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    How to Become an Ethical Hacker

    By The Fullstack Academy Team

    An ethical hacker reviews code on desktop and laptop screens.

    Last Updated: April 2024

    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.

    Ready to jumpstart a career in cybersecurity?

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    Role of an Ethical Hacker

    Ethical hackers, also known as white hat hackers, play a vital role in cybersecurity. They aim to simulate real-world cyber attacks to identify vulnerabilities in systems and networks before malicious hackers can exploit them. These ethical defenders use their hacking skills to proactively improve security by finding and patching weaknesses. By ethically testing defenses, they help organizations stay ahead of cyber threats, and protect network data.

    Steps To Become an Ethical Hacker

    The journey to becoming an ethical hacker involves a series of steps to help you build knowledge, skills, experience, and industry recognition. Here's a roadmap to get you started:

    • Master the Fundamentals: Start by building a strong foundation in computer science and networking concepts. Understanding how systems work is crucial for identifying vulnerabilities.

    • Learn Programming Languages: Next, explore scripting languages often used in penetration testing. Languages like Python and SQL are essential tools for ethical hackers.

    • Explore Operating Systems: Gain proficiency in popular operating systems like Windows and Linux, as attackers often target these systems.

    • Practice Makes Perfect: Utilize online resources, tutorials, and virtual labs to hone your hacking skills in a safe environment.

    • Consider Certifications: Pursue certifications like Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) or Offensive Security Certified Professional (OSCP) to validate your expertise and boost your resume.

    Remember, the learning process is ongoing. Due to the evolving nature of the industry, it’s important to remain committed to constantly learning new technology, tools, and strategies. Stay curious, keep up with the latest hacking trends, and continually expand your skill set in these areas.

    Career Stages in Ethical Hacking

    The ethical hacking career path offers exciting opportunities for growth and specialization. Here's a glimpse into the potential journey:

    • Junior Ethical Hacker: Entry-level roles involve assisting senior pentesters, conducting vulnerability scans, and learning the ropes of ethical hacking methodologies.

    • Ethical Hacker: With experience, you'll independently perform penetration testing, identify and exploit vulnerabilities, and develop reports outlining remediation strategies.

    • Senior Ethical Hacker: As your expertise grows, you might lead penetration testing engagements, manage teams, and mentor junior ethical hackers.

    • Ethical Hacking Manager: At this stage, you could oversee entire security testing programs, define security protocols, and guide the overall ethical hacking strategy for an organization.

    This progression highlights the potential for advancement within the ethical hacking field—allowing you to build a rewarding career safeguarding sensitive data and protecting systems from cyber threats.

    Ready to jumpstart a career in cybersecurity?

    Learn the skills you need to fight cybercrime with Fullstack Academy's part-time and full-time bootcamp offerings

    Pentesting Tools to Learn

    Equipping yourself with the right tools is crucial for ethical hacking. Here are some popular choices to consider learning:

    • Nmap: A free and open-source network scanner for discovering devices and services on a network.

    • Nessus: A powerful vulnerability scanner that identifies weaknesses in systems and applications.

    • Metasploit: A framework containing a vast library of exploits and tools for simulating cyberattacks.

    • Wireshark: A network protocol analyzer for capturing and inspecting network traffic.

    • Burp Suite: A comprehensive suite for web application security testing, including vulnerability scanning and intrusion detection.

    Many ethical hacking courses and certifications will introduce you to these tools and teach you how to use them effectively in a safe and ethical manner.

    How to Become an Ethical Hacker With No Prior Experience

    Aspiring cybersecurity professionals of all starting skill levels can begin to explore opportunities in ethical hacking. Here's how to kickstart your journey:

    • Build Your Tech Foundation: Start by learning computer science fundamentals, networking basics, and operating systems. Free online resources and courses can provide a solid foundation.

    • Focus on Coding: Build proficiency in programming languages like Python.. Online tutorials and coding bootcamps can equip you with the necessary coding skills.

    • Explore Free Resources: Utilize a number of free online platforms to learn, practice, and connect with others in the field.

    • Consider Ethical Hacking Certifications (Optional): Discover relevant certifcations in ethical hacking and see what it takes to earn them. While not mandatory for entry-level roles, certifications like Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) or Offensive Security Certified Professional (OSCP) can validate your knowledge and enhance your resume.

    Remember, the key is to be persistent and keep learning. Ethical hacking is a dynamic field, so stay updated on emerging threats and continuously refine your skills. With dedication and the right approach, you can turn your passion for cybersecurity into a fulfilling career as an ethical hacker.

    What Can You Expect On the Job as an Ethical Hacker?

    An ethical hacker career offers a unique blend of challenge, responsibility, and intellectual stimulation. Here's what you can expect in your professional day-to-day:

    • Stimulating Work: Ethical hacking is a dynamic field. You'll constantly encounter new challenges, test different systems, and stay ahead of evolving cyber threats.

    • Ethical Impact: Knowing your work safeguards sensitive data and protects systems can be highly rewarding. You'll play a vital role in ensuring cybersecurity for organizations—helping to secure their future while saving data, time, money, and resources.

    • Varied Workday: Your tasks may involve vulnerability assessments, penetration testing, writing reports, and collaborating with security teams. No two days are likely to be identical.

