How to Become an Ethical Hacker

How to Become an Ethical Hacker

How to Become an Ethical Hacker
Sahil Dahal

In the past, the word 'hacker' described a skilled computer expert who was good at understanding computer code and how computer systems work. But today, a 'hacker' spends a lot of time doing hacking activities and considers hacking as a way of life. Hacking means changing how a computer system works to do things the original creator didn't intend to do.

Before discussing how to become an ethical hacker, let's examine this role.

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Understanding Ethical Hacking

Even though hacking often has a bad reputation, there are also good hackers known as "white hats" or ethical hackers. They play a very important role in the world of computer security. Instead of using their computer skills for bad things, they use them to find weaknesses in computer systems and data security. This helps protect businesses and organizations from people who want to harm hacking.

Now, let's examine what it means to be an ethical hacker.

Role of an Ethical Hacker

Specialized Cybersecurity Role

Ethical hacking represents a specialized niche within the broader field of cybersecurity. Unlike traditional cybersecurity, which often focuses on defending against cyber threats, ethical hacking involves actively testing and probing systems for weaknesses. Ethical hackers are security professionals who act as friendly "attackers" to identify vulnerabilities before malicious hackers can exploit them.

Diverse Work Settings

Ethical hackers have the flexibility to work in various environments. They can operate independently as freelance security consultants, offering their expertise to organizations on a project basis. Alternatively, they may work as part of a company's internal security team, collaborating closely with IT staff to strengthen the organization's defenses. Another option is to work as simulated offensive cybersecurity experts, where they simulate cyberattacks to evaluate an organization's preparedness and response.

Understanding Hacking Techniques

Ethical hackers must stay up-to-date with the latest hacking techniques and tools to be effective. This knowledge equips them with the skills to identify vulnerabilities that malicious hackers might exploit. Ethical hackers often learn continuously, participate in training programs, and stay informed about emerging cybersecurity threats.

Tailored Expertise

In-house ethical hackers may specialize in specific software applications, digital assets, or industry-specific systems. Their expertise is customized to address the unique security challenges faced by their organization. This specialization allows them to focus on critical areas, providing a more targeted and effective security approach.

Legal and Ethical Focus

Ethical hackers operate within the bounds of the law and adhere to strict ethical standards. They follow a code of conduct that prohibits any malicious or unauthorized activities. Instead, their activities are sanctioned and aimed at improving security. This ethical approach distinguishes them from black-hat hackers who engage in illegal and harmful activities.

Critical Cybersecurity Role

Ethical hackers play a critical role in enhancing an organization's cybersecurity posture. By actively seeking out vulnerabilities and weaknesses, they help organizations preemptively identify and address security risks. This proactive approach is essential in the ever-evolving landscape of cyber threats, allowing organizations to strengthen their defenses and protect sensitive data from potential breaches. Ethical hackers contribute to a more robust and resilient cybersecurity ecosystem.

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Appeal of an Ethical Hacking Career

A career in ethical hacking can be attractive for people who love computers and enjoy tackling challenges. It allows you to use your technical skills to break into computer systems, but you're doing it for a good reason. You get paid well, too. However, getting started in this field can be tough, but with hard work, you can build a successful legal career.

Now, let's explore the steps to become an ethical hacker.

10 Steps to Become an Ethical Hacker

Step 1: Get good at using LINUX/UNIX, an open-source operating system known for its strong security. Kali Linux is a popular version of LINUX customized for hacking.

Step 2: Become a pro at C programming, the foundation of all programming languages. Learning other languages like Python, JavaScript, PHP, and SQL will improve you.

Step 3: Learn how to stay anonymous online. This is important for ethical hackers. Tools like Anonsurf, Proxychains, and MacChanger can help you hide your identity.

Step 4: Understand networking concepts like TCP/IP, subnetting, and protocols. Tools like Nmap and Wireshark can be very useful.

Step 5: Explore the dark web, a hidden part of the internet that regular search engines can't find. You'll need special tools like Tor to access it. The dark web has legal and illegal stuff, and it's important to understand how it works.

Step 6: Learn about cryptography, which is all about secret codes and writing. It's really useful for hacking. You'll need to know how to encrypt (lock) and decrypt (unlock) information.

Step 7: Dig deeper into hacking by studying things like SQL injections (a way to hack into databases), penetration testing (pretending to be a hacker to find weaknesses), and vulnerability assessment (looking for security holes). Stay updated on the latest security trends and tools.

Step 8: Focus on finding vulnerabilities in computer systems and networks. There are tools like Nessus, OpenVAS, Nikto, Nmap, and Wapiti that can help with this.

Step 9: Practice your hacking skills in different scenarios, from simulations to real-world challenges like bug bounty programs, where you get paid for finding security issues.

Step 10: Connect with other hackers in online communities, forums, and discussions. Collaboration and knowledge-sharing are key in this field.

These steps can help you build a solid foundation for a career in ethical hacking.

