The word ‘hacker' originally defined a skilled programmer proficient in machine code and computer operating systems. Today, a 'hacker' is a person who consistently engages in hacking activities, and has accepted hacking as a lifestyle and philosophy of their choice. Hacking is the practice of modifying the features of a system, to accomplish a goal outside of the creator's original purpose.
Before understanding how to become an ethical hacker, let us understand more about the role.
What is Ethical Hacking?
The term ‘hacking’ has very negative connotations, but that's only until the role of an ethical hacker is fully understood. Ethical hackers are the good guys of the hacking world, the ones who wear the "white hat". So what does the role of an ethical hacker entail? Instead of using their advanced computer knowledge for nefarious activities, ethical hackers identify weaknesses in data computer security for business and organizations across the globe, to protect them from hackers with less honest motives.
Before understanding how to become an ethical hacker, let us understand what is the ethical hacking career.
Role of an Ethical Hacker
Ethical hacking is a subset of cybersecurity that entails legally getting beyond a system's security measures in order to uncover potential dangers and data breaches on the network. Ethical hackers can work as independent contractors, as in-house security guards for a company's website or apps, or as simulated offensive cybersecurity specialists for a company. All of these career choices need an understanding of current attack techniques and tools, although the in-house ethical hacker may only need to be well-versed in a specific class of software or digital asset.
What Is the Attraction of an Ethical Hacking Career?
If you’re a professional who appreciates the joys of the world of computers and relishes a challenge, then a career in ethical hacking can be an enticing prospect. You get the opportunity to use your skills to break into computer systems, and you get paid good money for doing so. Like many careers, it is not easy to get started in the field, but if you put in the effort, initially, you will be able to shape a very lucrative career for yourself. Besides, ethical hackers are always on the right side of the law!
Let us learn how to become an ethical hacker after looking into the stages in the career of an ethical hacker.
10 Steps to Become an Ethical Hacker
Step 1: Get Hands-on LINUX/UNIX
The open-source operating system— LINUX/UNIX, ensures better security for computer systems. As an ethical hacker, you should be well-versed with LINUX as it is one of the widely used operating systems for hacking. It provides ample tools for hackers. Some common Linux distributions include Red Hat Linux, Ubuntu, Kali Linux, BackTrack, and more. Among these, Kali Linux is the most popular Linux system specially customized for the purpose of hacking.
Step 2: Opt for the Mother of all Programming Languages
One of the most primitive programming languages, C is also referred to as the mother of all programming languages. This programming language forms the base of learning UNIX/LINUX because this operating system is written completely in C. So, hackers must master C programming as it gives them the power to utilize the open-source operating system Linux the way they desire.
Try to learn more than one programming language to get the upper hand. An ethical hacker with sound knowledge of two to three programming languages can dissect and analyze a piece of code. Some of the best programming languages for hackers are:
- Python: Extensively used for exploit writing
- PHP: Helps fight against malicious attackers
- SQL: Best for hacking large databases
Step 3: Learn the Art of Being Anonymous
The most important step for ethical hacking is to learn how to be anonymous and hide your identity online so that there is no trace left and none can backtrace you. Often an ethical hacker might not know who else is in the same network, and if a Black hat hacker figures out that there is someone else in the network, they might try to hack their system. Thus, anonymity is vital for ethical hackers as well. Using Anonsurf, Proxychains, and MacChanger are the three most promising ways to safeguard your identity.
Step 4: Get Well-versed in Networking Concepts
Knowing networking concepts and how they are created is vital for ethical hackers. Getting well-versed in various networks and protocols is beneficial in exploiting vulnerabilities. An ethical hacker with in-depth knowledge of networking tools such as Nmap, Wireshark, and others can survive the challenges in the field. Some important networking concepts are:
- TCP/IP Network
- Network Masks and CIDR
- Simple Network Management Protocol
- Server Message Block
- Domain Name Service (DNS)
- Address Resolution Protocol
- Wireless Networks
- Bluetooth Networks
- SCADA Networks (Modbus)
- Automobile Networks (CAN)
Step 5: Traverse the Hidden Web
The part of the internet that remains hidden or is not visible to search engines is called the dark web. It requires special authorization or software for access. An anonymizing browser called Tor can provide access to the dark web. It is the hotbed of criminal activity, but not everything is illegal on the dark web. It also has a legitimate side, and ethical hackers must learn about the dark web and how it works.
