Detecting The Hacker – Digital Footprinting

The digital footprint we leave today is evident, whether we like it or not. Besides Twitter and Facebook (yes, LinkedIn counts), personal and business email addresses, and accounts with dozens of platforms and services, the online world creates an overall picture of us. One that hackers can paint without us even knowing. 

Putting it all together is known as digital footprinting and is the first step towards hacking. Imagine it as homework for hackers to collect and research data. From footprinting, hackers are therefore able to learn a great deal about an organization’s networks and their vulnerabilities. This allows them to find the best way to break into their target, whether it be for a Denial of Service attack, planting malware, or stealing valuable data.

There are many types of digital footprinting, numerous methods and tools, and even ethical footprinting. An awareness of all these approaches is crucial to strengthening your cybersecurity posture.

Types of digital footprinting

Passive footprinting

A hacker gathers information without any direct interaction with their target. Typically, they’ll use web crawlers, social networking sites and monitor and track website traffic and online reputation and performance.

Active footprinting

The hacker will directly interact with their target to gather more information. Active footprinting methods include mirroring and web spidering tools, email tracking, and extracting metadata from published files. The risk here is that the hacker and their efforts might get detected, but their reward is still worth their risk.

What information are hackers getting from footprinting?

Essentially, hackers want to get as much information about your network as possible before they attack. Your DNS tables are searched for machine names, and public websites and anonymous FTP sites are accessed for the following golden pieces of information: 

  • Domains
  • Subdomains
  • IP addresses
  • Whois and DNS records
  • System information (including IDS and ACLs) 
  • Web server operating systems
  • Server locations
  • Users
  • Passwords
  • Organisation information
  • Employee information
  • Organisation’s background
  • Phone numbers
  • Locations

As you can imagine, this gives them a pretty comprehensive picture of your organization. But how do they get it?

How hackers perform footprinting

Port scanning

Hackers use a plethora of methods and reconnaissance tools for footprinting, but they’ll often start with port scanning. Port scanning quickly identifies live hosts, operating systems, and which TCP and UDP ports are listening. Just by having this information, hackers can plot the basic network diagram of their targets.

Whois and DNS footprinting

Next, they will add layers and detail to the network map using Whois and DNS interrogation tools. Whois databases fall into two categories: thick and thin. While the former contains data from all registrars, the latter only holds limited information. The DNS footprint provides a wealth of information about server types and locations.

Ping Sweep

In addition to tracing IP addresses on any size network, ping sweep tools such as Nmap and Traceroute reveal the types and locations of firewalls used, as well as the services of hosts.

Email and web footprinting

You’d be surprised at the amount of detail email, and website footprinting can give to a hacker. Email headers include the IP/email address of the sender, mail server, the mail server authentication system, and timestamps of emails. Website footprinting meanwhile gives information about subdirectories, scripting platforms, and query details.  

Google hacking

With the addition of Google hacking, which involves complex searches and queries, a hacker has all the information about their target’s vulnerabilities and the best way to attack.

Ethical footprinting and why you need to do it

Much like penetration testing, ethical footprinting and hacking give you accurate insight into your cybersecurity posture and minimize your risk. 

To be clear, this isn’t a case of trying to get hacked and seeing how the system fares. Instead, this is a professional performing end-to-end digital footprinting on your organization exactly as a hacker would, without the negatives of malicious hacking. You will immediately see the publicly available network information and the online behavior traits that may threaten your business from the cybersecurity exercise. This is the critical stuff that you should and want to know. You will be able to spot the weaknesses in your systems, make a fix, and then stress test it before anything serious happens.

Ethical hacking, such as ENHALO’s Digital Footprint Reconnaissance, also empowers businesses in other ways. Through profiling an individual’s digital footprint, using open-source, deep web, and dark web intelligence, new hires can be checked to see if they’re the right fit, and partnership conflicts can be identified prior to a merger. 

How to prevent footprinting

Identifying risk areas can often serve as a springboard for broader business changes. 

  • Using a VPN, alternative browsers (like TOR) with specific restrictive settings enabled and using TCP/IP and IPSec protocols might be the better, more efficient and sensical choice for your business.
  • More significant efforts to educate employees on steps to minimise their digital footprints might finally be justified, invested in and actioned. Often being the weakest link in the cybersecurity chain, ongoing employee training on security for the business and themselves should be at the top of the list for new and existing employees.

Digital footprinting is a clever, detective-like method of investigating an organization or individual. In order to compete, we need to “get there” faster than the hackers, as the methods get savvier and our footprint increases.

Supply Chain Threat Detection

Cyber criminals have upped their game, so should you. We never underestimate or ignore your supply chain's security threats.

Security Operations Center

Financial losses, intellectual property theft, and reputational damage due to security breaches can be prevented.

SOC Assurance Service

Despite a mature Security Operations Center, you're still under threat. Our SOC Assurance mitigates the risk of unnoticed breaches.

Emergency Cyber Response

Regain immediate control, contain the damage, and eradicate the threat. Your bullet-proof, SOS rapid response.

Agentless Network Segmentation

Rely less on vulnerability management and rest assured that the threat won’t spread across your network.

Cyber Risk Assessment

Understand how vulnerable you are. We identify your threat sources and calculate your risks – likelihood and impact.

Endpoint Detection and Response

This solution is for customers that do not have extensive security budgets or staffing to implement and monitor an endpoint security solution.

Irregular Behavior Detection

Companies focus heavily on malicious outsider mitigation, while the biggest threat lies with those who already have access.

Penetration Testing Services

A penetration test is arguably the most important part of any cybersecurity journey, it tests an organization’s ‘final line of defense’ against attackers.

Security Awareness Training & Testing

With cybersecurity awareness training, the risk of human error can be reduced, turning human error into a human firewall.


360 Security
Must Know Cyber
Security Services



Cyber Security Services

Supply Chain Thread Detection
Security Operations Center
SOC Assurance Service
Emergency Cyber Response
Agentless Network Segmentation
Cyber Risk Assessment

Supporting Cyber Security Services

Endpoint Detection and Response
Irregular Behavior Detection
Penetration Testing
Security Awareness Training and Testing

Related Posts

Cybersecurity in the Digital Business Landscape
360 Security

How Strategic Cybersecurity Investments Fortify Enterprises

In the high-stakes game of cyber warfare, where businesses are the prized territories, staying off the cybercriminals’ grid has become the new survival tactic. Enterprises that methodically invest in their cybersecurity not only fortify their data bastions but also often go unnoticed by those prowling for digital vulnerabilities.

Cyber Insurance
360 Security

Demand For Cyber Insurance Coverage Surging

Despite the tremendous amount of good that has come from the rapid growth of the Internet, it has also exposed the dangers of the cyber universe. In recent years, ransomware attacks and data breaches at some of the biggest brands demonstrate that cybercriminals have become more creative – and businesses have paid a higher price for it.

Cyberattack Emergency

Are you experiencing an active cyberattack?

Get rapid response.

Call ENHALO’s International SOS no:
For Other Inquiries: