In the last few decades, there’s been an increasing demand for ethical hackers (also known as white hat hackers) as they protect the computer systems from dangerous intrusions. Ethical hackers are technically skilled IT pros with a strong desire to solve problems and prevent malicious hackers from causing damage to network systems.
To be a professional ethical hacker you require motivation, dedication, initiative, self-education and formal training in ethical hacking.
Quick Steps to Become an Ethical Hacker
- Know about the pros and cons of different types of hackers, such as White Hat, Grey Hat and Black Hat hackers. Newbies who are keen to become a Black Hat need to keep in mind that “A day of glory is not worth years in prison”.
- Seek out job opportunities for ethical hackers. There are lucrative jobs available in government organizations, banks, financial institutions, military establishments and private companies.
- Analyze the basic requirements to become an ethical hacker. Try to find out the areas where will you need to work really hard.
- Decide the area where you would prefer to work primarily with hardware or software. Do not think of specializing in both the areas. Though knowledge of both is required but the decision will help you to know where to begin. You must be aware of every function, every component of computer on which you will have to work on.
- Evaluate your strengths and interests and gain some programming knowledge such as C, Python or Java. These programming languages can be learned by taking formal programming courses and reading books. It will help you to read and write code.
- Learn the UNIX operating system as it is regarded as the original operating system built by hackers. Also learn about Windows and Mac OS.
- Take a professional course. There are a wide variety of courses available for IT security professionals in “Ethical Hacking” or “Internet Security” which would help you to expand your knowledge in ethical hacking.
- Do the experiments on your own to know the actual happening of a situation.
- Start experimenting with hardware and software to learn how to take control of the situations and how to prevent a computer from getting hacked.
- Read on your own to know what are the areas where you need to improve and what need to be learned to refine your focus. Technology changes rapidly, and a good ethical hacker must be willing and eager to keep up with the new technological developments.
- Get certified as it would help you to succeed in the vanguard of your profession.
- Stay connected to the hacker community by sharing technical information and ideas.
Frequently Asked Questions to Become an Ethical Hacker
Hackers find vulnerabilities in computer hardware and software and exploit these vulnerabilities to gain access to networks and the information contained within them. While some hackers carry out attacks with malicious intent, others, known as ethical or white hat hackers, discover vulnerabilities so they can be fixed before they are exploited maliciously.
Hackers can work for government agencies, private network security firms, tech firms, banks, or other organizations that want to secure their IT systems.
What kind of training is required to become a hacker?
Hackers come from a variety of different educational backgrounds. Some have four-year computer science degrees, while others are self-taught. In the past few years, hacker training programs have become another viable option for those interested in entering the field. There are now several hacker “boot camps” across the country that train people who have little to no programming experience.
Becoming a successful hacker depends on building a base of knowledge and computer programming skills. One of the most important areas of knowledge for hackers is computer networking. Hackers must know how computers communicate with each other through the Internet and internal networks, so they should be very familiar with the protocols on which these networks are built. Hackers should also be very familiar with the security measures used to protect computer networks.
Programming plays an important role in hacking, and hackers should know how to read and write code written in different programming languages. They should also work in different operating systems, like Windows, Unix, Linux, and Mac OS X. Many hackers work extensively on Unix and Linux operating systems because many servers are Unix or Linux-based, and because these operating systems give end users a great deal of freedom to explore and manipulate.
Computer systems are maintained and operated by humans, so many hackers also develop skills in what is called “social engineering.” Social engineering involves gaining the trust of the users and guardians of a computer network and manipulating that trust to gain access to it. A hacker may gain physical access to a server room, for example, by misrepresenting himself to employees in the building, or gain access to a network by convincing a user to give him their password.
No matter their training, hackers gain experience and credibility through practice and collaboration with the hacker community. Hackers can contribute to the knowledge in their field by writing and sharing software tools, testing software written by others, and writing documentation.
Are there any certification or licensure requirements?
There are no licensure requirements to become a hacker, but there are many voluntary certifications that could enhance your chances of finding a job in the field.
There are many general IT certifications you can pursue to show your expertise in areas of knowledge like hardware maintenance (CompTIA’s A+ certification), networking (CompTIA’s Network+ certification and the Cisco Certified Network Professional certification), and computer security (CompTIA’s Security+ certification and the CISSP certification). Earning one of these certifications typically involves self-study, though many organizations offer training courses, and passing an exam.
You can also become a Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH). The International Council of E-Commerce Consultants (EC-Council) developed the Certified Ethical Hacker program, which is now recognized by the Department of Defense as an approved training program and certification for its computer network defenders. To become a CEH, you should already have some experience in computer security. The CEH course lasts five days and includes hands-on training in topics like network scanning, intrusion, intrusion detection, social engineering, and various types of cyber attacks, such as viruses, buffer overflows, and DDoS attacks. At the end of the course, you can take an exam to earn your certification.
