There’s no stopping cybersecurity attacks and cybercriminal activities with the increasing dependency on the cloud and online services by individuals and organizations.
With the booming digitization and major services, eCommerce products, and financial transactions happening online, hackers are always looking for security loopholes and vulnerabilities to find an opportunity to breach a company’s network and systems and perform malicious activities.
A hacking attack happening every 39 seconds and around 300,000 malware created every day—has increased the importance of online security and skilled individuals who can help minimize cybersecurity risks and the chances of online breaches.
This is where the importance of an ethical hacker shines. The role of an ethical hacker is to ensure an organization’s online cybersecurity by finding and fixing the security loopholes before hackers can exploit them.
If you’re interested in becoming an ethical hacker and would like to explore and learn more about this field, this is the perfect article. In this article, we’ll see what an ethical hacker does, key skills required and responsibilities, career opportunities, and a step-by-step guide to becoming an ethical hacker to build a lucrative career.
Understanding Ethical Hacking and What Does an Ethical Hacker Do?
Ethical hacking, also known as white-hat hacking, is where an ethical hacker uses different hacking techniques, tools, and programming skills to test and improve a network’s or system’s security.
The role of an ethical hacker is to identify and address system vulnerabilities and weaknesses a hacker might exploit to gain unauthorized access for malicious purposes, like performing data breaches and harming an organization’s reputation and brand image.
Thus, an ethical hacker helps organizations find security vulnerabilities and fix them before being exploited by a hacker. This is a win-win situation for both parties—as organizations can ensure the utmost cybersecurity, and hackers get paid for the same.
Ethical hackers can either work as in-house security professionals, simulated offensive cybersecurity specialists, or independent contractors.
Unlike cybercriminals or malicious hackers, ethical hackers work with companies and organizations to find vulnerabilities using efficient programming skills and tools and provide solutions to fix them before hackers discover them.
Given the increasing security threats and the importance of ensuring security and mitigating risks—ethical hacking is one of the most lucrative and high-in-demand professions in today’s age.
With excellent skills and good qualifications, you can earn a salary of six figures and above as an ethical hacker. In fact, according to Glassdoor, the average salary of an ethical hacker is $117,752 per year, with an additional pay of $9,418 per year.
Your salary as an ethical hacker is determined by multiple factors like your knowledge of cybersecurity, networks, programming, and more, and also your overall experience and certifications.
While it may feel challenging at first when starting your career as an entry-level ethical hacker, with consistent efforts, quality experience, and good certifications, you can grow and build a lucrative career for yourself.
What Skills Must an Ethical Hacker Possess?
To stand out in your career as an ethical hacker, you need to develop essential skill sets. Here are the top skills you must master to become a professional, ethical hacker:
Linux fundamentals: Linux is a dominant and widely used operating system that powers most websites and servers. Many cloud servers, like Azure and AWS, are deployed on the Linux OS; hence, knowing the basics and fundamentals of Linux is a plus for a skilled, ethical hacker. You can try certifications like Linux Essentials or the Red Hat Certification to learn and brush up on your Linux skills.
Technical skills: Possessing a robust understanding of computer networks and their functioning, including understanding protocols like Ethernet and TCP/IP, is crucial for an ethical hacker. It’s also crucial to make yourself familiar with the types of networking hardware, such as switches, routers, and firewalls.
Programming skills: While knowing hardcore programming isn’t necessary, being familiar with the programming basics of any popular languages, like C, C++, Python, or Java, is beneficial, especially in knowing how computer systems operate. The role of ethical hacking often requires custom coding or scripting to create secure software or analyze or reverse-engineer malicious code. Hence, knowing basic programming skills is a plus for an ethical hacker.
Networking fundamentals: Understanding networking fundamentals for cybersecurity and learning about the protocols, topology, and architecture helps build effective security measures and strategies against cyberattacks and implement incident response and forensics.
Communication skills: As an ethical hacker, simply finding vulnerabilities isn’t enough. You must effectively communicate about the same to your seniors, which includes clear reporting and creating oral presentations to fix the vulnerabilities as early as possible.
Thus, ethical hacking requires both hard skills and soft skills and consistent learning to keep yourself updated on the latest trends, tools, and technologies—to build a rock-solid foundation and grow in your career as an ethical hacker.
Key Responsibilities of an Ethical Hacker
Ethical hackers have to go through formal training, the Certified Ethical Hacking (CEH v11) from reputed training institutes to excel in ethical hacking.
Individuals are taught several skills and tools and made aware of the critical responsibilities they will need to take care of as ethical hackers.
Here are the key responsibilities of an ethical hacker:
Scan and hack the organization’s networks and systems to check for loopholes and vulnerabilities.
Check security patch settings and installations to avoid misuse.
Help avoid intrusion detection and prevention systems.
Find gaps in wireless encryptions to prevent cyberattacks on web servers and applications.
Handle risks arising due to asset theft in laptops and fraud with systems.
Sign non-disclosures or confidential agreements to protect the organization’s critical data and information.
