If you’re a student who is looking to use the skills of hacking for the greater good, then becoming a white hat hacker may be the career for you. While the demand for white hat hackers is greater than ever before, there are still a number of skills and qualifications that you will need to obtain in order to pursue this profession. Read on so that you can learn more about this exciting profession and understand exactly how to become a white hat hacker!
What is a White Hat Hacker?
When someone mentions hackers, you probably think of people who gain unauthorized access to computer systems in order to cause them harm. While this is often true, white hat hackers do what they do for an entirely different reason.
White hat hackers are ethical hackers. After first getting permission, they will try to hack into an organization’s system or network as a means of testing their IT security. Once a white hat hacker identifies vulnerabilities in the organization’s security system, they will report these issues so that work can be done to strengthen the system’s security.
So, while they do perform the activities of a regular hacker, they do so in order to help organizations, not to hurt them.
How to Become a White Hat Hacker
1. Certified Network Defender (C|ND)
While not compulsory, it would be a great idea to consider becoming a Certified Network Defender (C|ND) as a starting point. While studying for this qualification, you will learn about network components as well as the fundamentals of network defense. You will learn the basics of how to detect and combat cyber threats.
This is one of the most common starting points for people looking to become white hat hackers. This certification, provided by the EC Council, teaches students the skills and techniques that they will need in order to start working as an ethical hacker. This certification is ANSI (American National Standards Institute)-accredited and recognized by the United States Department of Defense (DoD).
3. C|EH Practical Program
This is the next step after the C|EH program. In this step, candidates will apply the skills they learned in the C|EH program during a six-hour hands-on exam. This practical test will determine whether or not the candidate is ready to start working in the ethical hacking industry.
4. EC-Council Certified Security Analyst (ECSA)
This certification is a level up from the C|EH certification. In this program, you will focus on penetration testing in a hands-on manner. The practical program that follows this course consists of a 12-hour exam where you will have to apply all the skills you have learned so far.
5. Licensed Penetration Tester (LPT) Master
This is the highest possible certification that you can get from EC-Council. This expert-level program tests your advanced penetration testing skills in every way imaginable.
6. GIAC Certified Forensics Analyst
This course is designed for those who are interested in working in operating system-based forensic investigations.
7. Physical Security Professional (PSP)
This certification, provided by ASIS International, focuses on the physical security aspects of IT security.
What Background Do You Need?
Before you can work towards obtaining an ethical hacker certification, you will need to get a background in IT. One effective way to get a foundation in IT is by pursuing an IT-based college degree.
While college degrees can be difficult to pursue because of the cost and time commitments you will have to make, there are affordable and flexible ways to study!
One way that you can get your degree at a low price and during your own time is by pursuing a Bachelor of Computer Science degree at the University of the People (UoPeople). Not only is this program entirely online, but it is also US-accredited, high-quality and tuition-free. So you have the option to pursue a computer science degree at your own pace.
If you are looking for an alternative way to get a background in IT, you could consider getting an A+ certification provided by CompTIA. This certification only requires you to study for and pass two exams.
If academics is not the route that you want to follow, you could also serve in an intelligence field in the military. This will allow you to build a practical knowledge of IT.
What Do You Need to Become a White Hat Hacker?
While education is important, there are also a number of personality traits that you will need to possess in order to be suited to a career as a white hat hacker. They are:
- Being intelligent
- Showing common logic
- Being well-organized
- Problem-solving abilities
- Communication skills
- Envisioning — in order to stop black hat hackers from penetrating an IT system, you need to be able to think like them
- Strong work ethic
- Having the ability to keep cool under pressure
- Being persuasive — in order to gain access to the IT system, you will need to convince other people to give you access to sensitive security information
In addition to these personality traits, you will also have to learn to code. There are many coding platforms that you can choose from, including HTML, Java, and Swift. You can learn to code for computers as well as mobile devices.
Of course, you will need to understand the basic concepts of an operating system. By completing an IT-based degree or getting hands-on IT experience, you can learn these concepts.
Job Markets for White Hat Hackers
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Career Opportunities for White Hat Hackers
In order to become a white hat hacker, you would most probably have to begin your career as an information security analyst or a tech consultant.
What’s great about these jobs is that the demand for them is growing at an even faster rate than the average job growth. In fact, in a report published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in April 2018, jobs for information security analysts will increase by 32% from 2018 to 2028.
There are, however, other job roles that are also available to pursue that will give you a pathway to becoming a white hat hacker. These include being a penetration tester, an information security consultant, or a network security specialist.
What Is the Government Career Path Like?
There are numerous government IT jobs, particularly in a military capacity. The military has many IT jobs in their cyber warfare division.
The government also requires the assistance of IT specialists who can update and upgrade their systems. This is not just because of past incidents where systems have been breached, but also because the government’s enemies are becoming increasingly sophisticated.
By having an IT career in a government capacity, you can get a government security clearance that will help you obtain even higher positions.
Ethical Hacking Jobs in the Private Sector
While there are many jobs available in the private sector, companies typically look to avoid the costs of having to train entry-level candidates.
This makes it beneficial to become proficient in databases and systems and have adequate programming/coding skills. This will help you to get an edge over the competition in the hunt for an entry-level job.
Challenges of a Unique Career Field
If you are someone who enjoys tackling difficult challenges, then this might be the perfect career for you!
