How To Become an Ethical Hacker in 3 Actionable Steps

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 27 January 2023

Published 30 August 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

A career as an ethical hacker can be an enticing prospect for someone who is passionate about the computer world and relishes a challenge. Ethical hackers get paid well for using their skills and advanced computer knowledge to break into computer systems. Since ethical hackers use their knowledge to help businesses and organisations improve their system's vulnerability, they are mostly always in demand. In this article, we discuss what an ethical hacker is, what they do, the skills they use and how to become an ethical hacker.

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What is an ethical hacker?

Some people associate the term hacking with cybercrimes, but that's not an ethical hacker's role. Ethical hackers are unlike hackers who use their advanced computer knowledge for nefarious activities. Instead, ethical hackers capitalise on their tech knowledge to identify weaknesses in data computer security and protect organisations and individuals from cybercriminals. Ethical hacking involves changing features of a system to accomplish positive goals outside the creator's original purpose.

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How to become an ethical hacker

You can follow these steps to become an ethical hacker:

1. Earn a degree

Most ethical hackers have a degree in computer science. Ethical hacking is an advanced career position with most hackers having extensive experience in network security. This means a significant portion of training for the position is through on-the-job training and certifications. However, to start on the ethical hacking career path, they need a strong understanding of computer components and computer science. These are skills that many learn while earning their degree. Apply to universities that have strong computer science programs and search for professors or classes that specialise in ethical hacking and security.

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2. Gain experience

Once you have a working knowledge of computer science, you can begin working in network and IT support. This can help you become familiar with security programs, including how to update, install and monitor them for weaknesses or malfunction. Here are some positions you can take on that can help you gain the necessary experience:

  • Security specialist

  • Security administrator

  • Security software developer

  • Network engineer

Any position where you are learning about security can be good experience. You can also benefit from learning about social engineering and physical penetration tests, as these are also aspects of security that ethical hackers think about when assessing risks.

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3. Get certifications

There are a variety of certifications that you can earn to work as an ethical hacker. These certifications are not always a requirement, but they can help your CV be more appealing to security teams. The Certified Ethical Hacker exam is a common certification recognised globally. This certification can be useful for other positions as well, like security auditor or site administrator, so it may be helpful to work on this certification early in your career. To gain this certification, you can pay the application fee, submit your application and take the exam. To prepare, EC-Council offers training courses.

An ethical hacker can also obtain a CNNA or Network+ qualification before advancing their career. It is a certification that validates an ethical hacker's knowledge in networks, including troubleshooting, maintenance, installation and computer management.

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What does an ethical hacker do?

Certified ethical hackers have various roles. Their responsibilities can vary across companies, but there are common roles for all ethical hackers, such as:

Security assessment

Companies hire ethical hackers to assess their network security. This means that the ethical hacker measures the security of the company's network of computers for vulnerabilities related to their IT systems and business processes. They perform these assessments regularly to determine if a business or team's security policies are being upheld or if they can improve.

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Threat modelling

Ethical hackers are responsible for optimising network security by assessing potential vulnerabilities and determining measures to mitigate an attack's effects. A threat is an actual or potential event that may compromise the system or network of an enterprise. Ethical hackers can help reduce attacks by providing a comprehensive view of potential threats and their effects on the organisation. One objective of threat modelling is determining areas to focus on when securing your system. However, threat modelling can change as you add new applications and unique, unknown circumstances develop.

Report writing

Ethical hackers determine how secure the network is and write a security assessment report, which can include faults and recommendations. Businesses then use this report to manage their risk of future cyber attacks. Equal to their knowledge of computers and cyber security, an ethical hacker uses communication skills. Their assessments are more valuable if their clients understand them and can implement their actionable recommendations.

Essential skills for an ethical hacker

Experience with various network and system testing tools can increase your success as an ethical hacker. Tools such as OpenVAS, Netsparker and Metasploit can save time when an ethical hacker searches for system vulnerabilities. Here are some essential skills for an ethical hacker:

Computer skills

Basic computer skills can include common career requirements like creating presentations and data processing. Ethical hackers need these skills and advanced computer skills, like running calculations and managing databases. It is also helpful to have a deep understanding of computer architectures and systems.

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Programming skills

Ethical hackers write security programs and analyse existing programs for potential security threats. To do this effectively, they use their expert knowledge of writing code that computing devices can interpret. There are a variety of programming languages that serve different purposes and have different strengths, so an ethical hacker can benefit from knowing more than one. Here are a few of the most common programming languages:

  • Python

  • SQL

  • C++

  • JavaScript

  • PHO

  • Ruby

  • Perl

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Basic hardware knowledge

Some people may breach physical data centres and server rooms in an attempt to compromise security for a business. Therefore, ethical hackers should be knowledgeable about hardware and physical assets, and their weaknesses. Criminal hackers can constantly change their methods, so ethical hackers use their varied skills and knowledge about software and hardware to predict and prevent breaches.

Cryptography skills

Cryptography is the study of codes and code-breaking used in secure communication. It involves developing and analysing different protocols to keep criminal hackers or third parties from accessing sensitive information. They typically achieve this by converting normal text into non-readable text called ciphertext. This can make it hard to intercept during transmission, ensuring that even if a third party accesses the message, the information is still secure. This can be an important skill for an ethical hacker to develop because they are interested in insuring that communications are secure.

Reverse engineering

Reverse engineering is the process of recreating the design of a system or product from its code. Ethical hackers use this process to build a program database and generate information about the system's security flaws and vulnerabilities. They use this information to examine a system's construction and engineer how a criminal hacker could breach the system through its weaknesses. They then reverse engineer ways to prevent third parties from being able to access those weaknesses and create fail-safes to prevent criminal hacks. This is a useful strategy when analysing systems and writing reports on security recommendations.

Problem-solving skills

Ethical hackers must become more innovative as cybercriminals find more ways to counter security protocols. Physical measures, including using drones to discover potential vulnerabilities, are becoming more common in gathering intelligence and countering potential threats. Ethical hackers must utilise all attack vectors at their disposal to develop a comprehensive threat analysis. They often use all their skills to find solutions for potential risks and weaknesses they find in a system.

Salary of an ethical hacker

An ethical hacker's salary depends on where they work and the experience they have. A penetration tester, which is considered a type of ethical hacker, can make an average of ₹11,49,286 per year. A security consultant, which is a job that can include ethical hacking, can make an average of ₹5,88,301 per year. However, these are averages for all of India. Typically, larger cities have a higher reporting of average salaries per year.

Related: How Much Do Ethical Hackers Make? (Job Duties And Roles)

Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed. Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at the time of writing. Salaries vary depending on the hiring organisation and candidate experience, academic background, and location.

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