Prerequisites for an Ethical Hacker
Before choosing and hopping on to the career of an ethical hacker, many wonder about the prerequisite skills or knowledge required and whether one needs a degree to become an ethical hacker.
While having a professional degree in ethical hacking isn’t a necessity, it’s definitely an added bonus—making you more dependable, reliable, and trustworthy. Becoming an ethical hacker requires obtaining critical skills, as mentioned above, and without a formal degree, one needs to be highly experienced, knowledgeable, and skilled to land a good job as an ethical hacker.
A Step-by-Step Roadmap to Becoming an Ethical Hacker
Follow this step-by-step and detailed ethical hacking roadmap to pave your path to becoming an ethical hacker.
#1. Get Acquainted with LINUX/UNIX
As an ethical hacker, getting well-versed with the LINUX and UNIX operating systems is highly crucial as LINUX is one of the widely used and popular operating systems for hacking.
LINUX comes with an intuitive user interface, provides several tools for hackers, and ensures higher security for computer systems. Some popular Linux distributions include Ubuntu, Red Hat Linux, BackTrack Linux, and more, along with Kali Linux—specifically customized for the purpose of hacking.
#2. Learn C Programming
The C programming language is one of the earliest and most primitive programming languages of all, which also forms a base for learning LINUX/UNIX as it’s completely written in C.
#3. Learn How to Stay Anonymous
Hiding your online identity and leaving no trace of evidence is one of the most critical skills of an ethical hacker, which helps ensure that no one can track the route you follow to penetrate through or hack down a system.
Proxychains, Anonsurf, and MacChanger are the best tools that can help you ensure anonymity and safeguard your online identity.
Otherwise, black hat hackers and cybercriminals can take undue advantage if they discover the process you followed to hack a system—resulting in data breaches, malware infection, and other cybersecurity risks. Hence, ensuring anonymity is of the utmost importance.
#4. Master Networking Concepts
Understanding and learning network concepts and protocols helps exploit vulnerabilities as an ethical hacker and also navigate through networking challenges, especially with in-depth knowledge about tools like Nmap, Burp Suite, Wireshark, Metasploit, etc.
Some of the critical networking concepts you must learn include subnetting, TCP/IP network, Domain Name Service (DNS), server message block, Bluetooth networks, wireless networks, networks masks and CIDR, automobile networks, SCADA networks, and simple network management protocol.
#5. Browse Through the Hidden Web
As an ethical hacker, accessing the hidden and dark web of the internet, which is typically not visible in search engines, is crucial to prevent criminal activities and unauthorized access.
You can use Tor, an anonymizing browser, to access the dark web, as the dark web requires special authorization or software to access it. While not every aspect of the dark web or everything present in it is illegal, knowing the ins and outs of it and ensuring how you can keep cyber criminals away is critical for an ethical hacker.
#6. Adopt Cryptography or Secret Writing
Learning the art of encryption and decryption with cryptography or secret writing is a crucial skill to master for an ethical hacker.
Organizations and businesses encrypt a lot of valuable and sensitive data on networks using techniques like authentication and authorization.
Understanding these security concepts like confidentiality and data integrity and learning how to identify data encryption and breakthrough it is one of the most crucial learnings for a skilled, ethical hacker.
#7. Dive Deeper into Hacking Concepts
Once you master your skills in the above-mentioned fields and topics, diving deep into ethical hacking and learning concepts like SQL injection, vulnerability assessment, and penetration testing is essential.
At the same time, it’s also crucial to keep yourself updated on the latest security tools, news, and trends to find new hacking techniques and ensure further network and system security.
#8. Learn to Explore System Vulnerabilities
Learning the skill of scanning networks and identifying network loopholes and vulnerabilities is a skill many proficient ethical hackers wish to master. Besides finding vulnerabilities, ethical hackers are also free to create and test out their own vulnerabilities to hack a system.
Some of the critical vulnerability identification tools by Kali Linux include Nessus Vulnerability Scanner, Nikto Vulnerability Scanner, Nmap Vulnerability Scanner, OpenVAS Vulnerability Scanner, and Wapiti Vulnerability Scanner.
#9. Attend Forums and Expert Discussions
While learning the skills mentioned above and consistent practice is important, attending discussions and webinars, joining hacking forums and communities, meeting expert hackers, and building strong relations is also a crucial part of the career of an ethical hacker.
Creating and being a part of such communities and discussions helps foster and share more knowledge and collaboration. You can join hacking communities on multiple social platforms, like Facebook, Discord, Telegram, and more.
Career Stages and Opportunities for an Ethical Hacker
Like any other job profile, a career in ethical hacking needs to be built gradually with quality skills and experience before becoming an expert ethical hacker.
Here are the stages and career opportunities you can get in your ethical hacking career.
Stage 1: The Starting Stage
Typically, ethical hackers start out their careers by obtaining a degree in computer science or applying for ethical hacking courses and certifications, like CompTIA.
You must achieve A+ certification and clear two separate exams when you take up this course to expect an average salary of $44,000 per year at the beginning. Moreover, you are also required to gain foundational knowledge of networks and applications with the Network+ and CCNA qualifications.
