How to Become Proficient at Ethical Hacking

See also: Career Management

Ethical hacking has slowly climbed up the ranks as an attractive job position. Perhaps it's due to all the sci-fi movies and shows that perpetuate how cool having a tech-centric job is, or maybe because hacking requires a computer and no reason to leave the house.

In a post-Covid world, we’ve discovered that the digital world is not going anywhere, elevating its prominence in today’s landscape, and also the fact that post-Covid employees have had a taste of that work life balance and understands that there’s no need for them to rot in an office every day from nine till five.

Ethical hacking is a lucrative career because you get to be paid good money to constantly challenge yourself and break into computer systems. It’s not an easy industry to get your foot in the door, but ethical hackers are on the rise because they are the only sustainable defense system against traditional steal-your-data-and-extort-you hackers.

Ethical hacker with laptop on desk.

Putting the context in hacker

Hackers, whether ethical or not, have one sole objective: “to accomplish a goal outside of the creator’s original purpose”, as defined by Google. True enough, it’s basically taking any tool and warping it to suit your own agenda. In the real world, that would be like taking a knife made for slicing apples and using it to rob a bank, but when it comes to the digital world, wielding that knife takes a lot of practice and skill.

Today, there are so many definitions of hackers. Blackhat hackers are the so-called “bad guys” that want to exploit and take advantage of whatever vulnerabilities they can in order to benefit themselves. Ethical hackers are on the opposing team, and they help secure companies and businesses or even individuals.

What education pathway should a hacker take?

Guided Hacking is an online resource center for programs on ethical hacking and most of the times, that’s where education begins for many hackers. There are hundreds upon thousands of tutorials on the internet about reverse engineering and computer programming, all of which are necessary skills in becoming a full-blown hacker. While you will be able to find videos and blog posts on the topic, Guided Hacking offers a comprehensive library of all the resources you need. They also have a paid program that dives deep into Python Reverse Engineering, Python Game Hacking, Penetration Testing and other modules.

Aside from informal education, there are also certifications that ethical hackers might want to look into: Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) and Offensive Security Certified Professional (OSCP). The electronic council (EC-Council) announced that, “A Certified Ethical Hacker is a skilled professional who understands and knows how to look for weaknesses and vulnerabilities in target systems and uses the same knowledge and tools as a malicious hacker, but in a lawful and legitimate manner to assess the security posture of a target system(s). The CEH credential certifies individuals in the specific network security discipline of Ethical Hacking from a vendor-neutral perspective.”

Much like any industry, with the proper credentials, you will be more hireable, especially in a sector like cybersecurity.

For the OSCP certification, it is a slightly more rigorous form of testing as candidates are expected to “submit a comprehensive penetration test report, containing in-depth notes and screenshots detailing their findings. Points are awarded for each compromised host, based on their difficulty and level of access obtained.”

A bachelor’s degree in computer science can also give you a leg up in finding work in your chosen vocation. But at the end of the day, you’ll have to be extremely self-motivated and take the initiative to continue studying throughout your years as an ethical hacker because the thing about technology is that it evolves continuously.

Exercising your skills to become better at hacking

Speaking to a user of Guided Hacking, they mentioned that one of the key components of hacking is knowing how to stay anonymous.

“I was able to get a job by hacking a company’s website and sending them a full report while staying completely off their radar. Being unable to trace who I am made them curious when I proposed my services to them,” shares the Brian* who wishes to stay anonymous for obvious reasons.

When asked how to hone one’s hacking skills, Brian put extreme emphasis on self-learning and strong discipline.

“Hacking has a lot to do with data and reports. If you only like to disassemble the puzzles of computer engineering and not get into paperwork, you’re better off in a different field.”

He went on to highlight three things that aspiring hackers can get into: threat modeling, security assessment, and report writing.

“Report writing really is a crucial element, especially when you’re working on the cybersecurity of a company,” Brian explains. “Never underestimate the power and potential of business writing expertise, even if you’re in a role that’s as far from a corporate role as can be.”

No matter how good a hacker you are or how many vulnerabilities you’ve found and how many times you’ve saved the company from being compromised, if you are unable to articulate that in a concise report, all your efforts would amount to nothing. Being able to produce concise reports will win the trust of clients and also ensure that the integrity of an ethical hacker is held in high regard.

Aside from report writing, security assessment is another aspect of ethical hacking that will feature prominently in your career. It will be your job to test an organization’s security measures to see if it still holds up against the most current threats. It is the most efficient risk management practice to see if a company is prepared to ward off attacks. Security assessments also identify the weaknesses in a security system and the data gathered (oftentimes put in a report) will be used to rectify those weaknesses.

Last, but not least, there’s threat modeling. As the name implies, ethical hackers will emulate a malicious hacker who wants to exploit any bugs or weaknesses in their security framework. This is definitely the most exciting and fun part of being an ethical hacker.

About the Author

Craig Lebrau is the CMO of Media Insider, a Wyoming-based PR company that aims to disrupt the way companies communicate their brand in the digital era.