How long does it take to become a hacker?
While some hacker boot camps claim to prepare hackers for jobs in as little as 12 weeks, many hackers spend years building their knowledge and practicing their skills.
What does a hacker earn?
Hackers can command a high salary for the work they do. The median yearly pay for information security analysts, which includes ethical hackers and penetration testers, was $86,170 in 2012. The top ten percent of earners in this field made more than $135,600 that year and the lowest ten percent made less than $49,960.
What are the job prospects?
The amount of money spent worldwide for IT security can be measured in the tens of billions of dollars, and has increased significantly over the past few years. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that employment of information security analysts in the United States will grow by 37 percent between 2012 and 2020, much faster than the average growth for all occupations.
What are the long term career prospects for hackers?
With experience, ethical hackers can advance into senior positions in their company, land more lucrative jobs with other companies, or start their own consulting services.
How can I find a job as a hacker?
Hackers can find work with many different kinds of organizations, including the government. Working for the government with groups like the Departments of Defense or Homeland Security typically requires earning a security clearance, which involves passing an extensive background check.
Making contacts within the hacker community can help you find job opportunities. Hackers are heavily recruited by all types of organizations looking to secure their IT systems, and participating in events like hacking conferences and conventions can put you in contact with colleagues and recruiters.
How can I learn more about becoming a hacker?
There are many different online communities where hackers work together and share information. To learn more about becoming a hacker, you can look to these communities for advice, but you should be prepared to put some effort into teaching yourself and contributing something back to the community.
How to Become an Ethical Hacker
Do viruses, DDoS attacks, or buffer overflows tickle your fancy? If so, you might consider becoming a legal hacker, aka an ethical hacker, “white hat” hacker, or penetration tester.
Businesses and government-related organizations that are serious about their network security hire ethical hackers and penetration testers to help probe and improve their networks, applications, and other computer systems with the ultimate goal of preventing data theft and fraud. You may not get the same adrenaline rush that you might with underground hacking, but you can earn a good and honest living–and not end up facing prison time, as some illegal “black hat” hackers do.
How does the job market look like for ethical hackers? Extremely good! The IT market overall continues to grow despite the current economic turmoil. Research firm Gartner estimates that worldwide enterprise IT spending grew by 5.9 percent between 2009 and 2010, to a total of $2.7 trillion. At the same time, security is becoming a more pressing concern. Gartner expects to see an increase of nearly 40 percent in spending on worldwide security services during the five-year period from 2011 to 2015, eventually surpassing $49.1 billion.
In your first years as an ethical hacker, you’ll be in a position to earn anywhere from $50,000 to $100,000 per year, depending on the company that hires you, and on your IT experience and education. With several years of professional experience, you could command $120,000 or more per year, especially if you do your own independent consulting.
You can’t just dive into an ethical hacker position, however. Without IT security experience, you won’t get very far, even with degrees and certifications. As is true for other IT jobs, employers typically want candidates who have college degrees, but related experience is king. And experience with certifications can typically take the place of some degree requirements.
What you need to do to get started on the road to becoming an ethical hacker depends on where you are in the IT field. If you haven’t started your IT career yet, you might even consider military service. The military offers many IT opportunities, and you get paid to go to school, even if you enlist in a part-time branch such as the National Guard or Reserves. Military service also looks good to employers that require security clearances.
Start with the basics: Earn your A+ Certification and get a tech support position. After some experience and additional certification (Network+ or CCNA), move up to a network support or admin role, and then to network engineer after a few years. Next, put some time into earning security certifications (Security+, CISSP, or TICSA) and find an information security position. While you’re there, try to concentrate on penetration testing–and get some experience with the tools of the trade. Then work toward the Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) certification offered by the International Council of Electronic Commerce Consultants (EC-Council for short). At that point, you can start marketing yourself as an ethical hacker.
For a hacker, networking know-how is vital; but make sure that you gain experience in related areas as well. Discover and play with Unix/Linux commands and distributions. Make sure you also learn some programming–maybe C, LISP, Perl, or Java. And spend some time with databases such as SQL.
Hacking isn’t all technical. It also requires so-called soft skills, just as any other IT job does. You’ll need a strong work ethic, very good problem-solving and communications skills, and the ability to say motivated and dedicated.
Ethical hackers also need street smarts, people skills, and even some talent for manipulation, since at times they need to be able to persuade others to disclose credentials, restart or shut down systems, execute files, or otherwise knowingly or unknowingly help them achieve their ultimate goal. You’ll need to master this aspect of the job, which people in the business sometimes call “social engineering,” to become a well-rounded ethical hacker.