Step 6: Add Secret Writing to your Skill Set
Cryptography or secret writing is an important asset for an ethical hacker. The art of encryption and decryption is a must in hacking. Encryption finds usage in several aspects of information security, such as authentication, data integrity, confidentiality, and more. Valuable information is always encrypted on a network, such as passwords. A hacker must learn how to identify the encryption and break it.
Step 7: Delve Deeper into Hacking
Once you are thorough with the topics covered so far, dive deep into hacking concepts and learn topics like SQL injections, penetration testing, vulnerability assessment, and more. Stay updated on the latest security changes in the system and the latest tools and ways for hacking and securing a system.
Step 8: Explore Vulnerabilities
Vulnerabilities are weaknesses or loopholes in the system. Learn to scan systems and networks for loopholes that can lead to a security breach. Ethical hackers can also try to write their vulnerabilities and exploit the system. Some vulnerability identification tools in the Kali Linux OS are as follows:
- Nessus Vulnerability Scanner: Identifies vulnerabilities on web applications and multiple systems
- OpenVAS Vulnerability Scanner: Identifies vulnerabilities on devices within a network
- Nikto Vulnerability Scanner: Acknowledges vulnerabilities on web servers
- Nmap Vulnerability Scanner: Identifies vulnerabilities across multiple targets
- Wapiti Vulnerability Scanner: Identifies web application issues like XSS and SQLi
Step 9: Experiment and Practice to Ace Hacking
Practicing and experimenting are the keys to success in the field of hacking. Ethical hackers need to practice the learnt concepts in various environments and scenarios. Test various attacks, tools, and more.
Step 10: Attend Discussions and Meet Expert Hackers
Make a community or join forums for discussions with other hackers worldwide to exchange and share knowledge and work together. There are several communities on Discord, Facebook, Telegram, and more platforms.
What Are the Stages of a Career in Ethical Hacking?
Patience is a skill you need to cultivate if you want to embark on a career as an ethical hacker. You can't expect to secure an exceptionally high ranking job and earn a large salary right from the beginning, but there is immense potential to achieve both in a short span of time!
1. Starting Out
Many ethical hackers start out by obtaining a computer science degree. You also have the option of obtaining an A+ certification (CompTIA) that requires taking & clearing two separate exams. These exams test an individual's knowledge of the components of a Personal Computer and their ability to take a PC apart and re-build it.
To take the test for the qualification, you are expected to possess at least 500 hours of practical computing experience. At this level of your career, you can expect to earn an average salary of $44,000 per year. Before you can advance in your career, however, you need to gain experience and gain a Network+ or CCNA qualification. The Network+ certification validates foundation-level knowledge in networks, including management, maintenance, installation, and troubleshooting. The CCNA qualification ensures the same abilities and aims at foundation-level expertise.
2. Network Support
Once you are qualified, you can embark on the next stage of your career, in network support. Here, you will undertake activities like monitoring and updating, installing security programs, and testing for weaknesses. You will gain experience in the field of network security, and your aim should be to secure a position as a network engineer.
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3. Network Engineer
After gaining experience working in network support, you can hope to earn in the $60,000-65,000 range! You will now be designing and planning networks instead of just supporting them. From now on, your journey towards becoming an ethical hacker should have you concentrate on the Security aspect. Now is the time when you need to be working towards obtaining a certification in security, such as Security+, CISSP, or TICSA, for example. The Security+ accreditation is approved by the US Department of Defense and includes the testing of such vital topics as access control, identity management, and cryptography.
CISSP is a globally recognized security qualification that attests to knowledge in risk management, cloud computing, and application development. Testing for the TICSA qualification covers the same areas and is aimed at the same level of security understanding. Gaining this experience and the accreditation should be sufficient to help you secure a role in information security.
