These days, it seems that hardly a week goes by without at least one report of a data breach. A store may have had their credit card data stolen. A health insurance company may have lost the records of those they cover. The government loses records of those with clearances and find what was supposed to be private emails being published on activist websites. It seems as though everyone needs the services of an ethical hacker to test their systems.

Read more: Why Businesses Need Ethical Hackers

Companies and governments are turning to ethical hackers to help strengthen security by finding vulnerabilities before malicious hackers can exploit them. Ethical hacking is a growing industry; more and more people are using their technical skills for both fun and profit. 

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What Is Ethical Hacking?

Ethical hacking is identifying vulnerabilities in a computer system or network and taking steps to mitigate them. Ethical hackers use the same techniques as malicious hackers but with the permission of the owner of the system or network.

Ethical hacking is used to improve the security of a system or network by identifying and addressing vulnerabilities and testing the security of a system or network before malicious hackers have a chance to exploit it.

Individuals or organizations can conduct ethical hacking.

For example, 

  • Organizations that conduct ethical hacking are known as white hat hackers. Organizations typically hire them to test their security systems and identify vulnerabilities. White hat hackers follow a strict code of ethics and professional conduct themselves.
  • Individuals who engage in ethical hacking are known as black hat hackers. They typically hack without permission or authorization, and black hat hackers may conduct themselves maliciously or destructively.

What’s an Ethical Hacker?

Although ethical hackers use the same methods to test and bypass security defenses as their less principled counterparts, they are sanctioned to find vulnerabilities. They do this so that companies can document what was found and fix those vulnerabilities as soon as possible to improve security. Ethical hackers also provide individual services to help people recover data, email, and documents that may be inaccessible because of any number of problems.

Read more: Different Types Of Hackers

Ethical Hacker vs Computer Hacker

The one who uses their hacking skills for a good purpose apart from evil intent is called ethical hackers. Ethical hackers generally have the same skills as regular hackers but use them for different purposes.

The main difference between an ethical hacker and a regular hacker is their motivation. 

  • Ethical hackers desire to make systems more secure, while familiar hackers are motivated to cause chaos or steal sensitive information. This difference in motivation means that ethical hackers are generally more cooperative and law-abiding than regular hackers.

What Does an Ethical Hacker Do?

  • An ethical hacker is a computer and network security professional who uses their skills to find and fix security vulnerabilities in systems and applications and protect organizations from cyber attacks. Ethical hackers are also known as white hat hackers or penetration testers.
  • Ethical hackers use the same tools and techniques as malicious hackers. However, they do it with permission from the systems owners that they are testing because ethical hacking is a legitimate and legal way to ensure systems security and find vulnerabilities that malicious hackers could exploit.
  • Ethical hackers typically have a computer science or information technology background. They use their computer systems and network knowledge to find weaknesses and vulnerabilities. They then report these findings to the organization to fix them before an attack occurs. That's why companies and organizations employ ethical hackers to test their security systems and find vulnerabilities that need to be fixed. Even government agencies may hire them to test the security of critical infrastructure.

Ethical hackers play an essential role in keeping organizations safe from cyber attacks. Without their skills, organizations would be vulnerable to attack.

Who Can Be an Ethical Hacker?

An ethical hacker can identify weaknesses and vulnerabilities in computer systems and networks and has the skills to exploit them. Ethical hackers use their knowledge to help organizations improve their security rather than to cause harm.

To be an ethical hacker, you need to have a strong understanding of computer systems and networking and be able to think like a malicious attacker. It would be best if you were highly skilled in coding and scripting so that you could find and exploit vulnerabilities.

What is an Ethical Hacking Certification?

  • An ethical hacking certification is a credential that indicates that an individual has the skills and knowledge to safely and effectively identify and resolve security vulnerabilities in computer systems. 
  • This type of certification is typically obtained through a training program or course covering network security, ethical hacking techniques, and countermeasures. 
  • Individuals with ethical hacking certification can work as security consultants, penetration testers, or in other related roles.

How to Choose the Right Ethical Hacking Certification? 

If you're interested in becoming an ethical hacker, there are a few things you need to keep in mind when choosing the proper certification for you. 