It’s important never to engage in “black hat” hacking–that is, intruding or attacking anyone’s network without their full permission. Engaging in illegal activities, even if it doesn’t lead to a conviction, will likely kill your ethical hacking career. Many of the available jobs are with government-related organizations and require security clearances and polygraph testing. Even regular companies will perform at least a basic background check.
Becoming a Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH)
As noted earlier, becoming a Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) involves earning the appropriate credential from the EC-Council after a few years of security-related IT experience. The certification will help you understand security from the mindset of a hacker. You’ll learn the common types of exploits, vulnerabilities, and countermeasures.
Qualification for a CEH (a vendor-neutral certification) involves mastering penetration testing, footprinting and reconnaissance, and social engineering. The course of study covers creating Trojan horses, backdoors, viruses, and worms. It also covers denial of service (DoS) attacks, SQL injection, buffer overflow, session hijacking, and system hacking. You’ll discover how to hijack Web servers and Web applications. You’ll also find out how to scan and sniff networks, crack wireless encryption, and evade IDSs, firewalls, and honeypots.
Through approved EC-Council training partners, you can take a live, five-day onsite or online training course to prepare for the CEH cert. You can generally take live online classes over five consecutive days; onsite courses typically offer the content spread over a couple weeks for locals. In addition, you can take self-paced courses and work with self-study materials (including the CEH Certified Ethical Hacker Study Guide book) with or without the training courses. The EC-Council also offers iLabs, a subscription based-service that allows you to log on to virtualized remote machines to perform exercises.
The EC-Council usually requires that you have at least two years of information-security-related work experience (endorsed by your employer) in addition to passing the exam before it will award you the official CEH certification.
If you’re interested in ethical hacking, you can consult many useful resources for more information. To start, check the resources section of the EC-Council site. A quick Amazon search will reveal many books on ethical hacking and the CEH certification, as well.
With some googling, you can find simple hacking how-tos, which may motivate you even more. Consider downloading the Firefox add-on Firesheep or the Android app Droidsheep, and hijack your online accounts via Wi-Fi (but don’t use these tools to hijack others’ accounts–you could find yourself in legal trouble if you do).
Another option is to experiment with the BackTrack live CD. Try enabling WEP security on your wireless router at home, and then take a stab at cracking it. Check out Hack This Site to test and expand your skills. You could even set up a Linux box with Apache or buy a used Cisco router and see what you can do with it. If you want to play with malware, consider downloading–cautiously, and at your own risk–a malware DIY kit or a keylogger, and use it to experiment on a separate old PC or virtual machine.
Like other IT areas, hacking has conventions and conferences dedicated to it, such as DefCon, one of the oldest and largest of these. Such gatherings can be a great place to meet and network with peers and employers, and to discover more about hacking. DefCon also has affiliated local groups in select areas.
And remember, never attack or intrude on anyone else’s network or computers without full written permission.
Course to Become a Certified Ethical Hacker
The Certified Ethical Hacker Training Program is a course that prepares students to take the CEH exam. It consists of 18 modules and covers 270 attack technologies, as well as mimics real-life scenarios in 140 labs. The course is run on an intensive five-day schedule with training from 9-5.
At the end, you’ll not only be ready for the exam, but you’ll be ready to handle whatever penetration testing or ethical hacking scenarios come up in your IT security career. These skills are internationally recognized and in high demand, and the CEH certification is well-respected.
The CEH Exam
The 312-50 exam lasts 4 hours and is comprised of 125 multiple choice questions.
It is offered at ECCExam (Exam Prefix – 312-50) and Vue Testing Center (Exam Prefix – 312-50).
The exam tests CEH candidates on the following 18 areas:
- Introduction to Ethical Hacking
- Footprinting and Reconnaissance
- Scanning Networks
- System Hacking
- Malware Threats
- Social Engineering
- Denial of Service
- Session Hijacking
- Hacking Webservers
- Hacking Web Applications
- SQL Injection
- Hacking Wireless Networks
- Hacking Mobile Platforms
- Evading IDS, Firewalls, and Honeypots
- Cloud Computing
Who’s Behind the CEH
The Certified Ethical Hacker credential is sponsored by EC-Council. That’s short for the International Council of E-Commerce Consultants, a member-supported professional organization with a global reach. Authorized, accredited training centers administer the 5-day certification course, while authorized testing centers administer the certification exam. Self-study and instructor-led courses are both available.
In addition to Certified Ethical Hacker, EC-Council offers several other certifications relevant for network security jobs, as well as those for secure programming, e-business and computer forensics jobs. Certification proficiency levels range from entry-level to consultant (independent contractor).
It’s a rigorous exam, but according to this article in Intelligent Defense, the payoff can make it worth it: “On average, CEH-certified professionals earn 8.9 percent more than non-certified professionals for the same security positions, according to PayScale.” Having the certification under your belt can also give you access to new jobs or promotions.