4. Working in Information Security
This is a major step on the ladder to becoming an ethical hacker as, for the first time, you are dealing with Information Security itself! The average salary for someone in this role is $69,000. An information security analyst examines the system and network security, deals with security breaches, and works toward putting security measures in place. For this role, you should concentrate on penetration testing so as to get hands-on experience of some of the tools of the trade.
At this point in your career, you should be aiming at getting a Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) certification from the International Council of Electronic Commerce Consultants (the EC Council). The training you receive will take you through everything you need to know to become an efficient, ethical hacker. You will be completely immersed in a hands-on environment where you are taken through the process of hacking into a network and identifying any security problems that exist. Once you have gained this certification, you can start marketing yourself as a professional ethical hacker.
Let us learn how to become an ethical hacker after understanding what are the expectations of the job.
Before understanding how to become an ethical hacker, let us understand the outlook for ethical hackers.
How to Become an Ethical Hacker With Zero Experience?
The best way to become an ethical hacker if you lack computer science knowledge is to earn a degree. One can:
- Obtain an IT security certification
- Obtain an IT security certification, enroll in a four-year computer science school
- Enroll in a two-year programme that is especially concentrated on IT analysis and security.
What Tools Do Ethical Hackers Use?
Some of the most popular ethical hacking tools are listed below:
- Nmap: A security scanner and network investigation tool. utilized to locate hosts and services on a network and to spot security flaws.
- Wireshark: A packet analyzer with applications in network analysis, software development, and other areas.
- Metasploit: An instrument for checking the security of systems and identifying vulnerabilities.
- Burp Suite: It is used to identify weaknesses in web applications.
- A Debian-based Linux distribution with a large selection of security and penetration testing tools is called Kali Linux.
Difference Between an Ethical Hacker and a Penetration Tester
One technique to successfully breach a particular information system without doing any harm is penetration testing. Finding flaws and fixing them before criminals can exploit them remains the aim of ethical hacking. A security expert known as a penetration tester simulates an attack on a system to identify flaws. Although ethical hacking includes penetration testing, ethical hackers have a wider range of interests. While penetration testers are especially interested in network penetration, ethical hackers will do everything to get access to a system. For penetration testing, access is only needed to the systems that will be used for pen testing. However, for ethical hacking, access is needed to a wide range of computer systems located throughout an IT infrastructure.
What Can You Expect as an Ethical Hacker?
Once you have embarked on a role as an ethical hacker, you will put all your technical and security expertise into trying to breach the network security of the business or organization that has hired you. The business will require a detailed analysis of your findings and your suggestions for the improvement of its network security. This work protects them from the hacking activities of those with illegitimate and illegal motives. The average salary you can expect as an ethical hacker is $71,000, with bonus payments often amounting to $15,000 - $20,000.
How to Gain Experience as an Ethical Hacker?
Ethical hackers must get familiar with vulnerability testing tools such as Metasploit, OpenVAS and Nessus as they provide a worthwhile framework for scanning and managing vulnerabilities. Move on to simulated manual attacks directed toward the target for practicing ethical hacking.
- Practice resolving vulnerable machines from Hack The Box and Vulnhub to progress from basic to advanced concepts related to vulnerabilities in a system or network.
- Next, try bug bounty platforms for practicing real-life scenarios.
- Then progress to hacking on real environments. It can be challenging initially as the machines ethical hackers practice on are made vulnerable, but real websites implement every possible trick to enhance security.
Pursuing a career as an ethical hacker usually begins as a member of an organization's security team extending defensive security services. Proficiency and good performance can lead to a higher position as an ethical hacker through the ranks of the department:
security specialist → security administrator → security software developer
Knowledge of social engineering and physical penetration tests helps understand the threatscape, reach top positions, and acquire experience. Several attacks begin with intel gathered via extended social engineering campaigns.
Typical Ethical Hacking Assignments
The responsibilities of ethical hackers vary for different companies, but the basic hacking assignments nearly remain the same.
Optimizing network security by vulnerability identification and determination of countermeasures for preventing an attack or mitigating its effects on the system is called threat modeling.
A threat is an actual or potential adverse event compromising the organization's assets. An ethical hacker's responsibility is to provide a comprehensive view of the potential malicious attacks and their possible consequences.
