How To Become An Ethical Hacker

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Becoming an ethical hacker takes bringing together several skill sets, but at the core of every ethical hacker is a high understanding of information technology, software and hardware, programming, and great problem-solving skills.

There is a definite difference between ethical and unethical hacking, and although it might be hard to see where that line is, certain rules must be followed for hacking to be deemed ethical. Most importantly, you need to have permission to probe the network (from its owner) when attempting to identify potential security risks. You must respect the privacy of the individual or company you are working for and only look for security details and not private information. If you do find a vulnerability, reporting it is essential to maintain ‘white hat’ status and not leaving it open for anyone to manipulate at a later date. While the non-ethical hacker (usually referred to as a black hat) exploits these vulnerabilities for mischief, personal gain or other reasons, the ethical hacker evaluates them, points them out, and may suggest changes to systems that make them less likely to be penetrated by black hats.

The idea of bringing this tactic into use was first introduced in 1992 by Dan Farmer and Wietse Venema. Their goal was to raise the overall level of security on the Internet and on intranets. They would test systems and describe how they were able to gather enough information about their targets to be able to have compromised security if they had chosen to. Farmer and Venema introduced their Security Administrator Tool for Analyzing Networks (SATAN) System free for anyone to download who wished to ensure their systems were hack proof.

Having a sound knowledge of all aspects of computer hardware and software is key to becoming an ethical hacker, as well as programming experience in one or more programs. PC World recommends that the path a person takes to become a certified ethical hacker starts with earning an A+ Certification and find a job as a technical support representative. After building up some experience and additional certification (Network+ or CCNA), try moving up to a network support role, and then on to a network engineer after a few years. Yes, it does sound like becoming an ethical hacker will take time for the totally inexperienced, but considering that you have to be a master of all things computer related, this is not surprising.

After you have built up all your experience, it will be time to start earning security certifications (CISSP, TICSA or Security +) and try to find a position working in information security. You can start concentrating on penetration testing at this stage and work toward the Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) certification offered by the International Council of Electronic Commerce Consultants (EC Council). Now you will be ready to consider yourself an ethical hacker.

Interesting Facts 

– One of the largest recruiters of Ethical Hackers are government agencies like the NSA. Currently India is the largest market for Ethical Hackers, followed closely by the United States. According to reports, India has a need for over 450,000 cyber security experts and is planning an upcoming government-private sector initiative in which they hope to train 500,000 cyber warriors or ethical hackers in the near future.

– One of the first instances of an ethical hack being used was a “security evaluation” conducted by the United States Air Force of the Multics operating system. Their evaluation found that while Multics was “significantly better than other conventional systems,” it also had “… vulnerabilities in hardware security, software security, and procedural security” that could be uncovered with “a relatively low level of effort.”


Michael Mulcreevy

Michael Mulcreevy is a writer and researcher and studied sustainability. He has special interests in technological advancements in the computer age and writes on all things current and future based such as systems for community resilience.

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