  • Make sure the certifications are from reputable sources. 
  • And you must ensure that the certification covers the topics you're interested in. Many ethical hacking credentials are available, so you must choose one that covers the most interesting issues.
  • Make sure the certification is affordable. There are a lot of different certificates available, so you need to make sure you choose one that you can afford.

Why Become an Ethical Hacker?

Over the last few years, the financial services sector has been hiring cybersecurity professionals almost as fast as government contractors. Since the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, regulations have forced financial institutions to reconsider how they manage cybersecurity—which in turn has opened new job opportunities for ethical hackers. 

The demand for ethical hackers exceeds the supply, which means that salaries and benefits are generous. A recent review of available jobs consists of listings for some of the world’s largest companies in the financial sector, including JPMorgan Chase, Barclays, Bank of America, and Allstate.

To be considered for a job as an ethical hacker, most employers require an ethical hacking certification. Certification tests ensure that the hacker not only understands the technology but also the ethical responsibilities of the job. Since many employers do not have the expertise to evaluate applicants for these jobs technically, a certification assures them that the candidate is qualified.

Read more: Top Ethical Hacking Tools and Software for 2022

But what options are available for ethical hacking certification? Below are most common and sought-after certifications today.

1. Certified Ethical Hacker

The Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) is the broadest of all available certification options. The CEH exam is designed to test the cybersecurity professional’s baseline knowledge of security threats, risks, and countermeasures through lectures and hands-on labs. An experienced professional may sit for the exam without any training by submitting proof of at least two years of cybersecurity experience.

Managed by the EC-Council a significant benefit of the CEH certification is flexibility. The EC-Council has options for instructor-led training, video lectures, and self-study. These options are available online, and organizations have the option of contracting EC-Council trainers to conduct on-site training.

Even though many of the job listings for ethical hackers specifically require a CEH certification, it may not always be the best option. A major criticism of CEH is that because of the emphasis on lecture-based training, most of their hacking courses do not provide an adequate amount of hands-on experience.

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2. Global Information Assurance Certification Penetration Tester

The Global Information Assurance Certification (GIAC) program is run by the SANS Institute, one of the oldest organizations that provide cybersecurity education. GIAC offers dozens of vendor-neutral certifications with courses that require hands-on learning. GIAC courses are held online. The company also sponsors white research papers that are provided to the cybersecurity industry without charge.

There are a variety of options to earn the GIAC Penetration Tester (GPEN) certification, but it is highly recommended that learners take the SEC560 course on Network Penetration Testing and Ethical Hacking from the SANS Institute; it is one of the most comprehensive courses on the topic and demonstrates that the certificate holder has received a good balance of theory and hands-on training.

3. Offensive Security Certified Professional

The Offensive Security Certified Professional (OSCP) is the least known but most technical of the certification options. Offered by the for-profit Offensive Security, it is advertised as the only completely hands-on certification program. Offensive Security designed the program for technical professionals “to prove they have a clear, practical understanding of the penetration testing process and lifecycle.”

Before considering the OCSP certification, understand that the coursework requires a solid technical understanding of networking protocols, software development, and systems internals, specifically Kali Linux, an open-source project maintained by Offensive Security. Most students enrolled in this training program will take the course online; classroom training is only offered in Las Vegas.

The OCSP exam is conducted on a virtual network with varying configurations. The test-taker is tasked with researching the network, identifying vulnerabilities, and hacking into the system to gain administrative access within 24 hours. At the end of the 24 hours, the Offensive Security certification committee must receive a comprehensive penetration test report for review. They will review the findings in the report and determine whether to grant the certification.

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4. Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP)

Certified Information Systems Security Professional also abbreviated as CISSP is an advanced certification exam in ethical hacking designed to test the ability of a professional for his or her skills in information security. Besides, this certification prepares for an enterprise environment that allows a professional to manage the security and to stand out uniquely. 

CISSP certification can be specialized in three different options, engineering, management, and architecture. For instance, if an individual has graduated in management, he or she can go for CISSP management certification.

  • Requirements: An individual must have a minimum of 5 years of experience in any 2 domains out of 8 that are approved by ICS, the one who conducts the CISSP exam.
  •  How to appear for the CISSP exam? An individual can apply for the exam if he or she has the relevant experience as above mentioned and after successful cracking, he or she will be able to manage cyber security for the enterprise environment. 

