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An ethical hacker (also known as a white hat hacker) is a security professional. Ethical hackers know how to find and exploit vulnerabilities and weaknesses in various systems—just like a malicious hacker (or a black hat hacker). In fact, they both use the same skills. However, an ethical hacker uses those skills in a legitimate, lawful manner to try to find vulnerabilities and fix them before an illegal hacker can access a system.


An ethical hacker’s role is similar to that of a penetration tester, but it involves broader duties. They break into systems legally and ethically. This is the primary difference between white hat hackers and black hat hackers—the legality.

Ethical hackers search the software environment for vulnerabilities and — upon finding one — explore its potential as a risk. He/she must then remove the security risk. Daily tasks to check security include monitoring incoming and outgoing data, overseeing Microsoft Exchange activity and reverse engineering malware to determine its threat level. The ethical hacker is responsible for the dissemination of relevant information to company directors and employees relating to security. This includes password policy and file encryption.


An ethical hacker should have a bachelor’s degree in information technology or an advanced diploma in network security. He/she needs extensive experience in the area of network security and a working knowledge of various operating systems. Areas of expertise include a sound working knowledge of Microsoft and Linux servers, Cisco network switches, virtualization, Citrix and Microsoft Exchange. A working knowledge of the latest penetration software is essential.

Other degree options, as listed in job postings, are a bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering, Computer Engineering, or Computer Science.  Whichever degree you choose, make sure you study programming. The subject is essential for hacking because a hacker breaks a protocol or an application security using a programming language. The ethical hacker must know several programming languages.

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Most computer science programs include several courses in computer programming. Students will likely learn to write programs in common languages like Java, C++, Perl, and Pascal. You need to seek out the college programs that stress computer languages. This could be a degree in Information Technology, Information Systems, Software Programming, or Computer Programming.

Python is an easy to learn, concise scripting language which is ideally suited to automate repetitive tasks that will come up during your job. This language is widely used when performing cryptanalysis and malware analysis. Therefore, Python programming skills are a plus when aiming to find a cyber security job.

C is in most operating systems and 90% of the libraries and frameworks are written in C. If you want to find the weaknesses in a system from the point of view of a white hat hacker or penetration tester, knowing how to program in C will be beneficial.

SQL injection is a code injection technique that exploits a security vulnerability occurring in the database layer of an application. The vulnerability is present when user input is either incorrectly filtered for string literal escape characters embedded in SQL statements. This is one of the most dangerous web attacks where the malicious users tend to exploit the web applications.

All of these programming languages will greatly help you in ethical hacking. They are the medium through which programmers precisely describe concepts, formulate algorithms, and reason about solutions. The same medium illegal hackers use. Therefore, a grasp of many programming languages will be an asset to the professional ethical hacker.


Beyond your degree, certification is paramount. The majority of positions in this field requires or prefers that you have a CEH (certified ethical hacker) Certification. The International Council of E-Commerce Consultants, or EC-Council, certifies professionals as certified ethical hackers.

A SANS survey reported that 81% of respondents with hiring responsibilities consider certification a factor in their hiring decisions. In addition, 41% of the respondents said their organizations use certifications as a factor when determining salary increases. SANS is the most trusted and the largest source for information security training, certification, and research in the world.

The EC-Council’s Certified Ethical Hacker (CEHv10)  will immerse you in a “Hacker Mindset” in order to teach you how to think like a hacker and better defend against future attacks. The course covers the Five Phases of Ethical Hacking, diving into Reconnaissance, Gaining Access, Enumeration, Maintaining Access, and covering your tracks. You can complete this course via iLearn. This is an online, self-paced option. This means that all of the same modules taught in the live course are recorded and presented in a streaming video format. A certification candidate can set his or her own learning pace. You can pause lectures and resume at your convenience.