How to Get Started in a Professional Ethical Hacking Career

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published May 12, 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

A career as a professional ethical hacker is an exciting choice for many people. It's also a growing field, given the increasing use of technology in recent times. Understanding the field can make it easy for you to specialize in a competitive market where organizations look for tactics that prevent hacking to minimize cybercrime. In this article, we explore ethical hacking, review reasons to pursue such a career and how to become an ethical hacker, and consider where you can get such a job.

What is ethical hacking?

Ethical hacking is the process of identifying vulnerabilities in an IT system, a network, or an application and then exploiting those vulnerabilities to probe the system's security. The goal of an ethical hacker is to identify weaknesses and report them before a malicious hacker can access the system. Although ethical hackers use genuine hacking techniques, they are often called white-hat hackers because they use the skills legally and ethically. In contrast, black-hat hackers hack into systems to access confidential information or obtain money.

Related: A Guide to Computer Science Jobs

Importance of ethical hackers

With malicious groups breaching national security systems and cybercriminals extorting money by injecting malware, the importance of ethical hackers is becoming increasingly vital in many ways, including:

  • Helping organizations identify weaknesses in their network systems

  • Helping a firm take necessary steps to improve IT security

  • Identifying whether the company has lost any data

  • Identifying overlooked potential risks

  • Providing a competitive advantage for organizations that have better security than their competitors

  • Improving public awareness about cyber security

Four reasons to pursue a career as a professional ethical hacker

The main reason to pursue a career as an ethical hacker is the demand for this skill in the exponentially growing technological world. Cybercriminals target organizations daily. With the rise of IoT, mobile devices, and cloud computing, many vulnerabilities continue to grow. Therefore, the demand for ethical hackers also increases.

Ethical hacking is not limited to IT professionals or computer science majors. Anyone with a high school diploma can pursue this field, provided they possess the suitable skill set and willingness to work hard. Some of the most significant advantages of pursuing a career as a professional ethical hacker include:

Making the internet safe

Infiltration of IT systems is increasing. Corporate hackers target big companies to steal information and large amounts of money. Political hackers breach countries' national security to obtain their defense information. This might be the career to pursue for those who want to make the internet safer and protect users from the risks of cyber attacks.

Job security

Job security is a massive factor in any career. Knowing that you have a job that offers you stability is great. An ethical hacker may be in high demand as an information security team member, especially in big companies, who often actively look for ethical hackers.

High-paying career

A career as a professional ethical hacker has a very attractive salary. The national average salary for a cybersecurity analyst is $85,979 per year, while the national average salary for IT security specialists is $94,960 per year. These salaries are significantly higher than the national average salary for an IT manager, which is $78,382 per year, and can also include bonuses for well-executed jobs.

Related: 10 Top Security Certifications for IT Professionals

Stepping into other cyber security roles

With the number of cyber attacks increasing rapidly, the need for cyber security professionals is also on the rise. An ethical hacker career may be the best way to break into the cyber security industry.

Ethical hackers are a varied group with many different backgrounds. Yet they all have something in common: a desire to test systems for vulnerabilities and a willingness to help secure those systems for the company's betterment. Many ethical hackers move into other cyber security roles, such as penetration testing, vulnerability assessment, and network security analysis. It takes various skills to succeed in cyber security roles, and ethical hackers typically have those skills.

How to become an ethical hacker

The first step to becoming an ethical hacker is identifying the skills needed for the job. These professionals learn languages like Python or JavaScript, understand hacking techniques and tools, and gain proficiency using Linux OS. Once you have identified your skill set, choose the type of ethical hacking you want to specialize in, which may include network security or web application security. In general, if you want to start your career as a white-hat hacker, consider the following steps:

1. Get a relevant college degree

Becoming an ethical hacker can be a noble and worthwhile pursuit. If you want to become one, consider obtaining a college degree. While some people are self-taught, and some hacker bootcamps are available, the best way to become an ethical hacker is typically to get a formal education. Education ensures that you have the proper foundation and qualification certificates to show when applying for jobs. You may also gather much more knowledge in computer science, coding, and other relevant fields to help you achieve your goals.

Related: How to Develop a Personal Code of Ethics (With Examples)

2. Gather vital experience

Most companies look for ethical hackers with experience. An excellent place to start is to look for information technology (IT) jobs. In such jobs, you can achieve certification and gain experience. Begin by using your existing information technology skills to support a small business or company that knows little about information technology. You could also volunteer your time by teaching people how to use computers or software programs.

Another option is to do freelance work or build a small website. Here, you can learn much about information technology, networking, and web design in the process of attracting ethical hacking jobs from big companies.

3. Get the right certifications

If you want to become a professional ethical hacker, the first step is to decide on a career path. You might prefer a job as a penetration tester or security consultant, work at a security firm, or manage IT security at a bank or credit union.

After deciding on your career path, one of the most important things is to obtain certifications. There are several security-related certifications you can earn. Some are for specific jobs, but many are valuable for increasing your skill set and boosting your resume. Choose the certification, or combination of certifications, that are most important to you.

Related: How to Begin Your Career in Human Resources

Where do ethical hackers get jobs?

It's not just the rising number of cyber attacks driving demand for ethical hackers. A people shortage also drives the demand for skilled, ethical hackers to do this job. Here are some sectors where ethical hackers might find jobs:

Financial sector

The financial sector is one of the primary users of ethical hackers. Many banks and financial institutions hire professional ethical hackers to test their systems for vulnerabilities and develop defense mechanisms to deflect cyber threats. These financial institutions are also required, by law, to conduct due diligence and report suspicious activity. The hackers hired in this sector are familiar with the security standards for bank accounts and credit card information. Financial companies and financial institutions use these standards to protect consumers' information and reduce the likelihood of a breach.

Government security institutions

The Canada Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) and the Department of National Defense (DND) are very diligent in managing the cyber security of their systems and protecting citizens from espionage or political hacking. These agencies seek to hire ethical hackers, ensuring that each candidate is trustworthy, intelligent, and capable of handling sensitive national secrets. Government agencies go through each candidate's work histories, educational records, and personal backgrounds.

IT companies

Most IT companies work as cyber security consultants for big companies and government agencies. They hire white-hat hackers to help them handle these vast jobs. You may need significant experience, skills, and certification to work in such a company, such as a master's or doctorate degree, and security clearance.

Other organizations

Ethical hackers might obtain jobs in almost any organization with an online presence or any company that keeps consumer data in its website or database. IT specialists may have combined duties in small companies, where white-cap hacking may be part of other cyber security responsibilities. Networking events may be useful to find other organizations that may be in need of ethical hackers.

Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at time of writing. Salaries‌ ‌may‌ ‌‌vary‌‌ ‌depending‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌hiring‌ ‌organization‌ ‌and‌ ‌a‌ ‌candidate's ‌experience,‌ ‌academic‌ background‌, ‌and‌ ‌location.‌

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