5. Computer Hacking Forensic Investigator (CHFI)

Certified Hacking Forensic Investigator (abbreviated as CHFI), is also known as certification as the detective of the cyber world. This certification offers the most crucial features such as investigation of cyber security and some advanced clues for the hacking that usual hackers might lose. 

This certification offers a wide range of career opportunities in the cyber world and also an attractive salary package. 

  • Requirements: An individual requires advanced knowledge of computer hardware and software systems and all such tactics related to them.
  • How to appear for the CHFI exam? : An individual can prepare for an exam with the help of training for 1 to 2 weeks depending on the skill that he or she has already acquired. Once an individual feels that he or she is ready for the exam after successful training of CHFI, he or she can apply for it. Once an exam is cracked successfully, he or she can apply for the government or private sectors of computer forensic investigation as an expert for the same. 

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6. Certified Information Security Manager (CISM)

Certified Information Security Manager, also abbreviated as CISM, is one of the best certification courses in information security management with a lot of career opportunities.

  • Requirements: An individual must have at least 3 years of work experience in the field of management in information security. One can also go for training programs if he or she lacks some information security management skills that have not been covered in either work experience or academics. 
  • How to appear for the CISM exam? : Once an individual meets the skill criteria along with his or her work experience in the management of information security, he or she can apply for the exam. 

7. CompTIA PenTest+

CompTIA PenTest+ is a certification that validates a candidate's skills in penetration testing and vulnerability management. The certification exam covers topics such as assessment planning, information gathering, vulnerability analysis, attack methods, and penetration testing tools. 

Candidates who earn the CompTIA PenTest+ certification will have the skills and knowledge to conduct effective penetration tests and vulnerability assessments, identify and exploit vulnerabilities, and help organizations remediate them.

8. CREST

CREST Registered Security Analyst (CRSA) credential is a globally recognized professional certification demonstrating an individual's ability to perform security analysis and penetration testing services. The Council awards the CRSA credential for Registered Security Analysts (CREST), an international organization that sets standards for the security industry. 

  • To earn the CRSA credential, candidates must complete a rigorous examination that tests their knowledge and skills in security analysis and penetration testing. 
  • The CRSA credential is valid for three years and must be renewed every three years to maintain active status.

9. Foundstone Ultimate Hacking

Foundstone Ultimate Hacking certification is a top-level certification that shows that you have the skills and knowledge to be a top-level hacker. This certification is only for some, requiring much hard work and dedication. 

However, if you are up for the challenge, the Foundstone Ultimate Hacking certification is a great way to show that you are a top-level hacker.

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10. Certified Penetration Testing Consultant

A certified penetration testing consultant is an individual who has been certified by an accredited organization to conduct penetration tests on behalf of their clients. A penetration test is an authorized simulated attack on a computer system performed to evaluate the system's security. 

A certified penetration testing consultant has the skills and knowledge necessary to conduct a penetration test under industry best practices. They can also provide guidance and advice to their clients on improving their security posture. 

Organizations looking to hire a certified penetration testing consultant can confidently hire individuals with the skills and knowledge necessary to conduct a high-quality penetration test.

11. Certified Penetration Testing Engineer

A certified penetration testing engineer is a professional responsible for conducting security assessments of information systems. They are responsible for identifying vulnerabilities and assessing the risks posed by them. They work with organizations to help them improve their security posture by recommending mitigating risks. 

To become a certified penetration testing engineer, one must have a strong understanding of network security, computer systems, and ethical hacking. They must also be able to demonstrate their skills in conducting penetration tests.

12. Certified Security Testing Associate (CSTA)

Certified Security Testing Associate (CSTA) certification is a globally recognized credential demonstrating an individual's proficiency in security testing. Security testing is a critical component of any organization's security posture, and the CSTA certification shows that an individual has the skills and knowledge necessary to perform security testing effectively. The CSTA certification is also a valuable asset for individuals looking to build their careers in security testing and information security.

