How to Become an Ethical Hacker

Security incidents and cyber-attacks have become extremely common in the last few years, and many high-tech enterprises have been subject to severe hacking issues. Currently, spending on cybersecurity on a global scale is reaching several trillion-dollar marks. And what is the most appropriate approach to this problem, if not combating the threat of black hat hackers by the power of white hat hackers?

In this day and age, the need and demand for ethical hackers are constantly increasing, opening unlimited opportunities and options for all professionals pursuing ethical hacking careers. So, if you also belong to the army of these people, you are in the right place.

Here we will explore how to become an ethical hacker, what qualifications you need, and what career path you can choose.

The Role of An Ethical Hacker 

Generally, an ethical hacker’s primary goal is to view a system’s infrastructure from the perspective of a malicious hacker to find vulnerabilities that can lead to exploits. It allows defensive teams to alleviate by devising patches before an actual hacker tries to attack. The objective of an ethical hacker is served by performing simulated cyber attacks in a controlled environment. Although much of the importance of ethical hackers is related to testing a company’s devices and safety controls for penetration vulnerabilities and issues, they also look more broadly for spots and problems that can be exploited deep within an app or network, including data exfiltration vulnerabilities.

In the cybersecurity ecosystem, you can find a variety of terms and expressions used for describing the specific focus areas of ethical hackers. However, the main three categories are:

  • Red Teams – The experts specializing in offensive security services;
  • Blue Teams – Cyber security professionals that provide defensive services;
  • Purple Teams – Ethical hackers combining the activities of red and blue teams;

An ethical hacker, in general, can be an independent consultant employed by a company specializing in simulated offensive security solutions or can be an in-house employee protecting an organization’s apps or websites. Knowledge of up-to-date attack methods, tools, and techniques is needed across all employment options; but, however, in-house ethical hackers may be necessary to know only a single digital asset type or software. 

Though the in-house red team is relatively new to the cybersecurity industry, one of the benefits they can provide is that the team will have a more intimate knowledge of how its computer systems and apps are constructed than independent security analysts or pen testers. Moreover, in-house teams are also cost-effective compared to the continuous use of consulting companies.

On the contrary, an advantage that an external ethical hacker can offer is a fresh set of eyes to detect and identify vulnerabilities overlooked by the company’s internal team of hackers. 

Ethical Hacker: Skills and Requirements 

While there are plenty of technical and hard skills cyber security professionals should have, the essential requirements they need to become an ethical hacker are professional and high ethical standards. These characteristics distinguish the bad guys from the good guys and draw a clear line between them. Furthermore, many black hat hackers have excellent technical skillsets to become ethical hackers. Still, they lack the basic moral skills and the discipline of character to be regarded as white-hat professionals. 

The second most crucial requirement concerns the candidate’s professional and technical background and skillset. An ethical hacker should be able to demonstrate advanced technical abilities, including an experience in mitigation and remediation strategies. 

To become a successful ethical hacker, a job candidate should also understand wired and wireless networks and be proficient with operating systems, including Linux and Windows. Moreover, they also need to generally understand file systems and firewalls and be familiar with workstations, computer networks, servers, and basic computer science. 

Other requirements and needed skills you can come across in almost every ethical hacking job description are as follows:

  • Coding skills
  • Computer Networking
  • Data Engines
  • Social Engineering
  • Penetration Testing 
  • Risk Management
  • Reverse-Engineering
  • Data/Network Security
  • Computer Hardware and Software 
  • Critical Thinking
  • Communication Skills

Above and beyond professional skills and good ethics, a white hat hacker should have a mix of analytical and creative thinking. Moreover, ethical hackers also need to understand the architecture of the security system from the malicious hackers’ perspective to estimate how much effort and time the attacker will need to move forward with the specific target. That’s why the penetration tester must understand the IT systems they protect and the value of the data and confidential information.

