The term “hacker” doesn’t elicit the best of feelings. Whenever you mention “hacker” in a conversation, the majority of people envision an evil geek stuck in a dark basement coding away in front of multiple computer monitors.
Often, we remember big data breaches and nefarious elements who take out major networks for personal gain. When imagination permits, you might even think of hacker groups such as Anonymous and so on.
But bad guys aside, there are good hackers or what we commonly call ethical hackers. Ethical hackers are trained professionals who only hack to determine the integrity of computer systems and networks.
In other words, ethical hackers are authorized to break into an organization’s computer systems to find security vulnerabilities and offer solutions.
By doing so, the involved organizations can seal security loopholes in their computer networks, preventing black-hat hackers from gaining unauthorized access to sensitive data. In many circles, ethical hackers are also known as white-hat hackers.
Nowadays, ethical hackers have an increasingly demanding job on their hands. Black-hat hackers are getting smarter, and more companies are taking to the digital landscape for better prospects. With new threats and many companies looking to avoid cyberattacks, there’s an increasing demand for IT security professionals.
If you’re passionate about cybersecurity, starting an ethical hacker career is a no brainer. If you’d like to use your hacking skills to protect organizations and create a fulfilling career, becoming an ethical hacker is an amazing opportunity. Plus, it’s legal!
According to Payscale.com, a certified ethical hacker makes a median salary of about $90,000 per year. That’s not bad considering the best-paid 10% make over $126k annually, and the lowest-paid 10% earn about $44,000 per annum.
The future is also bright for ethical hackers in terms of employment opportunities. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), “…employment of Information security analysts is projected to grow 32 percent from 2018 to 2028, much faster than the average for all occupations.”
And in today’s post, we show you how exactly to start a career as an ethical hacker. Without further ado, let us start.
How to Start a Career as an Ethical Hacker
We’ve not arranged the following pointers in any particular order. So, evaluate where you are in your journey and run with the tips that apply to your situation. After all, there is no clear-cut path to becoming an ethical hacker, but our guide offers you a solid outline to get there.
By all means, you can become a hacker all from self-learning. But if you want to work as an ethical hacker in government agencies and big organizations, you must demonstrate you have the right academic qualifications.
Most employers require at least a bachelors degree in computer science, cybersecurity or any other IT-related field. If you’re transitioning from another profession or a different job role within the IT field, and already have an IT-related bachelor’s degree, consider signing up for a short-term master’s degree course in cybersecurity.
According to Maryville University, “Expert-level cyber security professionals are at a premium as public and private sector budgets soar to keep cybercrime at bay. Top dollar investment demands top talent, and now is the perfect time to capitalize on the global need for experts.”
If you’re a high school student looking to work as an ethical hacker in the future, consider enrolling for an online cybersecurity bachelor’s degree. Since the courses are offered 100% online, you don’t have to worry about Covid-19, lockdowns, quarantines and the closure of campuses.
That means if you start now, you can be a partially- or fully-trained ethical hacker by the time the Coronavirus pandemic ends. The point is, colorful academic credentials in areas such as cybersecurity and network security help you to advance quickly as an ethical hacker.
Formal education helps you to learn coding, understand markup languages, and grasp the fundamentals of network security in an organized and centralized setting. It also opens up opportunities for internships.
Practice and Self-Learning
Practice makes perfect goes an old English adage. You’ll learn a lot about becoming an ethical hacker in school. However, cybersecurity is a fast-paced environment that changes quickly. If you are comfortable with your degree, and don’t invest in practice and self-learning, you risk becoming irrelevant in the job market.
What to do?
For starters, engage in practice sessions that allow you to internalize the knowledge you learned at school. The more you practice hacking, the better you become, and the more experience you gain. You also understand how software and hardware work together.
On top of that, you learn more about different operating systems, and how to break into networks. If you can break into a network, you can test your skills sealing the security holes. But where do you start?
Start by simulating hacking scenarios on your own computer. There are a ton of tools out there to help you. You can find ethical hacking tools on websites such as Hackerone and Guru99, among others. Don’t hesitate to search “ethical hacking tools” in Google for more.
Other websites, such as Overthewire.org, offer you plenty of tools to practice ethical hacking. For more resources to practice ethical hacking, please check out this article by eLearn Security. To further your studies, you can also sign up for a free online ethical hacking course at Cybrary.
Alongside stellar academic qualifications, employers will need you to demonstrate that you know what you’re doing. Here’s where experience comes into play. And how do you gain experience. It’s simple; you practice and practice some more.
You might be wondering why you need certifications when you already have a bachelor’s or master’s degree in cybersecurity. Well, certifications add so much weight to your resume and help you to land the job.
Certifications indicate your commitment to learn on your own time. It also shows the employer your areas of expertise and other competencies. A degree is great to have, but certifications swing the balance in your favor during interviews and on the job.
Certifications also help you think like a hacker. On top of that, certifications offer you more knowledge and expose you to the tools of the trade. In other words, certifications make you a better ethical hacker overall.
There are several certifications for ethical hackers. To better the chances of landing your dream job, strive to earn the following certifications:
- Certified Ethical Hacking Certification (CEH)
- GIAC Penetration Tester (GPEN)
- Offensive Security Certified Personnel (OSCP)
- Foundstone Ultimate Hacking
- Certified Penetration Testing Consultant (CPTC)
- Certified Penetration Testing Engineer (CPTE)
- Et cetera
Ethical hacking certifications can open so many doors for you in the professional field. So, don’t wait anymore; go get your ethical hacking certifications, and soar high like an eagle.
Network with Peers
Black hat hackers are usually secretive because what they do is illegal. Often times, it’s your job as the ethical hacker to unmask these villains and even appear as a security analyst when the bad guys are arraigned in court.
As an ethical hacker, however, you cannot afford to remain in the shadows – unless of course yours is a covert operation that must remain top-secret (perhaps you’re working for the government full-time and your mandate involves remaining hidden).
But for all ethical hackers in general, it’s important to cultivate a network of peers. With Covid-19 restrictions on large gatherings, you can take to online hacker communities e.g. ethicalhacker.net to meet with like-minded people. Just search “ethical hacking communities” in Google.
When Coronavirus is a thing of the past, and we can finally attend events, don’t miss the opportunity. There are dozens of ethical hacking events happening around the world at any given time, so you’re well sorted in that regard. Just Google “ethical hacking events to attend” and DEF CON, among others will pop up.
And that’s how you become an ethical hacker. In summary, get the right education and training. Secondly, practice and self-learn to reinforce what you learned in school. Thirdly, get ethical hacking certifications. Fourthly, network like a mad man to get more job opportunities.
And when you’re ready, brush up your resume and go for your dream job. There are countless entry level jobs to keep you busy as you climb the corporate ladder. Who knows? Perhaps you might start your own consultancy agency down the line, and hire other ethical hackers.
Keep at it, and please don’t hack anybody without their consent because it can tarnish your career down the line. Yep, that’s right; government agencies and big corporations carry security checks and ask you to sit for a polygraph test before hiring you.