Stage 2: Network Support
Once you gain foundational knowledge and qualifications, the next stage of your ethical hacking career is working in network support—where you will be expected to undertake tasks like network updating and monitoring, testing for vulnerabilities, and installing security programs.
Stage 3: Network Engineer
Post gaining enough experience in network support, you can start applying for and securing a reputed job as a network engineer, where you’ll be responsible for planning and designing networks with an average salary of $60,000-65,000.
Here, your role will be to examine the network and system security and deal with cybersecurity risks and breaches—enforcing robust security measures. At this stage, you must obtain security certifications like Security+, TICSA, CISSP, etc.
Stage 4: Information Security
Working in information security is one of the most critical stages in the career of an ethical hacker, where you can work with an average salary of $69,000.
As an information security analyst, you will primarily concentrate on penetration testing for hands-on experience with security tools and software.
At this stage, you must also focus on gaining a Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) certificate from the International Council of Electronic Commerce Consultants (the EIC Council) to promote yourself as a professional, ethical hacker.
How an Ethical Hacker is Different From a Penetration Tester?
To a point, ethical hackers and penetration testers share a similar goal—ensuring system security; however, the specific roles of both differ significantly.
Ethical hackers try to figure out and anticipate hackers’ behavior to expose system vulnerabilities to fix them and the loopholes before they become huge problems. Ethical hackers require a wide range of knowledge and also have a more comprehensive range of interests.
On the other hand, penetration testers focus on specific methods and systems to ensure network compliance and security. Penetration testing is a technique that involves breaching a specific information system without any malicious purpose to fix security loopholes.
Penetration testers simulate an attack on a particular system and are specifically interested in network penetration. At the same time, ethical hackers employ several techniques and can do anything to access a system.
Penetration testers only require access to a particular information system that they will use for pen testing. On the other hand, ethical hackers will need access to a wider range of computer and information systems throughout the IT infrastructure to find and fix security vulnerabilities.
Thus, while penetration testers have specific goals and target systems, ethical hackers have a much broader role, requiring more time, effort, skills, and knowledge.
Ethical Hacking Online Books and Resources
I have enlisted a few of the best online books and resources to kickstart your learning and journey toward becoming an ethical hacker.
#1. Ethical Hacking: A Hands-on Introduction to Breaking In
This hands-on guide by Daniel G. Graham consists of hacking computer systems from the grounds, right from capturing traffic to crafting sneaky trojans.
It’s an excellent beginner guide to acquiring ethical hacking skills for aspiring security researchers, penetration testers, and malware analysts. Besides that, you’ll also learn to use different penetration testing tools and tools that help you write code in Python.
#2. Gray Hat Hacking: The Ethical Hacker’s Handbook, Sixth Edition
This comprehensive ethical hacking handbook provides the latest and up-to-date strategies for preventing the latest and most malicious network cybersecurity attacks.
It consists of actionable planning and analysis strategies and practical steps to identify and combat cybersecurity attacks. Moreover, it also provides complete coverage of IoT, malware analysis, and mobile and cloud security with penetration testing, ransomware, and reverse engineering techniques.
Thus, it’s a perfect book if you want to dive deeper into the concept of hacker’s devious weapons, tactics, and skills and find remedies and testing labs to combat cybersecurity attacks.
#2. Ethical Hacking: 3 in 1- Beginner’s Guide+ Tips and Tricks+ Advanced and Effective Measures of Ethical Hacking
This complete ethical hacking beginner’s guide provides a complete roadmap to identify and combat malware and social engineering attacks and find unexpected computer vulnerabilities before hackers can find and exploit them for malicious purposes.
In addition, it also comprises a step-by-step detailed process of hacking into a Windows operating system, and the author, Elijah Lewis, provides effective and actionable tips and tricks an ethical hacker must apply to become proficient at their jobs.
Will taking online courses help in your ethical hacking career?
Yes, when you’re at the starting stage of your ethical hacking career, adding credible online courses and certifications can definitely build up your resume. Some of the excellent and popular ethical hacking online courses include:
You can use different tools like Wireshark, Kali Linux, Nmap, Burp Suite, and Metasploit for web application security and penetration testing.
Ethical hacking is a lucrative career option in this digital age, and organizations and global enterprises highly value efficient and skilled ethical hackers to strengthen their network and system security.
So, suppose you’re a cybersecurity buff looking to pave your path into ethical hacking. In that case, we hope this article helped you understand where you can begin, how much you can earn, what skills you must develop, and how you can become an excellent professional, ethical hacker in no time.
While making your mark as an expert ethical hacker will be challenging at first, ensuring you practice the tools, take up the courses and certifications, and learn critical networking and programming skills mentioned in the article will definitely help you accelerate your career.
We’ve all been here- the hassle of filling out job applications, sending resumes, writing personalized cover letters, and reaching out to the recruiting manager. Yet, applying for each role that suits you feels challenging and hard to get shortlisted.
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Soft skills mean a person’s social skills and personal qualities, reflecting their ability to interact with others. Soft skills complement hard skills, including knowledge and professional talents in their work area.
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