13. Certified Information System Auditor (CISA)

A Certified Information System Auditor (CISA) audits and assesses an organization's information system, ensuring the system is secure and compliant with industry standards and best practices. Organizations often employ CISAs to help them improve their overall security posture.

14. SSCP- Systems Security Certified Practitioner

Systems Security Certified Practitioner (SSCP) is a certification that demonstrates an individual's expertise in designing, implementing, and managing information security programs. 

  • The SSCP is globally recognized and valuable for any security professional. 
  • Earning the SSCP certification requires passing a rigorous exam that tests an individual's knowledge of security concepts and best practices.

15. Certified in Risk and Information System Control (CRISC)

The Certified in Risk and Information System Control (CRISC) designation is a globally recognized certification demonstrating an individual's ability to identify, assess, and manage enterprise risks. The ISACA, a leading nonprofit association of information security professionals, administers the CRISC certification. 

To earn the CRISC designation, candidates must pass a rigorous exam that covers three key knowledge domains: 

  • Risk Identification, Assessment, and Evaluation
  • Risk Response and Mitigation
  • Risk Monitoring and Reporting.

The CRISC designation is widely respected by employers and is a valuable asset for any individual looking to advance their career in risk management.

16. SECO Ethical Hacking Practitioner

SECO Ethical Hacking Practitioner is a highly sought-after certification demonstrating mastery of ethical hacking techniques. 

  • The International Council of Electronic Commerce Consultants (EC-Council) awarded the certificate and is recognized by the US Department of Defense. 
  • SECO Ethical Hacking Practitioner certification is valid for three years and requires renewal every three years. 
  • The certification exam comprises 125 multiple-choice questions and covers network security, cryptography, and social engineering topics.

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17. Offensive Security Wireless Professional (OSWP) 

The Offensive Security Wireless Professional (OSWP) certification demonstrates a person's ability to conduct successful attacks on wireless networks. Offensive Security, a leading provider of security training and penetration testing services, sponsors the certificate. 

  • The OSWP is one of the few wireless-specific certifications and is highly respected in the InfoSec community. 
  • To earn the OSWP, a person must pass a rigorous exam that covers a wide range of topics related to wireless security. 
  • The OSWP is an excellent way to show employers that you have the skills and knowledge necessary to conduct successful attacks on wireless networks.

Enterprise Penetration Testing

Enterprise penetration testing is a comprehensive process for testing the security of an organization's IT infrastructure. This testing goes beyond simple vulnerability scanning and includes targeted attacks designed to exploit system and application security weaknesses. Penetration testers work to identify and exploit security vulnerabilities and then recommend remediation steps to improve the organization's overall security posture.

Organizations can conduct enterprise penetration testing on an ongoing or on time in response to a specific security incident or concern. In either case, it is essential to work with a reputable and experienced penetration testing firm to ensure that the testing is conducted professionally and ethically.

Web App Penetration Testing and Ethical Hacking

Web App Penetration Testing and Ethical Hacking are two terms that are often used interchangeably. 

  • Web App Penetration Testing is trying to identify security vulnerabilities in a web application. 
  • On the other hand, ethical hacking is using hacking techniques to find security vulnerabilities in a system with the owner's permission.

However, Web App Penetration Testing and Ethical Hacking are essential in keeping systems secure. 

Which Job Roles Require Ethical Hacking Certification?

Many job roles may require ethical hacking certification, depending on the employer's specific needs and requirements. Some examples of job roles that could require certification include network security specialists, system administrators, and IT security analysts. 

Generally, any position that involves working with sensitive information or systems could require certification as part of the hiring process.

Ethical Hacking Jobs

Most companies purchase the services of cybersecurity firms that specialize in security compliance and testing. These companies hire professionals that will investigate the root cause of the breach, perform penetration testing, deliver a report of their findings, and provide recommended mitigations. Cybersecurity firms accumulate talent and market themselves to the industry.

Many of these cybersecurity service firms are small companies started by entrepreneurs. The advantage of working for a small company is that they can be more ambitious in the type of work they accept. Those interested in working for these companies can look at job sites like Indeed, Glassdoor, and LinkedIn.

