to:

  • Plan for and execute cyber attacks: Reconnaissance is the first step attackers take to gather data about potential targets. The information gathered helps them choose the most effective attack vector or attack entry point and develop effective attack strategies.
  • Conduct cyber espionage: Competitors can also engage in cyber reconnaissance to gather information about competitors’ products, strategies, and customer data. This information can help them gain competitive advantages in the market.
  • Carry out identity theft and fraud: Attackers can use reconnaissance to obtain personally identifiable information (PII), such as passwords, bank and credit card details, and Social Security numbers. This information can then be used for identity theft, financial fraud, or other malicious purposes.

What Is the Main Goal of Cyber Reconnaissance?

The primary goal of cyber reconnaissance is to identify any security weakness in an organization’s digital infrastructure. This objective is the same for both legitimate and malicious use cases.

Cyber reconnaissance can detect these weaknesses that contribute to an organization’s attack surface:

  • Misconfigured systems: Misconfigurations can include weak access controls, the use of default settings, or unused services running on a system that can introduce vulnerabilities.
  • Network vulnerabilities: These are weaknesses in a network that threat actors can use, such as open ports and weak encryption.
  • Unpatched software: Developers release software patches in response to known vulnerabilities. As such, failure to update operating systems (OSs), applications, and firmware with the latest patches can make it easy for attackers to exploit them.
  • Zero-day vulnerabilities: These are previously unknown vulnerabilities. Since they haven’t been patched yet, it can be dangerous when attackers detect zero-day vulnerabilities during reconnaissance. On the other hand, if security teams identify them, they can address the vulnerabilities before they can get exploited.  

What Are Known Cyber Reconnaissance Techniques?

There are several ways to perform reconnaissance, including:

  • Open-source intelligence (OSINT) research: Information can be obtained from publicly available sources, such as public databases, government registries, domain registration records, search engines, and social media.
  • Scanning and enumeration: This technique involves using automated tools to scan target systems for open ports, connected services, and network configuration data.
  • Social engineering: Threat actors performing reconnaissance may resort to social engineering to get access to information. They often manipulate individuals into providing the data they need via phishing and impersonation.

Cyber reconnaissance is a powerful tool. In the hands of security professionals, it can help improve organizations’ security posture and protect their infrastructure from cyber attacks. But for threat actors, reconnaissance can enable them to launch attacks that can damage individuals and organizations.

Key Takeaways