How to Become an Ethical Hacker: Updated for 2023


When imagining a hacker, most of us conjure up the image of a hooded figure sitting in a dark room and uttering: “I am in!” after frantically clicking a few buttons on the keyboard. Although it seems impressive, it is not entirely realistic. We can blame movies for that. What they rarely show in these movies is the amount of training that goes into learning hacking techniques. It takes time, dedication, and a specific set of skills for hackers to breach computer network security systems and gain unauthorized access to them. Plus, hackers are not always the bad guys. Nowadays, it is common to find Certified Ethical Hackers, also known as the white hats, working in the cyber protection team for companies. They help reduce cyberattacks by conducting them. Once they hack a system, they can identify the vulnerabilities within it.

So, if you are interested in hacking and the cyber security field, you can have a career as an ethical hacker. It is every bit as fascinating as the hackers you see in movies, minus the criminal activity and risk of imprisonment. Read on, and find out how to become an ethical hacker, the education and skills required for it, and the future that awaits you in this career.

What Does an Ethical Hacker Do?

As an ethical hacker, your purpose would be to inspect the security of systems and infrastructure of networks. These hackers are responsible for finding and exposing the weak points in companies’ hardware and software so malicious hackers can’t take advantage of them. Other duties include:

  • Working with the IT team to research, document, and discuss cyber security methods and findings.
  • Using the gathered information to improve the company’s security system.
  • Securing potential entry points.
  • Using password-protection for all systems and applications.
  • Using firewalls to secure the network infrastructure.
  • Installing patches and ensuring they are up to date.

While they are working, it is crucial for ethical hackers to understand the mindset of black hat hackers who have opposite motives and duties compared to the ethical hacker responsibilities we have stated so far.

How to Become an Ethical Hacker?

To become an ethical hacker, you must be patient and persistent with your training. You will need to have a deep understanding of computer systems and a set of IT skills that you can obtain through education and certifications programs.

Ethical hacker education

Many ethical hackers earn a bachelor’s degree in cyber security, information technology, computer science, or a related field. Then, to further develop their skills and IT knowledge, they might continue their higher education by attaining a master’s degree in cyber security or other IT programs.

These programs are designed to equip students with knowledge of computer programming and a range of different programming languages.

Ethical hacker certifications

An important step in improving your hacking skills is certifications. One of the most common programs you can pursue is the Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) certification. The CEH will provide you with an in-depth understanding of hacking, the various stages, and attack methods, as well as the preventative steps you can take.

Another great option is the Offensive Security Certified Professional (OSCP) certification. The OSCP is required for many senior-level ethical hacking jobs. The exam you need to pass to obtain it is notoriously difficult and lengthy, but worth the effort in the end.

Ethical hacker skills

Due to the complex nature of the work, there are numerous skills an individual needs to possess to succeed as an ethical hacker. Let us examine these essential skills and see they are necessary for this role.

Computer skills


Basic skills such as understanding operating systems, data processing, managing computer files, and creating presentations are the foundation upon which you improve your other ethical hacking skills. From there, you can develop more advanced skills, such as setting networking parameters, commanding lines in operating software, and managing databases.

Penetration testing skills

To reveal security loopholes and vulnerabilities, an ethical hacker must be skilled in mimicking cyber-attacks. There are various penetration testing methods such as targeted testing, blind testing, internal and external testing that you can utilize to help secure servers.

Knowledge of Linux

Ethical hackers must understand some of the most frequently used operating systems in the industry. Most web servers use Linux because it is more secure than most other operating systems. It would be challenging to try and examine security breaches if you do not have a good understanding of the operating system used.

Cryptography skills

To ensure that communication within the organization is not leaked, ethical hackers must use cryptography skills to convert normal text to another form that is non-readable for hackers.

Programming skills

One needs to have a solid grasp of the different programming languages used in order to gain access to any software. Some of the most common programming languages utilized by developers for their software include:

  • SQL
  • Python
  • C
  • C++
  • Perl
  • Ruby
  • Javascript
  • Java
  • HTML
  • PHP

Critical thinking and problem-solving skills

All the previously mentioned skills would be insufficient if you do not know how and when to utilize them to resolve cyber issues. Black hat hackers are constantly designing new ways to gain unauthorized access to data, and as an ethical hacker, you must also be able to think critically and find new ways to solve any problems you are faced with.

The degrees you obtain combined with various certifications that you pursue will help equip you with the necessary skills to succeed in the ethical hacking career.

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Ethical Hacker Job Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the field of information security analysts, which includes ethical hackers, is expected to experience a 31% job increase from 2019 to 2029. Let us remind you that in comparison, the average total employment is projected to grow only 7.7% over the decade. So, the ethical hacker job outlook seems to be bright.

Ethical Hacker Career Path


There is not a precise answer to the question of how to get into ethical hacking. Each person makes their path. However, we will be explaining the general career path that many ethical hackers use as a blueprint to succeed in this field. They begin their journey by earning an undergraduate degree. Then, they pursue an entry-level job in the cybersecurity field, such as a security administrator or a network engineer. The experience gained working these jobs makes them eligible to pursue various certifications that further develop their skills.

If you seek promotion from entry-level positions, then you should continue your higher education by attaining a master’s degree. Once you have gained enough work experience and improved your skills, you can climb up the career ladder and proceed to work in higher ethical hacker roles.

It is important that throughout your career, you stay away from illegal hacking. If you are caught, it will show in your criminal record, and most companies do not feel safe hiring any professional who was once an illegal hacker.

Ethical Hacker Salary

The average base salary of ethical hackers in the United States is $101,174 per year. The lowest recorded salary is $64,116 per year, whereas the highest reaches $159,652 per year.

The more work experience you have, certifications, and degrees that prove your dedication, the more likely you are to be eligible for senior-level ethical hacker positions that come with higher salaries.

How to Get Experience as an Ethical Hacker?

Work experience is an important requirement if you are thinking of advancing your career and one day ending up in a senior-level ethical hacker position.

Even if you do not have an entry-level job yet, you can start gaining experience in the field by volunteering your skills and knowledge to help non-profit organizations secure their online networks. You can also participate in various hacking competitions and demonstrate your knowledge and skills.

Many entry-level job positions do not require previous work experience, but it can never hurt to showcase your competence and preparation for the job.

If you are interested in technology, the realm of ethical hacking will offer you great career opportunities, high salaries, and a rewarding job experience. Now that you know how to become a professional hacker and the skills you will need for the job, with the right attitude, determination, and training, you can have a prosperous career. So, start (legally) hacking!

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