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Career Options in Ethical Hacking: Prerequisites, Skills & Opportunities

An Ethical Hacker, also known as a white-hat hacker, is a networking and computers expert who systematically and legitimately, with the organization’s permissions, tries to penetrate their computer networks and systems to find vulnerabilities that need to be resolved. As opposed to their less-principled counterparts – the black hat hackers – the white hat hackers use their skills to better an organization’s security measures and in helping them find flaws in the system. 

In essence, Ethical Hacking is all about compromising computers and networks to analyze the security levels and act in good faith. Ethical Hackers are responsible for carefully studying the entire networks and preparing vulnerability reports pointing to the different vulnerabilities that they identified and what needs to be done to counter them. This is an inspiring career option, and it does not demand too much, either. Just some prerequisites and skills to get you started, and you’re good to go! 

In this article, let’s talk in-depth about all the prerequisites and skills required for a career in Ethical Hacking, along with the opportunities that await you!

Prerequisites for a Career in Ethical Hacking

Being an excellent ethical hacker requires you to be multi-skilled. As a beginner, this is often one of the most tricky parts – understanding the prerequisites. Let’s help you with that by properly categorizing the different conditions needed for a successful career in Ethical Hacking. Here are some prerequisites:

  • Understanding of important networking concepts: This includes:
    • TCP/IP, OSI, and other crucial models. 
    • Three-way handshakes. 
    • Working of Ports and IP. 
    • Public-private addresses. 
    • Working of DHCP and ARP. 
    • Concept of subnetting. 
  • Programming knowledge: While being proficient in a particular programming language will be a big plus, it is not a hardcore prerequisite per se. However, just knowing the different programming constructs and having the ability to write pseudocodes and algorithms will be good! 
  • Misc. prerequisites: Some other good-to-know things for a successful career in Ethical Hacking include: 
    • Familiarity with working Linux and essential Linux commands.
    • Putty or SSH. 
    • Working with servers and clients in a networking model. 
    • Working with different protocols. 

Important Skills for a Career in Ethical Hacking

With the prerequisites in place, now we’ll take a look at the different skills that will be required throughout your career as an Ethical Hacker – irrespective of your job role or the company you work for. These skills will come in handy on a day-to-day basis for any career in Ethical Hacking. 

  • Computer Networking Skills: Computer networking skills are easily the most important skills for any ethical hacker. Computer networks can be understood simply as the interconnection of different devices and systems. These devices are often called Hosts and are connected using different pathways to receive and send data. Understanding the entire computer networking process gives a holistic insight into how the whole thing operates and what vulnerabilities need to be tackled. This is also useful for assessing potential security threats and strategizing threat recovery. 
  • Linux Skills: Linux is a community of open-source operating systems developed based on the Linux Kernel. Being open-source, Linux is free and is supported by a vast pool of developers and engineers. The Linux code can be modified and updated by anyone under the GNU license and used accordingly. Linux is crucial for any Ethical Hacker because it is the most secure operating system. Out of all the operating systems, Linux happens to be the least vulnerable to any viruses, malware, and most of the threats, which make it ideal for Ethical Hackers. 
  • Understanding of Programming: The word ‘programming’, in the context of computers’ means the act of writing code for a computational device to help it perform different instructions. Programming is extensive and can be used for different purposes under the entire computer science umbrella. Therefore, ethical Hackers need to know programming. They are not required to be expert programmers, but just knowing how programs work and the ability to write basic programs if needed is enough. That said, the Python programming language is excessively used in different domains of cybersecurity. Python is an extremely versatile and easy to learn language, so if you are looking for your first programming language – let it be Python. Apart from that, some other important programming languages for Ethical Hackers include: 
    • C
    • JavaScript
    • PHP
    • SQL
    • Ruby
    • Perl
  • Computer Hardware Skills: This requires knowing how the different physical parts of the computer are connected and work together. This includes all the essential components of a computer system. This is important for Ethical Hackers since suppose they want to hack a machine controlled by a computer. In such situations, they would first need to know how to bypass the hardware before they can get to the system’s internals. Basic hardware skills are therefore essential for a career in Ethical Hacking.
  • Reverse Engineering: Reverse engineering, in simplest terms, is the process of recovering the design, specifications, and functions of any product by analyzing its source code. It is important to build a program database and generate useful information. The idea behind reverse engineering is to pace up the maintenance work by improving the understandability of any system. Reverse engineering is also widely used to ensure that different computers and systems lack security vulnerabilities. Thus, it helps make systems much more robust and protect them from hackers or people with malicious intent.  
  • Cryptography skills: Cryptography can be defined as the official study of techniques and strategies for reliable communication in the presence of third parties. Cryptography primarily deals with developing and maintaining protocols that stop third-party intruders from hacking into the system and retrieving critical information. Using cryptography, a normal text is converted into ciphertext to make it imperceptible and incomprehensible to third-party hackers. Ethical Hackers need to ensure that the communication between different parties of an organization is safe from being hacked and should therefore be good in cryptography skills.  
  • Knowledge of application security: Application security is about protecting the software application code and data against cyber-attacks and threats. This is an important step in all phases of development – including design, development, and deployment. Application security is a deep-diving process that is done to get in-depth understanding of the various vulnerabilities that are leaving the application or the network open to exploitation. Application security unravels the information required to strengthen the application against intruders. 

Opportunities for a Career in Ethical Hacking

Ethical Hacking, as a job role, is growing at a rate faster than many other areas of IT. Naturally, Cybersecurity and Ethical Hacking have emerged as a high-growth field for the entire previous decade. Things will remain the same for even the upcoming decade and more, looking at how more companies are moving to the digital space and will require more cybersecurity experts. 

If you want to build a successful career in Ethical Hacking, it is a good idea to go through a certification or a course. That way, you will know all the nuances of the field – straight from the experts – and will be able to kickstart your career. 

According to Payscale, certified Ethical Hackers make an average annual income of $85,074. The starting salary, on average, is around $90,000. These figures only increase and get better as you gain more experience, earn more certificates, and grow further in this field. 

After attaining the CEHv10 certification, an Ethical Hacker can try for the following job opportunities and roles, depending on their interests and skills: 

  • Security analyst
  • Information security analyst
  • Ethical hacker
  • Certified ethical hacker
  • Security consultant
  • Penetration tester, etc. 

All in all, the opportunities are endless for the skilled and passionate Ethical Hackers. They can have high-paying jobs in any company that has anything to do with the internet. This even includes government organizations, educational institutes, and private companies. 

Conclusion

Cybersecurity is a forever-growing field that welcomes interested people from all disciplines. All you need to have is the bare minimum curiosity of learning something new and the basic prerequisites. At upGrad, we have impacted 2 million+ lives through our programs. Our Cybersecurity Certificate Program, in collaboration with Purdue University, is designed for professionals interested in pursuing a career in Cybersecurity. Reach out to us at +1 (209) 850-4592 to learn more.

1. Is Ethical Hacking a purely technical field?

Yes. Ethical Hacking requires you to work with systems, devices, and programs day in and day out. It is surely a technical field!

2. Can freshers start their journey in Ethical Hacking?

Freshers can start their journey towards becoming Ethical Hackers by either pursuing certifications, courses, or internships. It is also advisable to hone your basic skills before taking the professional first steps.

3. Do I need to know any programming languages for Ethical Hacking?

Not necessarily. While it is always good to know programming languages, you won’t need to know a specific language to become an Ethical Hacker. That said, it is still a good idea to know about the different programming constructs and have the ability to write pseudo code for different computational problems.

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