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How to Become a Ethical Hacker

If you are interested in a career in the cyber security industry, then you might want to consider learning ethical hacking. Continue reading to find a detailed guide on how to become an ethical hacker in 2021. You’ll find the required technical knowledge, practical skills, job descriptions, and educational requirements you need to start an ethical hacking career. 

What Is an Ethical Hacker?

Ethical hackers are security analysts who perform legal hacking on operating systems and networks to test security systems. Ethical hacking involves protecting an organization’s information security systems from criminal hacking activities. These hackers are also known as white hat hackers, compared to black hat hackers who are malicious. 

Ethical Hacker Job Description

The job description of ethical hackers, also known as penetration testers, involves conducting system and network vulnerability assessments. These security professionals perform actual hacking and find system weaknesses. Their reports include major hacking issues, system security upgrade solutions, and improvements for internal security operatives. 

As an ethical hacker, you can work in a variety of industries, including government departments, technology companies, business sectors, and the military. This role requires you to work with other technical professionals and clients, and it requires essential skills such as networking, troubleshooting, and reverse engineering skills.

Ethical Hacker Salary and Job Outlook

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the projected job outlook for information security analysts is 33 percent between 2020 to 2030. Since ethical hackers fall under this umbrella, this percentage indicates that there will be many more jobs in the coming decade. The BLS reports that there will be 47,100 new jobs in the United States in that time.

Additionally, according to PayScale, the average annual salary for ethical hackers is $78,612. This salary dramatically increases with experience, which means it’s valuable to attend a coding bootcamp or earn certifications. For example, PayScale also reports that experienced ethical hackers earn $114,783 per year. 

Top Reasons to Become an Ethical Hacker in 2021

There are plenty of reasons to become an ethical hacker in 2021. If you’re interested in cyber security, this can be a rewarding and challenging job. Take a look below at more benefits of ethical hacker job roles.

  • Good Job Outlook: By investing in this cyber security profession, you can secure a future-proof and in-demand career. Cyber attacks are growing in frequency, so companies need a wide range of protective measures, which creates more ethical hacking jobs.
  • Challenging Work: The ethical hacking profession is constantly expanding with new ethical hacking tools and security tactics. This creates a challenging work environment that requires you to continuously sharpen your cyber security skills. 
  • Variety of Industries: As an ethical hacker, you can perform security assessments on a database management system or on an open-source operating system. The threat of future attacks applies to many industries, including tech, data, business, and healthcare. 
  • Career Growth Opportunities: This field offers many opportunities for career growth and advancement. As ethical hackers are needed in a variety of industries, there are unlimited options for career growth and promotion. 

Ethical Hacker Job Requirements

Since ethical hacking can be a sensitive position, there are quite a few different requirements you’ll need to get the job. You might need to prevent unauthorized access to some of the biggest companies and most powerful computers in the world.

  • Bachelor’s Degree: The standard educational requirement for becoming an ethical hacker is a Bachelor’s Degree in Cyber Security or Computer Science. You can also attend one of the best cyber security bootcamps to jumpstart your career. 
  • Professional Certifications: Depending on the employer, you might be required to get a professional certification in CompTIA, Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH), or EC-Council Certified Ethical Hacker Certification. 
  • Technical skills: Ethical hacking requires you to have excellent technical skills, including analytical, hacking, problem-solving, and programming skills. 
  • Soft skills: Communication and interpersonal skills are an important part of this career. You will be required to communicate with clients, customers, and other information security analysts. 

Types of Ethical Hacker Careers

There are several ethical hacker careers including entry-level jobs, network engineer jobs, and cyber security chief executive roles. You could also become a chief security officer at national security agencies if you thrive in the field. Below are some of the most popular types of ethical hacker careers that you should explore in 2021.

Network Administrator 

A network administrator is responsible for an organization’s network system design, development, security testing, and management. They partner with cyber security engineers and ethical hackers to keep the network safe. According to PayScale, the average salary for a network administrator is $60,517. 

Information Security Analyst

Information security analysts are responsible for the overall security of an organization’s hardware and software systems. You can become an information security analyst by studying computer science or cyber security. According to PayScale, the average salary for information security analysts is $73,060. 

Senior Penetration Tester 

As a senior penetration tester, you have administrative access to systems and will lead an ethical hacking team by overseeing vulnerability assessments and the implementation of security measures. According to PayScale, the average salary of a senior penetration tester is $106,893. 