    • Technical Expertise: Ethical hackers are highly skilled professionals. You'll continuously learn new tools and stay updated on the latest hacking techniques.

    If you enjoy puzzles, thrive in a dynamic environment, and are passionate about cybersecurity, then ethical hacking could be the perfect career path for you.

    Ready to jumpstart a career in cybersecurity?

    Learn the skills you need to fight cybercrime with Fullstack Academy's part-time and full-time bootcamp offerings

    How to Gain Experience as an Ethical Hacker

    Building practical experience is vital for aspiring ethical hackers. Here's how you can transform theory into action:

    • Hack the (Safe) Box: Numerous virtual labs like HackTheBox and VulnHub offer safe environments to test your skills on pre-configured vulnerable machines. By solving challenges and exploiting vulnerabilities, you'll gain hands-on experience in a controlled setting.

    • Join the Bug Bounty Hunt: Bug bounty programs incentivize ethical hackers to find vulnerabilities in specific systems. By participating, you'll put your skills to the test on real-world systems and potentially earn rewards for discovering critical bugs.

    • Contribute to Open Source Security Projects: The open-source community welcomes ethical hackers to contribute to security testing efforts. This allows you to collaborate with other security professionals, learn from their expertise, and gain valuable experience in real-world projects.

    • Compete in Capture the Flag (CTF) Events: CTF competitions provide a fun and engaging way to test your ethical hacking skills against other participants. These events simulate real-world hacking scenarios, allowing you to hone your problem-solving abilities and learn new techniques in a competitive setting.

    By actively participating in these activities, you'll demonstrate your initiative, refine your ethical hacking skills, and build a strong portfolio that can impress potential employers.

    Typical Ethical Hacking Assignments

    The specific tasks of an ethical hacker can vary, but some common assignments include:

    • Vulnerability Assessments: Identifying weaknesses in networks, systems, and applications using various tools and techniques.

    • Penetration Testing: Simulating cyberattacks to exploit vulnerabilities, assess their severity, and recommend remediation strategies.

    • Social Engineering Testing: Evaluating an organization's susceptibility to social engineering attacks, such as phishing attempts.

    • Writing Reports: Documenting your findings, including identified vulnerabilities, exploitation methods, and recommendations for fixing them.

    • Staying Updated: Continuously learning about new hacking techniques, emerging threats, and the latest security tools.

    These responsibilities require a blend of technical expertise, analytical thinking, and problem-solving skills, making ethical hacking a stimulating and rewarding career choice.

    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.

    Ready to jumpstart a career in cybersecurity?

    Learn the skills you need to fight cybercrime with Fullstack Academy's part-time and full-time bootcamp offerings

    What Skills Are Employers Looking For?

    Ethical hackers are expected to possess some key technical skills such as:

    • Open-Source Unix: Familiarity with open-source Unix-based systems like Linux is valuable as many systems and tools run on these platforms.

    • HTML Programming: Understanding HTML can help identify web application vulnerabilities.

    • Penetration Testing Tools: Expertise in using industry-standard pen testing tools like Metasploit, Nmap, and Wireshark is a plus.

    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 of 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 $121,217 in February 2024, according to Glassdoor.

    Salaries for ethical hackers range widely depending on factors such as experience level and location. Glassdoor reported that the salary range for ethical hackers was between $163,932 and $229,505 in February 2024.

    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.

    Ready to jumpstart a career in cybersecurity?

    Learn the skills you need to fight cybercrime with Fullstack Academy's part-time and full-time bootcamp offerings

    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 part-time over 26 weeks. Learn more about Fullstack Academy’s Cybersecurity Analytics Bootcamp and how it can lead to a rewarding career in cybersecurity.


    1. What is required to become an ethical hacker?

    A strong foundation in computer science, networking, and programming (like Python or Java) is crucial. Understanding ethical hacking methodologies and proficiency in penetration testing tools (Metasploit, Nmap) is essential. Certifications like CEH or OSCP can validate your knowledge. Most importantly, you'll need a curious mind, a passion for cybersecurity, and a strong ethical compass.

    2. Can I become an ethical hacker on my own?

    Yes, Free online resources, tutorials, and virtual labs can provide a solid foundation. Consider ethical hacking certifications and participate in bug bounty programs to gain experience. Persistence, self-learning, and a commitment to staying updated on evolving threats are key to success.

    3. How do people become ethical hackers?

    Many paths lead to ethical hacking. Some professionals come from computer science or IT backgrounds, while others transition from related fields. Regardless of background, a strong technical foundation, practical experience (through bug bounties or virtual labs), and a passion for ethical hacking are essential.

    4. Is ethical hacking a good career?

    Yes, Ethical hacking offers a challenging, rewarding career with high demand and excellent salaries. It allows you to make a positive impact by safeguarding systems and data. If you enjoy puzzles, thrive in a dynamic environment, and are passionate about cybersecurity, then ethical hacking could be a great fit for you.

    5. Does Google hire hackers?

    Yes, Google, along with many other tech giants, actively recruits ethical hackers. They value the skills and expertise ethical hackers bring to the table in securing their systems and protecting user data. There are dedicated security teams within these companies that ethical hackers can be a part of.

    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

    Ready to jumpstart a career in cybersecurity?

    Learn the skills you need to fight cybercrime with Fullstack Academy's part-time and full-time bootcamp offerings