Another avenue for finding jobs as an ethical hacker is to work with firms that contract to the federal government. Ever since the data breach from the Office of Personnel Management, executive branch agencies have been mandated to conduct independent security assessments of their systems. Contractors, primarily in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, are having a difficult time finding and hiring qualified, ethical hackers. 

When looking through job sites, the listings for the Washington, DC area reads like a roll call of the most high-profile government contractors. If your preference is to work for one of these large contractors, ethical hacker or penetration testing jobs are almost always available at Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, CACI, Booz Allen Hamilton, Deloitte, BAE Systems, and many others. 

When looking for cybersecurity jobs that are associated with the federal government, you may require active security clearances or the ability to qualify for approval. Government security clearances need employees to be citizens of the United States and undergo background checks. Certified ethical hackers looking to fulfill their career in public service can work directly for the federal government. Agencies like the FBI, Department of Homeland Security, the intelligence agencies, and the Department of Defense all use ethical hackers for various tasks. To find out more about working directly for the federal government, find more information at usajobs.gov. 

If working for the government is not a priority, look at large network service providers like Amazon Web Services and Verizon. With network access as their primary business, cloud and other services providers have their in-house ethical hackers to help maintain security. 

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FAQs

1. Which certificate is best for ethical hacking?

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question, as the best ethical hacking certification will vary depending on your specific goals and interests. However, some popular certificates in this field include the Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) and the Offensive Security Certified Professional (OSCP). If you are serious about becoming an ethical hacker, then either of these certificates would be a good choice.

2. Is OSCP better than CEH?

Both of these certificates are highly respected in the ethical hacking community and will give you the skills and knowledge you need to be successful in this field. CEH is a more general certification, while OSCP is more focused on practical hacking skills.

3. What roles can an ethical hacking qualification benefit?

Ethical hacking certification or qualifications can benefit a lot of different roles within an organization. 

  • They can help to improve the security of systems and networks, and can also be used to test the resilience of systems against malicious attacks. 
  • Additionally, ethical hacking qualifications can also help to educate employees about the importance of cybersecurity and the potential risks involved in careless online behavior. Ultimately, ethical hacking qualifications can help to create a more secure and vigilant organization, which is better equipped to deal with the ever-changing landscape of cyber threats.

4. Is CEH enough to get a job?

Having a Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) certification can certainly give your job application a boost, as it demonstrates your commitment to ethical hacking and your willingness to stay up-to-date with the latest hacking techniques. Also, many employers value CEH holders for their ability to think like a hacker and to identify potential security vulnerabilities in their systems.

5. What is the CEH certification salary?

Although the Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) credential is not required for most positions in the field, it can help land a job. The CEH is a globally recognized credential that demonstrates a person's ability to identify, assess, and mitigate risks in an organization's network and systems. Earning the CEH can help job seekers stand out from the competition and show potential employers that they have the skills and knowledge to protect their systems.

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Freelancing as an Ethical Hacker

Ethical hackers who want to set their schedules or work on a variety of projects may decide to be freelancers. As freelancers, ethical hackers will have to hustle their own contracts, support their own business, and manage their own benefits—and will have the flexibility to work when and where they want. 

Finding contract work has become more comfortable with social networking sites for professionals looking for people who need their services. Two sites like Neighborhood Hacker and the Ethical Hacker Search Engine allow ethical hackers with certifications to advertise their services—and those looking for their services to find a professional. Both sites are responsive as brokers and help manage disputes between ethical hackers and clients.

More general sites for independent freelance consultants also are excellent sources for finding clients. Two of the top sites for finding this are UpWork and Freelancer.com. These sites combine job listings with project management tools for both the client and the ethical hacker to manage the relationship.

Conclusion

The cost of a data breach is rising. In 2018, the price increased a staggering 6.4 percent, averaging a cost of $3.86 million for each breach. With an average of 196 days to discover a data breach, the need for certified ethical hackers is growing exponentially. There is no shortage of opportunities for the certified ethical hacking professional, but certification, skill, and solid ethics are key for anyone looking to build a successful career. 

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About the Author

Scott BarmanScott Barman

Scott Barman, CISSP, is an information security professional in the Washington, DC area. With over 35 years of industry experience, he has spent the last 20 years working with the federal government helping them identify cybersecurity risks and mitigations.

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