Thread modeling aims to draw conclusions on what areas demand the greatest focus to keep a system secure. This iterative process comprises defining assets, creating a security profile for every application, potential threat identification and prioritization, and documentation of adverse actions and events in each case.
An ethical hacker provides an information security assessment or a risk-based measurement of an enterprise's security. These periodic exercises test security preparedness, check for IT system vulnerabilities, and recommend measures to lower future attack risks.
They also determine how well security-related policies are followed, culminating in a report comprising identified weaknesses and suitable recommendations.
Vulnerability Threat Assessment
VTAs are for identifying, quantifying, and ranking the vulnerabilities of a system and the threats that could exploit them, thus correlating the two.
Vulnerability threat assessments are highly recommended for information technology, water supply, energy supply, transportation, and communication systems. The assessments can be conducted on behalf of several organizations, ranging from small businesses to regional or national entities.
Ethical writers must possess the ability to write clear and precise professional reports by efficiently collecting data, identifying vulnerabilities, and correlating threats. These reports are often the impetus for finalizing security resource expenditures.
Basic Hacking Skills
The most crucial requirement for becoming a successful ethical hacker is high ethical standards that differentiate you from black hat hackers. Other important hacking skills are:
Learn How to Program
Ethical hackers can begin with Python if they do not know any programming languages. Python is well-designed, well documented, and easier for beginners. It is powerful and flexible for large projects.
Those who prefer Java must learn C and Lisp first to develop a better command of the programming language. C is the core language of Unix, and C++ is very closely related to C. So, learning one will make the other easier.
The following roadmap helps in learning how to program:
- Understand the syntax and fundamental concepts such as variables, operators, conditionals, loops, and more.
- Learn how the programming languages work
- Practice Some command-line basics
- Learn data structures and algorithms and how to use them in real-world projects
- Learn to code by hand
- Refer to online coding resources
- Practice code debugging
- Practice building your project, beginning with small and simpler projects like a web application and moving to complex ones.
- Explore CS, including Machine Learning, System Programming, Cloud Computing, Mobile App Development, Virtual Reality, Web Development, and more.
Learn to Use and Run an Open-Source Unix
The initial steps any beginner can take towards acquiring hacking skills are:
- Get a copy of Linux / a BSD-Unix
- Install it on a personal machine
- Run it
Although there are other operating systems besides Unix, they are distributed in binary, and one cannot read or modify the code in a closed-source OS, such as in Microsoft Windows. So, Unix is best for sharpening ethical hacking skills.
Learn How to Write HTML and Use the World Wide Web
Learn how to write the Web's markup language- HTML. Writing HTML also helps those who don't know how to program. Begin by building a home page and work your way up by adding some content that makes it interesting and useful to other hackers.
You can open the page source information in your browser to view the HTML and refer to it as an example. In Firefox, go to Web Developer > Page Source and study the code.
HTML can be written in a basic word processing program such as Notepad or Simple Text. Save your files as "FileName.HTML" and upload them to a browser to see your work translated.
Learn Functional English
English is an important working language of hacker culture and the Internet. Ethical hackers must master English to function in the hacker community.
What Is the Outlook for Ethical Hackers?
Cyberwarfare is extremely common, and many high profile enterprises have been subject to major hacking issues. In this day and age, spending on IT security on a global scale is reaching the trillion-dollar mark. What better way to combat the threat of black-hat hacking than by making use of an army of white-hat hackers?
The demand for ethical hackers is at an all-time high and rising. Many experienced, ethical hackers can expect to earn in excess of $120,000 per year, especially if they are running their own consultancies or penetration testing companies! All set to become an Ethical Hacker?
Grab the opportunity to be a part of the MIT CSAIL Professional Programs community and interact with your peers. Attend masterclasses from MIT faculty in our PGP in Cyber Security and expedite your cybersecurity career in no time!
Hope this article was able to give you a clear understanding and scope on how to become an ethical hacker in 2023. If you are looking to strengthen your cybersecurity skills, we would highly recommend you check Simplilearn’s Post Graduate Program in Cybersecurity. This course can help you gain the relevant skills and help you become an ethical hacker in 2023.
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