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What is Digital Footprinting and How Is It Used?

purity muriuki



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Cyber-attacks and data breaches are more common than ever, with news of these attacks making frequent headlines. However, people have gotten so accustomed to these attacks, that many of us don’t take the threat seriously enough. This is known as breach fatigue and makes the lives of hackers that much easier. Hackers are starting to use advanced digital footprinting to launch sophisticated attacks. However, the same digital foot printing methods can also be used in cyber security to identify vulnerabilities.

In this article, we’ll be taking a closer look at digital footprinting and how hackers and cyber security specialists use this process for opposing reasons. We’ll also look at some of the tools used in the process such as Google Search API, Netcraft, WHOIS, and others.

What is Digital Footprinting?

Footprinting is a method of collecting information on a corporation, or system to identify important structures and vulnerabilities. It is also sometimes referred to as reconnaissance. Oftentimes, hackers will use various tools and techniques to collect this information. This type of information gathering before an attack is very beneficial when the target is a whole system.

Hackers aren’t the only users that make use of footprinting. Cybersecurity specialists, ethical hackers, and penetration testers also make use of these techniques in their ‘pre-attack’ phases of security evaluation.

Types of Footprinting

Footprinting can be categorized into two types, active and passive footprinting.


Active footprinting makes use of tools and techniques to collect information directly from the target. These can be techniques such as performing a ping sweep or using the traceroute command to collect information. Since this technique is actively collecting information directly from the target, it’s much riskier and can trigger the network’sIntrusion Detection Systems.


Passive footprinting is the process of gathering information on the system or organization through innocuous means. This means collecting data from the organization’s website, social media pages, accounts of employees, WHOIS, and search engines. Since this isn’t a direct approach it’s less risky.

Vital Components of Digital Footprinting

When it comes to digital footprinting, it’s clear that one of the main components of the process is IP detection. Your IP already contains a lot of valuable information that can be used in footprinting. From your IP address hackers can discover your geolocation, network types, ISP, connected devices, and other details.

Apart from the IP, other components used in the process include monitoring social media accounts – both of the organization and employees. By monitoring these accounts you can learn more about the organization and its internal workings. Search engines can also host a wealth of information for those that know how to use tools like Google Search API.

WHOIS is another component frequently used in this process. This database contains useful information regarding the target website. This can include the administrator’s email address and details about the registration. Another popular component in the process is the traceroute. Using the command Tracert enables hackers to trace the path between a user and the target systems.

The following information is usually gathered during footprinting:


  • Company details
  • Employee details
  • Relationships with other companies
  • Project details
  • News related to the company
  • Patents and Trademarks
  • Important dates related to new projects

How Can Digital Foot printing be used for Hacking?

This process is being used by more hackers as it gives them the information they need to launch large-scale attacks more effectively. Many hackers will look for vulnerabilities that can be exploited to gain access to the target’s system. Through this process, they can find out who the key players are and gain enough knowledge of the system and vulnerabilities; both technical and human; which can be exploited.

How Can Digital Footprinting be used in Cybersecurity?

Cybersecurity professionals also use footprinting in their processes. This often forms part of a penetration testing or ethical hacking process. These professionals will use many of the same techniques as hackers to find vulnerabilities before criminals do. This way these vulnerabilities can be addressed before hackers are even aware that they exist.

Final Thoughts

Footprinting is a data collection technique used by hackers and cybersecurity specialists alike. The process gives more in-depth information regarding the system and organization, and its vulnerabilities. Cybercriminals are becoming more advanced and are doing thorough research on their target before launching an attack. They also use sophisticated tools like Netcraft, pipl, and others to make the footprinting process more efficient.


I'm a passionate full-time blogger. I love writing about startups, how they can access key resources, avoid legal mistakes, respond to questions from angel investors as well as the reality check for startups. Continue reading my articles for more insight.

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