Skip to main content

    How to Become an Ethical Hacker

    By The Fullstack Academy Team

    An ethical hacker reviews code on desktop and laptop screens.

    The term “hacker” often has a negative association. Their depiction in popular culture has contributed to the perception that hackers are criminals, shadowy figures hiding in dark rooms trying to steal money or government secrets.

    In reality, many hackers are paid professionals who detect and test vulnerabilities in computer systems and provide solutions to protect companies, organizations, and governments from cyberattacks.

    Ethical hackers—sometimes referred to as “white hat” hackers—are crucial cybersecurity professionals, and rising cybercrime rates underscore the importance of their work:

    The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center received 791,790 cybercrime complaints in 2020—a 69% jump from 2019—and has received an average of 2,000 complaints per day for the past several years.

    The average cost of a data breach was $4.24 million in 2021, according to IBM.

    Cybersecurity Ventures estimates that the annual global cost of cybercrime will reach $10.25 trillion by 2025.

    Because of the high demand for the role, it’s a great time to explore how to become an ethical hacker.

    What Is Ethical Hacking?

    Ethical hacking involves a dry run of an actual cyberattack. Employing the same tactics as their less benevolent counterparts, ethical hackers have a different goal. They probe digital systems to detect vulnerabilities that an attacker could exploit and then provide their employer with solutions that offer better protection.

    Ethical hacking has numerous benefits:

    • Preventing the theft and misuse of data for organizations
    • Improving network security
    • Protecting national security
    • Helping businesses gain consumer trust and loyalty by safeguarding their data

    Cybercriminals use a variety of methods to breach network security, including viruses, malware, and ransomware. They’re also increasing the sophistication of their attacks, taking advantage of emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning.

    Ethical hackers need to understand each of these tactics and how criminals may use them to gain access to a network.

    What Does It Take to Become an Ethical Hacker?

    Acquiring the knowledge and skills to become an ethical hacker typically entails either earning an undergraduate degree in a related field or completing a tech bootcamp. Cybersecurity bootcamps cover the fundamentals of computing, networking, and security to provide a broad base of knowledge that can help budding cybersecurity professionals gain their footing in this field.

    These programs also dive into technical concepts essential for ethical hackers, including:

    • Penetration testing
    • Threat modeling
    • Firewalls
    • Splunk
    • Incident response

    Some bootcamps end with a team-driven final project, which allows you to apply what you’ve learned throughout the program and also helps you develop valuable team-building skills.

    What Skills Are Employers Looking For?

    In addition to the requisite technical skills, ethical hackers need to have the right mindset for the job. They need to think like their “black hat” counterparts and follow the same five-step hacking process to test an organization’s network:

    • Reconnaissance: Gathering information about a target
    • Scanning: Searching for quick and easy ways to access a network and skim for information
    • Gaining access: Hacking into the system by any means necessary and finding ways to exploit it
    • Maintaining access: Maintaining unauthorized access and remaining undetected
    • Clearing tracks: Wiping evidence of the hack to avoid getting caught

    What Certifications Do You Need?

    Ethical hackers can further enhance their skill sets and boost their job prospects through certification. A cyber bootcamp can prepare you for a number of in-demand cybersecurity certification exams, including:

    CompTIA Security+

    This credential certifies that you have the baseline skills necessary to execute key security functions. Among corporations and defense organizations, CompTIA Security+ is the most preferred certification for validating baseline cybersecurity skills, making it an ideal choice to help you launch your cybersecurity career.

    Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) Associate

    The CISSP certification is one of the premier cybersecurity certifications, but it requires multiple years of industry experience. However, the International Information System Security Certification Consortium provides a workaround if you’re just starting out: By entering the organization’s Associate program, you can take the CISSP exam while you work to gain the necessary experience for full certification.

    Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH)

    Administered by the EC-Council, CEH is one of the most sought-after credentials geared specifically toward ethical hackers. The certification program will teach you the latest hacking tools, techniques, and methods used by hackers and offers plenty of opportunities for hands-on practical learning. To be eligible, you need at least two years experience in the information security field or to have previously attended an EC–Council training.

    What Is the Job Market for Ethical Hackers?

    The demand for ethical hackers and other cybersecurity professionals is at an all-time high. According to Cyber Seek’s Cybersecurity Supply/Demand Heat Map, there are nearly 600,000 cybersecurity job openings across the country.

    The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects the employment of information security analysts will grow by 33% between 2020 and 2030, adding nearly 50,000 jobs. The growing frequency of cyberattacks, along with the increased use of cloud technology by remote workers, will drive the demand for cybersecurity professionals in a wide range of industries.

    How Much Do Ethical Hackers Make?

    One of the perks of becoming an ethical hacker is the role typically commands a generous salary. The median annual wage for information security analysts—a category that encompasses a variety of cybersecurity occupations—was $103,590 in May 2020, according to the BLS.

    Salaries for ethical hackers range widely depending on factors such as experience level and location. PayScale reported that the salary range for ethical hackers was between $48,000 and $153,000 in September 2021.

    Not only can strengthening your resume by completing a cybersecurity bootcamp and earning certification help you land a job, but taking those steps may also help you boost your earnings.

    Begin Your Cybersecurity Career

    Fullstack Academy can help you launch your career in cybersecurity in as little as 12 weeks online. The Cybersecurity Analytics Bootcamp is led by industry experts who can equip you with the skills you’ll need to land your first job and succeed in every job after, whether you want to be an ethical hacker, a cybersecurity analyst, or any number of other occupations.

    The beginner-friendly bootcamp can accommodate busier schedules, with the option to take courses on a part-time basis over a 26-week period. Learn more about Fullstack Academy’s Cybersecurity Analytics Bootcamp and how it can lead to a rewarding career in cybersecurity.

    Recommended Readings

    How to Get a Job in Cybersecurity

    What Do Cybersecurity Analysts Do? Job Types, Training, and Salary

    How to Pay for Your Fullstack Cyber Bootcamp Training


    CompTIA, CompTIA Security+

    Cybersecurity Ventures, “Cybercrime to Cost the World $10.5 Trillion Annually by 2025”

    Cyber Seek, Cybersecurity Supply/Demand Heat Map

    EC-Council, Certified Ethical Hacker

    EC-Council, What Is Ethical Hacking?

    Forbes, “Alarming Cybersecurity Stats: What You Need to Know for 2021”

    IBM, How Much Does a Data Breach Cost?

    Internet Crime Complaint Center, Internet Crime Report 2020

    (ISC)², Start Your Cybersecurity Career

    The New York Times, “Most Hackers Aren’t Criminals”

    PayScale, Average Ethical Hacker Salary

    U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Information Security Analysts