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. 

This article will cover the following topics that will help you choose the best ethical hacking certifications:

  • What’s an ethical hacker?
  • Why become an ethical hacker?
  • Types of ethical hacking certifications
  • Ethical hacking jobs
  • Freelancing as an ethical hacker

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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

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 three of the 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. 

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 

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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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 These sites combine job listings with project management tools for both the client and the ethical hacker to manage the relationship.


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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