Ethical hacking is the more exciting name for it – it’s also known as penetration testing. You know how banks and businesses employ people to see if they can break into their high-stakes vaults?
Well, with so much valuable data online nowadays, ethical hacking is the digital version of that. With this in mind, this has opened up a wide range of jobs and opportunities for those with the skills to ethically and legal break into data systems, in order to test any vulnerabilities.
What is ethical hacking?
Essentially, companies request that experts try to crack their digital security systems and firewalls. This highlights their security vulnerabilities and allows them to take countermeasures to prevent a real cyber attack.
As such, ethical hacking falls squarely into the cybersecurity area – which is a pretty far-reaching sector.
In fact, almost every industry uses information security in some capacity, like the NHS, which has to have strong network security to keep the nation’s medical data safe.
What kind of skills do I need for a career in cybersecurity?
If you’re wondering ‘how do I become an ethical hacker?’, there are a few skills it’s recommended you pick up along the way.
It’s fairly obvious that you’ll need to know your way around computer systems. Ethical hacking – and cybersecurity in general – is pretty much entirely computer and related software-based.
It’s helpful to have a solid working knowledge of standard operating systems, including Linux, Windows and Mac, and expertise in coding languages like Python.
But there are also some soft skills that might come in handy. Because you’ll have to present your findings and suggestions to your clients, communication skills and the ability to explain complicated methodologies are almost as important as the IT skills themselves.
What training do I need to become an ethical hacker?
There are no specific requirements for becoming a certified ethical hacker, aside from an aptitude for computers. There is no such thing as an ethical hacking degree. However, a degree in computing, computer science, or a similar field is a great start.
Then, there are courses specifically designed to familiarise students with the tenets of ethical hacking – including the Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) course that’s actually accredited by the EC-Council, who oversee ethical hacking.
The course covers topics like social engineering and cryptography and how to run a comprehensive penetration test.
Generally speaking, it’s recommended that those looking to take the CEH course have a couple of years of experience in an IT security field.
Is being an ethical hacker legal?
Assuming you’re actually doing it ethically and have permission from the company, yes, ethical hacking is legal – it’s just another type of security specialist.
Ethical hackers are known as white-hat hackers, while criminal hackers are called black-hat hackers.
In fact, working to prevent cyber attacks is not only legal but is actually upholding the principles of the law.
Do I need to register as a certified ethical hacker before studying?
You don’t need to register before you start studying – but you will need to register with the EC-Council before you land any official jobs.
This marks you out as a certified professional hacker and shows employers that you’re qualified to work within cybercrime.
What career options are available for those who study ethical hacking or information security?
Usually ethical hacker jobs are advertised as a penetration tester or network security advisor.
You can work for one company, testing different aspects of their security systems. You could work for a corporation that works alongside many different businesses. Or you could become a self-employed contractor and work for whomever you choose.
Ethical hacking isn’t the only career path available for those who have studied the subject, though. It’s a great certification for a security analyst or security officer – and you can use those roles as work experience to jump into a cybersecurity analyst role.
How much can you earn in ethical hacking jobs?
Whilst it does depend on which industry you end up working within, ethical hacking can be quite lucrative. An entry-level role can offer up to around £30,000 p/a on average.
As you gain more experience, salaries can rise more, up to around £70,000 p/a for senior roles. In certain sectors, it goes much higher.
Freelance contractors can generally charge around £400 – £500 per day, which could push your salary upwards of six figures, depending on how many days you work in the year.