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How to Become an Ethical Hacker

Not all hackers do evil work. Here's what you need to know to use your hacking skills to do good.

By Eric Geier, PC World
February 16, 2012 10:40 AM ET

PC World - Do viruses, DDoS attacks, or buffer overflows tickle your fancy? If so, you might consider becoming a legal hacker, aka an ethical hacker, "white hat" hacker, or penetration tester.

RELATED: 12 white hat hackers you should know

Businesses and government-related organizations that are serious about their network security hire ethical hackers and penetration testers to help probe and improve their networks, applications, and other computer systems with the ultimate goal of preventing data theft and fraud. You may not get the same adrenaline rush that you might with underground hacking, but you can earn a good and honest living--and not end up facing prison time, as some illegal "black hat" hackers do.

How does the job market look like for ethical hackers? Extremely good! The IT market overall continues to grow despite the current economic turmoil. Research firm Gartner estimates that worldwide enterprise IT spending grew by 5.9 percent between 2009 and 2010, to a total of $2.7 trillion. At the same time, security is becoming a more pressing concern. Gartner expects to see an increase of nearly 40 percent in spending on worldwide security services during the five-year period from 2011 to 2015, eventually surpassing $49.1 billion.

In your first years as an ethical hacker, you'll be in a position to earn anywhere from $50,000 to $100,000 per year, depending on the company that hires you, and on your IT experience and education. With several years of professional experience, you could command $120,000 or more per year, especially if you do your own independent consulting.

You can't just dive into an ethical hacker position, however. Without IT security experience, you won't get very far, even with degrees and certifications. As is true for other IT jobs, employers typically want candidates who have college degrees, but related experience is king. And experience with certifications can typically take the place of some degree requirements.

Getting Started

What you need to do to get started on the road to becoming an ethical hacker depends on where you are in the IT field. If you haven't started your IT career yet, you might even consider military service. The military offers many IT opportunities, and you get paid to go to school, even if you enlist in a part-time branch such as the National Guard or Reserves. Military service also looks good to employers that require security clearances.

Start with the basics: Earn your A+ Certification and get a tech support position. After some experience and additional certification (Network+ or CCNA), move up to a network support or admin role, and then to network engineer after a few years. Next, put some time into earning security certifications (Security+, CISSP, or TICSA) and find an information security position. While you're there, try to concentrate on penetration testing--and get some experience with the tools of the trade. Then work toward the Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) certification offered by the International Council of Electronic Commerce Consultants (EC-Council for short). At that point, you can start marketing yourself as an ethical hacker.

Originally published on www.pcworld.com. Click here to read the original story.

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