After all, this job revolves around overcoming security measures and finding vulnerabilities.
One of the biggest challenges that white hat hackers are currently faced with is “staying legal”, meaning that they only access systems that they have obtained permission to access. In a technological world that grows more connected each day, this challenge gets more and more difficult.
What to Expect from an Ethical Hacker Career
Once you are a professional white hat hacker, you can expect to use all of the technical and security expertise that you have acquired so far to breach the security system of the organization that has hired you. You will then have to analyze your findings and provide recommendations on how to strengthen the organization’s IT infrastructure.
There are a number of training programs that you can take to develop your ethical hacking skills. One great option to check out is the CEH (v10) Certified Ethical Hacking course.
This course is delivered entirely online and includes live class recordings, access to CEHv10 iLabs, and study material provided by EC-Council.
What Kind Of Salaries Do White Hat Hackers Make?
The average salary that a white hat hacker can expect to earn is $71,000 annually. Many ethical hackers can also expect to earn bonuses ranging from $15,000 – $20,000. If you become an expert in this field, you could earn as much as $120,000 per annum.
If you are someone who is motivated to become a top white hat hacker, then you may be in for a great salary. TechRepublic reported that the top 50 white hat hackers on Bugcrowd (a cybersecurity platform) earned an average annual salary of $145,000.
In fact, it was found that the average white hat hacker payout per vulnerability detected is $783 USD. When asked where most of their payouts come from, 81% of the surveyed hackers said website vulnerabilities, whereas 7% and 6% said hardware and API respectively.
It was also found that out of 750 surveyed ethical hackers, 43% learned how to hack via online resources and blogs, while 41% of them are self-taught.
When asked how much time they spend on bug hunting, 66% of white hat hackers said they spend up to 10 hours per week doing this. Interestingly enough, more than 50% of these people also have a regular full-time job.
There is, however, a major gender gap in this field. 92% of those who were surveyed identified as male, while only 4% identified as female.
What is Hacking?
Hacking is where someone is able to gain access to an IT network as a result of finding a vulnerability in its security.
While unethical hackers get unauthorized access by targeting the system, ethical hackers will get permission from an organization to access its system in order to assess its security.
What Platform Do You Need to Familiarize Yourself With?
This depends on whether you are working on web applications, mobile applications, or desktop-based software.
If you are working on web applications, it would be highly recommended to learn HTML, PHP, JSP, and ASP.
If you are working on mobile applications, then Java will be good for Android phones, Swift will be ideal for iPhones, and C# will be suitable for Windows phones.
For desktop-based software, check out Java, C#, or C++.
1. Before becoming an expert in a programming language, you need to understand how the operating systems work. This will provide you the foundation for learning the programming language concerned.
2. Never underestimate the power of system and network administrators — they play an important role in organizations’ IT networks!
3. If you don’t achieve results from the start, don’t be discouraged. Sometimes it takes a while to master new skills, so keep yourself motivated and persevere.
If you do not have any prior IT experience, there are a number of online resources you can check out in order to start building your knowledge base.
This ebook will provide you with an introduction to information security and a basic knowledge of web and app testing.
Another ebook, Web Hacking 101, talks about ethical hacking and how to start making money by uncovering common vulnerabilities.
To practice hacking your own accounts, get the Firesheep add-on for Firefox or the Android app Droidsheep. Make sure that you do not hack into other people’s accounts, however, as this could land you in legal trouble!
This link contains a list of further books, online learning platforms, and workshops that you can check out in order to develop your skills.
Important to Note
While you are on your journey to becoming a white hat hacker, there are some important points that you will need to remember.
Firstly, you need to be a self-learner, so that you can learn from your experiences and improve in your field.
Also remember to educate yourself on a daily basis. This will help you continuously grow.
The next thing is to map your target. You need to assess your target’s infrastructure so you can determine where to focus your hacking efforts.
Next, you’ve got to be a ninja. This means being stealthy and quick to strike! Once you have found a vulnerability, pounce on the opportunity to expose it.
Finally, it is always good to think outside the box. By thinking in a unique way, you can identify issues that developers may have overlooked and that other hackers are not on the lookout for.
Can Cyber Criminals Become Ethical Hackers?
While they may have originally been on the dark side of hacking, there is always a possibility for cybercriminals to start using their abilities for legitimate penetration testing.
Dominique Karg, the Chief Hacking Officer of AlienVault, explained that he believes that former cybercriminals often make the best ethical hackers.
He explained, “I think they’re the only ones that can do the job well. I got my ethical hacking job that way. I had to choose between being taught something I already knew at the university or getting paid for what I liked to do anyway. The decision was easy.”
There are those who disagree with him, however.
Marcus Ranum, Chief Security Officer at Tenable Network Security, thinks that a past as an unethical hacker shows a willingness to put selfish interests first. He said, “That’s not something that should impress a prospective client. After all, if you were acting like a sociopath last month, why should I believe you’re not one today?”
How to Apply for a Job as an Ethical Hacker
One way to kickstart your career as an ethical hacker is by contacting CREST. This organization provides advice on how to progress in this field and works with universities to provide internships and job placements.
You could also go to conferences and network with industry leaders there.
Finally, you could get a job as an auditor. Often, penetration testing is thought of as a “more aggressive audit”, and overlaps with this job.
Now that you have an understanding of how to become a white hat hacker, you can begin your journey in this field and use your hacking abilities for the greater good!