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Ethical hacking: What is it? Why is it important?

CareerBuilder | August 8, 2022

ethical hacking jobs

Learn about what ethical hacking is, why it's important, the steps in the process, and how to become an ethical hacker to help you decide if it's right for you.

Hacking often has a negative undertone, as most people relate it to theft or tampering with vulnerable and essential data. When the word ethical pairs with hacking, questions may arise about its legality and honesty. If you're interested in a technological role that requires hacking skills, then a job as an ethical hacker may be for you. Explore ethical hacking, why it's necessary, and how to find a job as an ethical hacker.

What is ethical hacking?

Ethical hacking involves testing a company's cybersecurity system for vulnerabilities with the company's permission. Whereas a hacker is accessing a company's data illegally and without consent, a company pays an ethical hacker to test its cybersecurity system for flaws and report findings through the proper channels. This highly technical position requires knowledge of cybersecurity systems, programming languages, and the law. As an ethical hacker, it's essential to:

  • Ensure you have permission to access a company's security system
  • Ensure that the company approves your work
  • Ensure you make a report of your findings and present it accordingly
  • Ensure you only share data with approved sources
"Ethical hacking allows companies and governments to get a better picture of the vulnerabilities in their cybersecurity systems. An ethical hacker will search for weak points in a security system, make notes about them, and then explain them to those in charge of ensuring the safety and security of data."

Why is ethical hacking necessary?

Corporations, government agencies, and individuals can benefit from ethical hacking because of the growing need to protect digitally stored data and understand where security issues may arise. The illegal breach of cybersecurity systems is a big concern in almost every industry. According to a 2021 PurpleSec report, hacking has risen during the last 10 years and increased 600% during the previous two. To address this significant threat to the safety of civilians, many organizations employ ethical hackers to secure sensitive data.

Hackers prey on individuals, often sending malicious emails or text messages that lure them into clicking on links that ultimately provide a pathway to obtaining information like Social Security and bank account numbers. Hackers use this data to commit identity theft crimes for the following:

  • Getting loans
  • Filing for tax returns
  • Renting housing
  • Applying for credit cards
  • Using health care benefits
  • Obtaining driver's licenses or passports

Cybercrimes aren't only illegal; they're very harmful to those who become victims. They can be hard to prove and difficult to reverse their consequences, making protecting sensitive data a top priority for many industries. Ethical hacking allows companies and governments to get a better picture of the vulnerabilities in their cybersecurity systems. An ethical hacker will search for weak points in a security system, make notes about them, and then explain them to those in charge of ensuring the safety and security of data. Having these individuals on the security team gives organizations a chance to protect data before it's hacked.

What are the steps of ethical hacking?

The steps of ethical hacking are similar to those that an illegal hacker might use, but the process requires the consent of the agency or organization. Additionally, an ethical hacker only works within a specific scope, limiting how and what they can access. Sometimes, an employer may want to test security vulnerabilities by using phishing. This tactic often exploits security issues by emailing a scam to employees to discern whether they understand how to recognize this type of threat.

An ethical hacker would pose as a familiar person or company and send an email that appears to come from that trusted source. The phishing email asks the employee to take action, like sharing a password or file. This action represents a security breach, which allows the hacker to determine which employees need additional training to recognize a phishing scam.

The goals of ethical hacking include:

  • Detecting and identifying vulnerabilities
  • Mitigating security breaches
  • Identifying the sources

If you're interested in becoming an ethical hacker, learning the steps of ethical hacking can be beneficial. While many aspects of the role exist, the basic steps in the ethical hacking process used by most organizations include the following:

  1. Information gathering: During this step, ethical hackers collect information about the target to determine the likelihood of a system getting attacked. They look for active and passive information by searching the target directly and indirectly.
  2. Scanning: An ethical hacker uses three types of scanning to check for vulnerable data. Vulnerability scanning identifies weak points and how to exploit them. Port scanning finds open doors that provide access to data, and network scanning detects the devices used for data protection.
  3. Accessing:Once the individual identifies the target and its vulnerabilities, an ethical hacker can access the system to test for areas of improvement and discover who the most vulnerable parties might be.
  4. Maintaining access: After accessing the system, hackers want to preserve the individual's access to continue exploiting the system until they have all the desired information. At this point, the individual steals information or downloads malicious software.
  5. Clearing:When hackers finish the job, they want to clear their tracks so that the organization can't trace the breach back to them. They can do this work by engineering reverse HTTP shells, deleting cache and history, and using Internet Control Message Protocol tunnels.

How to become an ethical hacker

Consider these steps if you're interested in becoming an ethical hacker:

Get a degree

While not always essential to obtaining a role as an ethical hacker, most companies require at least a bachelor's degree in computer science or a related field for candidates to be considered for this role. Some coursework associated with this field includes:

  • Cybersecurity
  • Penetration testing
  • Network security
  • Cyber incident response

Earn certification

As an alternative to getting a degree, or sometimes in addition to having one, you can also earn a certification related to cybersecurity. Some of the most popular certificates you might consider earning are:

  • Certified Ethical Hacker
  • Offensive Security Certified Professional
  • Global Information Assurance Certification (GIAC) Penetration Tester
  • CompTIAPenTest+

Get experience

A company generally won't hire someone with little to no experience. Gaining experience in the industry, such as a role as a network engineer, is key to finding a job as an ethical hacker. You'll need to be familiar with programming languages such as C and C++. Understanding networking and cybersecurity systems are also necessary to perform the duties of an ethical hacker. With experience, you'll have a better chance of moving into this type of role, where legally accessing an organization's most vulnerable data is the goal.

Create a resume

When you have the education and experience required for the job of an ethical hacker, you can create your resume. Use your resume to create an employee profile so employers can find you on job search websites like CareerBuilder. This profile will open more opportunities for you to find a position with a company that fits your needs.

Network and job search

Networking with other cybersecurity professionals can help you in your job search. Knowing those who work in the industry can lead you to jobs that may not be available to everyone. It can allow you to hear about positions in companies that aren't yet open to the public, giving you a chance to apply before others learn about the job. You might also use job boards in your community or online to discover positions aligned with your career goals.

Ethical hacking is an important field with a growing need in many organizations. This area is constantly changing as illegal hackers find novel ways to steal sensitive information from individuals and companies. You can use this guide to decide whether a job in ethical hacking is the right career for you.

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