Ethical Hacker Meaning: What Does an Ethical Hacker Do?

The job of an ethical hacker includes protecting an organization’s networks, databases, and software systems from malicious hackers. There are many other responsibilities for this role, and they all have high stakes because of the sensitivity of some information.

Assesses Vulnerability

Ethical hackers conduct system vulnerability assessments of legitimate business networks and perform aggressive audits on information systems. They do this to report a detailed analysis of potential cyber system weaknesses and avoid service interruptions. This is the most important part of the role of an ethical hacker.

Devises Security Upgrades

Ethical hackers also find new and efficient approaches to security monitoring and suggest system security upgrades that will protect sensitive data from future attacks. New technology is being developed on a regular basis, and ethical hackers need to upgrade their security clearances accordingly to stay up-to-date in the job market.

Researches Industry Trends 

Ethical hackers are expected to stay on top of industry advancement. This requires them to keep up with hacking news and research new potential black hat hacker tools and techniques. Having a professional network in the cyber security industry is vital for this reason. You should have intricate knowledge of the essential qualities of the ethical hacking industry.

Essential Ethical Hacker Skills

To be competent in this field, you must acquire several essential hacker skills related to the cyber security industry. These skills are important because they allow ethical hackers to protect systems and databases in the most secure ways possible.

Research Skills 

As the world of hacking is expanding, so are the threats. It is crucial to have research skills so that you can follow cyber security news and find new ethical hacking challenges. Additionally, you’ll also need to be able to research the source of security issues. Mainstream media awareness of security issues is growing, and ethical hackers need to keep up with this.

Cyber Security Skills

The most important skills required to succeed in this career are cyber security skills. This includes penetration testing, analytical, threat intelligence, and risk management skills. To gain these skills, you should attend a cyber security bootcamp or a penetration testing bootcamp. You can also network with peers who have actual job roles in cyber security.

Programming Skills 

As an ethical hacker, you use a variety of programming languages to perform security assessments. You’ll need to learn Python, JavaScript, SQL, PHP, and other essential languages to enter this profession. However, this depends on where you’re working and what your responsibilities are.

How Long Does It Take to Become an Ethical Hacker?

It can take between four weeks and four years to become an ethical hacker, depending on the educational route you choose. If you get a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science or Cyber Security, you can begin working as an ethical hacker in roughly four to five years. You should also consider getting an ethical hacking certification on top of that.

If you attend a network security coding bootcamp, you can acquire the skills needed in a few weeks to a few months. It’s important to remember that this route will likely require between one to two years of hands-on experience to get a job. Basic hacking doesn't take long to learn, and average IT roles don't require too much experience.

Can a Coding Bootcamp Help Me Become an Ethical Hacker?

Yes, a coding bootcamp can help you become an ethical hacker. There are tons of top cyber security and network security bootcamps that teach you the skills and knowledge needed for this industry. Coding bootcamps even offer extensive job placement services and get you ready for an entry-level position. 

Can I Become an Ethical Hacker from Home?

Yes, you can. Studying to become an ethical hacker from home has been made very accessible through online degree programs and bootcamps. You can also enroll in online ethical hacking courses to become a cyber security expert. You can learn offensive security services, networking concepts, and bug bounty techniques.

How to Become an Ethical Hacker: A Step-by-Step Guide

There are several ways to become an ethical hacker with various educational routes. Below is a step-by-step guide to becoming an ethical hacker, including education, professional certifications, and industry experience.

Step 1: Get an Education 

The first step will vary depending on the educational path you choose. One option is to get a Bachelor’s Degree in Cyber Security or Computer Science. Another option is to attend a penetration testing bootcamp or enroll in relevant online courses. Cyber security experts need official training to become professional penetration testers.

Step 2: Get Professional Certifications 

Although it’s not necessarily required, obtaining industry certifications for ethical hacking is a great way to stand out to employers. Two of the best certifications to get are Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) and Offensive Security Certified Professional (OSCP). You can read more about these in the certification section below.

Step 3: Gain Cyber Security Experience 

If you get a Bachelor’s Degree in Cyber Security or Computer Science, you can start applying for ethical hacker positions. However, if you have a coding bootcamp or an online course certificate, you can gain additional training by applying for entry-level cyber security jobs. A professional hacker should have a few years of experience.

