How to Become an Ethical Hacker
Are you: a newbie trying to enter the world of hacking? A programmer looking to land a job in cybersecurity? Or maybe you’re curious about ethical hacking and don’t know how to get started? If so, this article is for you!
What is Ethical Hacking?
In a nutshell: to fight malicious hackers, you need to think like one. Ethical hacking is a legitimate and industry-approved effort to find and exploit computer vulnerabilities to know better how to secure data systems. Standard practices include examining vulnerabilities and presenting proof of concept attacks to show evident weaknesses.
Proper ethical hacking always concludes with detailed reports on approaching and fixing problems identified during a cyber attack or breach. The overall purpose is to discover security vulnerabilities by using scripts, tools, and techniques that hackers use, and patching these weak points before an illegal actor exploits them.
Professional cybersecurity activities associated with ethical hacking include:
- Penetration testing
- White hat hacking
- Offensive security
- Red teaming
Before we delve into the difference between good and bad hackers, it’s first important to distinguish between ethical hacking and vulnerability assessment. These terms are often used interchangeably in the market but mean different things.
A vulnerability assessment is a method of evaluating settings and systems for possible security problems, whereas ethical hacking involves carrying out exploitation and Proof of Concept (PoC) to demonstrate that a security problem exists. An ethical hacker goes a step above a vulnerability evaluation by impersonating a real hacker and producing live payloads. This hacking methodology is known as white hat hacking.
How Ethical Hackers Differ From Black Hat Hackers
Essentially, it’s the good guys versus the bad guys. White hat hackers perform many of the same actions and use the same scripts, tools, and programs that black hat hackers use - but their goal is to protect systems, not attack them. The more the white hat hacking resembles a real-world attack, the higher the advantage the ethical hacker has in safeguarding sensitive data.
While white hats often use tools and techniques from the world of black hat hacking, there are important distinctions between the rivals. At the core, white hats differ in their permission, motivation, and purpose.
Permission or authorization is the process of obtaining consent before carrying out any attacks on systems. With permission established, both the ethical hacker and the client need to agree on the hacking methodology’s extent. This agreement includes a description of approved targets for the hacker, the available support, and the devices the hacker will use.
It is essential that both parties fully comprehend the permissions and extent of the hacking activity. White hats have a responsibility to respect permissions and stay within the scope of the analysis.
By comparison, black hat hackers ignore restrictions and are often motivated by illegal gain. They operate with malicious intent, breaking into computers or systems to steal or manipulate data for monetary profit, make political statements or harm legislative powers, or, worse, endanger peoples’ lives by interfering with critical infrastructure. Their actions can result in a single Malware infection, multiple vulnerability exploitations, data fraud, and other illegal and harmful activities.
Types of Ethical Hacking
Ethical hackers are a growing part of legitimate, professional cybersecurity teams. These hackers use their knowledge to discover security flaws and potential exploits in data systems.
Security teams employing ethical hackers separate their hackers into three teams:
- Red teams
- Blue teams
- Purple teams
Red teams: Consist of in-house or external white hat hackers devoted to testing the efficacy of a security plan using tools and practices that black hat attackers may apply in particular scenarios. Red teams discover security vulnerabilities by penetrating networks, evaluating processes, and testing the security teams’ defensive abilities in all possible directions. This benefits in taking the necessary steps to upgrade the security layers accordingly.
Blue teams: Consist of in-house security practitioners whose responsibility is to protect against both actual black hat hackers and Red Team attacks attempts.
Purple teams: Consist of cyber professionals whose role is to improve data sharing between Red and Blue Teams. Purple teams increase the productivity of Red and Blue teams by connecting defensive techniques from the latter with vulnerabilities discovered by the former, resulting in an effective security strategy.
The Path to Ethical Hacking
The best way to gain knowledge in the areas mentioned above is through hands-on education and real-world practice. There are several educational programs that aspiring ethical hackers can participate in, but it’s important to choose one that prepares you to solve actual cybersecurity challenges, versus programs that focus solely on theoretical instruction.
A program like the CSULB Cybersecurity Professional Certificate Program goes beyond the basics to give students applied experience and skills in cybersecurity, despite their skill level and background. Students are trained by actively-practicing security professionals, providing them with a cross-domain educational experience that ensures they are truly prepared to work in the field upon completion.
Once you’ve gained the knowledge and skills needed to work in cybersecurity, you can test your skills by taking exams for the top certifications in demand by the world’s leading technology companies. These certifications show employers that you are qualified to work in ethical hacking roles:
- CompTIA Security+
- Linux LPI essentials
- Requisites (at least one)
- (EC-Council) CEH — Certified Ethical Hacker
- (SANS) GPEN
- (CompTIA) Pentest+
- CHFI — Computer Hacking and Forensic investigator. We recommend this certification if you’re interested in Blue Team positions.
- OSCP — Offensive Security Certified Professional. Those who go for OSCP can display the practical experience of attack methods on systems and devices essential to work in today’s cybersecurity teams. They also prove to be well-versed in discovering vulnerabilities due to software or hardware flaws or configuration blunders.
Keep in mind that while obtaining certifications on your own is possible, a training program that provides comprehensive education on security fundamentals will help you prepare for day-to-day challenges you’ll face in a cybersecurity role, beyond the topics covered in the certification exams.
Ethical Hacking Today
A few years ago, education programs in ethical hacking were a bit restricted in terms of legality. Luckily, general knowledge over the field has increased, and people are starting to realize the importance of ethical hacking and offensive security for protecting business-critical and government data.
Ethical hacking is being adopted more and more by companies across all industries. Governmental agencies are also integrating offensive security into their operations, with many authorities stating on record that they are actively strengthening and improving ethical hacking capabilities.
Should I Become an Ethical Hacker?
Fighting the bad guys takes grit and determination. When you think you’ve cracked a hacker technique or discovered a vulnerability, new methods, technologies, and hacker groups pop up. That doesn’t mean your knowledge and skills have to become irrelevant when a new threat arises. Understanding of cybersecurity fundamentals gives you a robust framework for learning about emerging threats and techniques.
According to Security Magazine, 76% of companies claim they lack adequate cybersecurity skills in their workforce, which is actually an improvement from the 90% recorded in 2019. Still, it is predicted that the number of vacant cybersecurity jobs will rise to a whopping 3.5 million by 2021. This means demand for qualified cybersecurity specialists is increasingly strong, opening the door to many aspiring ethical hackers.
If you’re on the fence about pursuing a career in cybersecurity in general or ethical hacking in particular, there is no better time than now.
To learn more about how you can get started with a cybersecurity career path, schedule a free consultation with our admissions team. We’ll help you determine if the CSULB Cybersecurity Professional Certificate Program is right for you - and who knows - you could turn into a cybersecurity hero that saves an organization from being the victim of the next data breach.