When the term “hacker” was coined, it described the engineers who developed code for mainframe computers. Now that means a skilled programmer trying to gain unauthorized access to computer systems and networks by exploiting vulnerabilities in the system. Hackers write scripts to infiltrate systems, crack passwords and steal data.
Although hacking has become a term that most often describes malicious and unethical activities, it does not have to be. A hacker can still use these skills to good effect.
In this article, we take a look at ethical hacking and show you how to start your journey to becoming an ethical hacker.
What do ethical hackers do?
Ethical hacking is also known as white hat hacking or penetration testing. It can be an exciting career because ethical hackers spend their everyday lives learning how computer systems work, discovering their vulnerabilities and breaking into them without fear of being arrested.
Unlike malicious hackers, who are typically motivated by financial gain, ethical hackers aim to help companies (and society as a whole) keep their data safe. Companies hire ethical hackers to find the vulnerabilities in their systems and update the faulty software so that no one else can use the same technique to break in again.
As an ethical hacker you will either be able to break into a system and then fix it or try to break into a system and not be able to. Either result is a gain for the ethical hacker and the company because the company network is ultimately secure.
Vulnerabilities are errors or flaws in software that can be exploited to gain unauthorized access to a network or computer system. Common vulnerabilities include:
- Outdated software
- Incorrectly configured systems
- Lack of data encryption
Some vulnerabilities are easy to test because the errors have already been documented. In these cases, all Penetration Tests need to scan the system to see if the error is present on the system and update the software with a patch to remove the error.
Other vulnerabilities may still be unknown, and Penetration Tester will use scripts and other tools to push the system to the extreme and see if there are any bugs shaking.
Demonstrate methods used by hackers
Ethical hackers can also take on the role of teacher. Many companies and employees know little about cybersecurity threats and how their actions can either prevent a threat or help the hacker steal data.
Ethical hackers teach cybersecurity and warn employees of new threats when they are discovered. Education is particularly effective against phishing and other cyberattacks of social engineering that require the target of the attack to act to enable it.
When employees are informed of a potential threat, there is a greater chance that it can be stopped before it infects a system.
Help prevent cyber attacks
Ethical hackers also work with other members of the security team to create a more secure infrastructure for a business.
Ethical hackers know what kind of threats there are and can help the team choose the tools and create the security policies that can prevent threats they may not even know about yet. They can also help set up systems for backup and recovery, which can be used in the worst case.
What are the main principles of ethical hacking?
The line between black hat (or malicious) hacking and white hat (or ethical) hacking may seem blurred. There is also gray hat hacking, which sits between the two.
As an ethical hacker, here are some principles you should follow:
- Comply with the law: Hacking is only ethical if you have permission to make a security assessment of the system you are hacking.
- Know the scope of the project: Stay within the limits of the agreement you have with the company. Know exactly what to test and test only these systems.
- Report any vulnerabilities: Report any vulnerabilities you find and suggest ways to resolve them.
- Respect sensitive data: A penetration tester will often test systems that contain sensitive data and must sign a confidentiality agreement.
What kind of job can an ethical hacker get?
Companies of all sizes and industries are concerned about their network security. As long as security breaches still occur and companies still have sensitive data, ethical hackers will be in demand, so the job market looks good to them well into the future.
Some larger companies have ethical hackers on staff who run security tests and penetration tests all day long. In other companies, ethical hacking may only be part of the job, while you spend most of your time setting up networks and setting up new systems.
An ethical hacker can have many titles. Here are a few of them:
- Penetration tests
- Security analyst
- Ethical hacker
- Certified ethical hacker
- Security consultant
- Security engineer
- Security architect
- Information Security Analyst
- Information Security Manager
How to become an ethical hacker
Most ethical hackers, penetration testers and white hat hackers get into ethical hacking because they are curious about how the internet and information security work. One thing an ethical hacker needs to know is cybersecurity.
Our introduction to cyber security course teaches you how to identify and protect yourself from common cyber security threats. Once you know what type of threats there are, you can use similar techniques to test the security of computer systems and networks. For ethical hacking, you will also want to know networks (wired and wireless) and operating systems (especially Windows and Linux.)
Since an ethical hacker also deals with software vulnerabilities and may need to write scripts to help with the job, you will also need to learn a few programming languages. Our Learn Python 3 course will teach you a great language for writing penetration scripts and other tools to help you hack.
Other courses you might consider are Learn Command Line and Learn Bash Scripting, as many ethical hacking tools run from the command line. Knowledge of vulnerability testing tools such as Metasploit and OpenVAS is a plus. There are also certifications for ethical hacking, such as CEH and OSCP.
But the most important requirement is still curiosity, so get curious and good luck with your ethical hacking!