Ethical Hacker Education – Courses and Certification

While candidates can reach the necessary skills of hacking through self-study, in most cases, formal education is recommended, as most companies closely look at a candidate’s educational background. However, it is still not sure exactly which degree applicants should hold. According to Crowdstrike, 26% of ethical hackers’ job ads that require a university degree also mention a computer science degree. At the same time, the remaining percent didn’t specify what degree the candidate should have. 

And though a high education is a significant advantage, the core component for an ethical hacking career is certification. Here are some of the most popular and required certifications available in the cybersecurity industry. 


The EC-Council group provides over 20 cybersecurity certifications, including the most-demanded Certified Ethical Hacker certification.

SANS Institute

SANS organization offers cybersecurity certifications and courses, including Global Information Security Certifications in mobile device security, cloud penetration testing, and vulnerability assessment.

Council of Registered Security Testers

This nonprofit organization provides individual certifications and company accreditations designed for incident response, network pen testing, and security architecture.

Offensive Security

Certifications and learning paths include exploiting development, app protection, and penetration testing, with popular certifications such as Offensive Security Wireless Professional, Offensive Security Certified Professional, and Offensive Security Exploitation Expert.

CompTIA Security+

This famous trade association offers a baseline certification for cybersecurity skills and knowledge. You can find well-known and advanced certifications such as CASP+, PenTest+, and CySA +.

Certified Information Systems Security Professional

Your certifications through this training institute include security administration, cloud security, and security authorization.

FAQ Section

What qualifications do you need to become an ethical hacker?

Cybersecurity is one of the most skill-intensive industries currently. To become an experienced, ethical hacker, a candidate should have a basic foundation of soft and hard skills, educational background, and professional expertise. White hats’ most required technical skill set covers data and network security, understanding of security systems, programming languages, firewalls, file databases, and more. Ethical hackers should also have soft capabilities like critical thinking and communication abilities.

What is the average salary of ethical hackers?

Generally, the average salary of ethical hackers varies from $80.000 to $130.000. However, the final salary range depends on the location, job requirements, certification level, and experience.

What jobs can ethical hackers do?

Ethical hacking is a broad term that extends to various career areas and positions. The most demanded and popular careers you can find in the cybersecurity job market are as follows:
Information Security Analysts: Information security professionals mainly design and implement security measures to protect the company’s computer systems and networks. Additionally, they simulate attacks to find out potential vulnerabilities.
Penetration Testers: The Pentesting specialist primarily detects and addresses security vulnerabilities that hackers could exploit and cause harmful situations.
Vulnerability Assessors: A vulnerability assessor or vulnerability assessment analyst is another well-demanded career in the cybersecurity field. They mainly specialize in conducting constant security assessments to find vulnerabilities and potential weaknesses of the network. Additionally, security assessors make and test customized scripts to identify vulnerabilities and recognize existing vital defects. 
Security Consultants: The responsibilities of cyber security consultants is among the broadest ones, as it includes almost all the aspects of safety infrastructures. Depending on the company and requirements, a cybersecurity consultant can work as a defender or attacker, specialize in networks and systems, develop an engineering or leadership focus, etc. The variety of skill sets allows cybersecurity consultants to choose from unlimited options based on their interests, goals, and education.
Cybersecurity Architects: If you can think from a malicious hacker’s or big-picture IT executive’s perspective, you have all the characteristics to succeed in becoming a security architect. The job of a security architect is a senior-level position mainly responsible for planning, testing, monitoring, and maintaining a company’s network and computer infrastructure. Moreover, the role requires a comprehensive knowledge of the employer’s business and its technologies to perform operations.

How to become an ethical hacker without a degree?

Although most organizations and employers’ number one requirement is a cybersecurity degree, entering the field without higher education is also possible. One of the most efficient alternatives to a degree is an ethical hacker certification with which you can master the technical abilities and success in internships with proper certification. Other ethical hacker career growth methods are training boot camps, hacking tools, and online courses and classes that provide the same knowledge as college courses.