Best Schools and Education for an Ethical Hacker Career

There are numerous cyber security and network security schools and educational routes that will prepare you for a career in ethical hacking. Depending on the length, cost, and curriculum, you should choose which works best for you and your career goals.

Ethical Hacker Bootcamps

Flatiron School, The Tech Academy, and Springboard are among the top cyber security bootcamps that will provide you with essential ethical hacking skills. It’s important to compare and contrast bootcamp options to ensure you choose one that is best for you. An ethical hacking program from a bootcamp is the best way to become a high-level professional.

Vocational Schools

Vocational schools offer technical training for a variety of careers. Institutions like South College and Cuyahoga Community College offer vocational certificate programs in IT-related fields. This educational route is a lot more affordable and less time-consuming than a traditional college. You can also gain hands-on experience.

Community Colleges

A community college or junior college is a two-year higher education institution that offers associate degrees and certificate programs in a variety of subjects. Many community colleges offer Associate Degrees in Cyber Security, which will teach you how to protect any IT department without fear.

Ethical Hacker Degrees

If you want to work in a government department or as a chief hacking officer, you will need a degree. You can get a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science, Information Systems, or Cyber Security. You can also get a master's degree for advanced roles. Purdue University, Northeastern University, and New York University are among the top cyber security schools. 

The Most Important Ethical Hacker Certifications

Although it isn’t mandatory to get professional certifications to become an ethical hacker, they do boost your appeal to employers, especially if you don’t have a bachelor’s degree. Below are some of the most important ethical hacker certification exams you can take to enhance your resume. 

EC-Council Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) v11

The Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) certification program offered by EC-Council is the perfect certification for ethical hackers and security consultants. It covers the latest hacking tools, Exploit Technology (ET), hacking challenges, malware analysis, and Internet of Things (IoT) security. 

Penetration Testing with Kali Linux

This certification course is offensive security certified professional (OSCP) certification that covers ethical hacking skills. You will learn relevant hacking techniques, the Kali Linux OS, and how to prepare for the OSCP exam. Kali Linux is a valuable ethical hacking skill that can help you earn more money from hacking.

CompTIA PenTest+ Certification

The CompTIA PenTest+ certification is a great certification for a career in ethical hacking and covers all the essential penetration testing topics. They include vulnerability analysis, system weakness management, cloud computing, and IoT penetration techniques. Most ethical hacker roles require this certification.

How to Prepare for Your Ethical Hacker Job Interview

To prepare for your ethical hacker job interview, you will need to polish your penetration testing skills, research the company’s cyber security systems, and keep up with current hacking techniques. One great way to get ready is to look at cyber security job interview questions and feel more confident in your answers as you practice.

Ethical Hacker Job Interview Practice Questions

  • What are some of the popular methods of black hat and red hat hacking? 
  • Please list any ethical hacking tool experience you have.
  • Have you conducted ethical hacking in cloud computing, IoT, or other operating systems? 
  • What is your approach to security monitoring?
  • What social engineering hacks are you aware of, and how do you plan to use them?

Should I Become an Ethical Hacker in 2021?

Yes, if cyber security and hacking interest you, then becoming an ethical hacker is a great career choice in 2021. This career offers a secure future, excellent pay, and ample opportunity for career growth. Investing in ethical hacking as a career allows you to explore different industries and cyber security positions and leaves plenty of room for advancement.


Can You Become an Ethical Hacker Without a Degree?
Yes, you can become an ethical hacker without a degree by attending cyber security coding bootcamps. However, you will need to gain penetration testing field experience before qualifying for most ethical hacker positions.
Is It Hard to Become an Ethical Hacker?
Yes, it can be difficult to become an ethical hacker. As technology and cyber security are constantly advancing, ethical hacking is a career that would require a high level of adaptability and hard work. Experienced individuals will need many hours experience to enter this field.
Is Ethical Hacking a Good Career?
Yes, ethical hacking is an excellent career that has a high job placement rate and a high compensation rate. The hacker community is a great place to learn from other modern hackers and earn even more money.
What Are the Job Duties of an Ethical Hacker?
An ethical hacker is responsible for conducting system and network vulnerability assessments and advising security upgrades to protect the organization from criminal hackers. Network security specialists also search network activity for malicious intent.
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