Also Read: BSc (Hons) Ethical Hacking and Cybersecurity

Stages of a Career in Ethical Hacking

A career in ethical hacking typically progresses through stages:

Starting Out

Educational Foundation: The journey begins with a strong educational foundation. Many aspiring ethical hackers start by pursuing a degree in computer science. Alternatively, they may opt for relevant certifications like CompTIA's A+. These certifications validate essential knowledge of computer hardware and software components.

Building Practical Experience: To gain a foothold in the field, individuals typically need to accumulate practical experience. This includes hands-on exposure to computer systems, networking, and security fundamentals.

Foundational Certifications: While pursuing a degree or gaining practical experience, beginners may also consider earning entry-level certifications like CompTIA's Network+ and Security+ to build their credentials and demonstrate their commitment to the field.

Network Support

Transitioning Roles: Many aspiring ethical hackers transition into network support roles after acquiring foundational knowledge. In this stage, they often work as part of an IT team, where responsibilities include monitoring network activities, installing and configuring security programs, and conducting initial vulnerability assessments.

Hands-On Networking: This phase provides valuable hands-on experience with networking technologies and practices, essential for understanding how systems communicate and identifying potential vulnerabilities.

Network Engineer

Design and Planning: As professionals progress in their careers, they may advance into roles as network engineers. In this capacity, they focus on designing and planning network architectures, emphasizing security from the ground up.

Security Certifications: To excel in this stage, individuals often pursue advanced security certifications like CompTIA Security+, Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP), or Trusted Cyber Security Analyst (TICSA). These certifications validate their expertise in security principles, risk management, and encryption techniques.

Specialization: At this point, individuals may also begin to specialize in specific areas of cybersecurity, such as penetration testing or security architecture.

Working in Information Security

Examination and Response: Professionals in information security roles are responsible for examining and fortifying an organization's system and network security. They proactively assess vulnerabilities, detect security breaches, and respond to incidents swiftly and effectively.

Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH): To solidify their ethical hacking skills, individuals often pursue the Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) certification offered by the International Council of Electronic Commerce Consultants (EC-Council). This intensive certification program provides in-depth knowledge and hands-on experience in ethical hacking techniques, including penetration testing and vulnerability assessment.

Career Advancement: Working in information security allows professionals to advance their careers within organizations. Depending on their expertise and interests, they may take on roles such as security analysts, security administrators, or even security software developers.

Outlook for Ethical Hackers

The demand for ethical hackers is surging due to the escalating prevalence of cyber threats worldwide. Organizations increasingly recognize the need to proactively defend against cyberattacks, making experienced, ethical hackers highly sought-after professionals.

Ethical hackers with substantial expertise have the potential to earn significant incomes, particularly if they establish their consulting firms or penetration testing companies. This entrepreneurial aspect of the profession allows them to provide cybersecurity services to a wide range of clients.

Gaining Experience as an Ethical Hacker

Ethical hackers looking to build their expertise should immerse themselves in the practical aspects of their field. This includes familiarizing themselves with various vulnerability testing tools used to identify weaknesses in systems and networks.

Engaging in simulated attacks and bug bounty programs is invaluable for gaining hands-on experience. These initiatives allow ethical hackers to apply their skills in real-world scenarios while contributing to improving security.

Understanding social engineering techniques and physical penetration tests can be valuable skills. These areas involve manipulating human behavior or physically breaching security measures, which are common tactics malicious hackers employ.

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Typical Ethical Hacking Assignments

Ethical hackers may be tasked with a variety of assignments aimed at enhancing an organization's security:

Threat Modeling: This involves assessing potential threats and their consequences to prioritize security efforts effectively.

Security Assessment: Ethical hackers conduct comprehensive security assessments to evaluate an organization's security posture. This includes testing systems, networks, and applications for vulnerabilities.

Vulnerability Threat Assessment: This assessment identifies, quantifies, and ranks vulnerabilities within systems and networks to determine their potential risk.

Report Writing: Ethical hackers must possess strong communication skills to compile and present detailed reports of their findings, complete with recommendations for improving security.

Basic Hacking Skills

High ethical standards and a robust set of technical skills characterize successful ethical hackers:

Programming Knowledge: Learning programming languages like Python is essential, as it provides the foundation for understanding and manipulating software systems.

Mastery of Unix-Based Systems: Proficiency in Unix-based operating systems is crucial for ethical hackers, as these systems are commonly used in the field.

HTML Proficiency: Understanding HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) is valuable, especially for those who engage in web application testing.

Functional English: Ethical hackers should have a strong command of the English language, as it is the working language of the hacker community. Effective communication skills are essential for reporting findings and collaborating with teams.

Future of Ethical Hacking

The future of ethical hacking looks promising, driven by several factors:

Cyber Warfare Threats: With the increasing threat of cyber warfare and nation-state cyber attacks, the need for ethical hackers to defend critical infrastructure and sensitive information remains crucial.

Rising IT Security Spending: Organizations worldwide are allocating substantial budgets to bolster their IT security measures, creating a demand for skilled, ethical hackers.

Continuous Evolution: As cyber threats evolve, ethical hackers will play an ongoing role in adapting and developing innovative security solutions to safeguard digital assets.

Ethical hackers are vital in the ongoing battle against cyber threats and can potentially make a significant impact while securing organizations from malicious hacking activities.

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