The Best Programming Languages for Cybersecurity Careers

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By Bethanny Parker

Published on September 17, 2021

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Between 2019 and 2029, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 31% job growth for information security analysts, which is much faster than average. Businesses need professionals who can design secure computer systems, invent new tools to defend their systems, locate hidden software vulnerabilities, and perform automation. That requires coding experience.

In this guide, we take a look at what programming languages are used by hackers and cybersecurity professionals so you can choose the right languages to learn when starting your cybersecurity career.

What Are Programming Languages?

Programming languages tell computers what actions to perform. There are high-level and low-level languages. Most software developers write code in high-level languages because it's easier for humans to read and understand than low-level languages.

For example, Visual Basic, a high-level language, is easy to understand. In order to send standard output to your screen, you simply use the PRINT command. Whereas in a low-level language you need to use many hexadecimal symbols to send standard output to your screen, which is much harder to read, code, and understand.

You may hear programming languages also referred to as coding languages. The two terms are often used interchangeably. However, software development jobs can vary in terms of their responsibilities. Some software developers may only write code, while others help with or lead the design of the entire program, application, or website.

Why Are Programming Languages Important for Cybersecurity?

To understand how an attacker breaches a system, cybersecurity professionals must be able to understand the programming languages that hackers use, among many other things. For this reason, cybersecurity professionals should learn several high-level programming languages.

You can get an idea of in-demand languages by looking at job listings for cybersecurity professionals. If you attend a cybersecurity bootcamp, the curriculum will include at least one programming language and often several currently used in the field.

Which Cybersecurity Programming Language Is Best for Me?

The top cybersecurity languages include Java, JavaScript, Python, SQL, PHP, PowerShell, and C. Depending on your career path, you may find other languages useful as well.

Java

  • This language is widely used in systems programming and mobile app development, so it's popular with hackers who want to access operating systems or exploit mobile vulnerabilities.
  • Java is often used to create botnets and perform identity theft, but is also used in ethical hacking programs.
  • Hackers can use Java to send messages from their victims' phones.

Java is one of the most popular programming languages. It is a general-purpose language that works for a variety of applications but is especially popular for mobile device software development. Check out our list of the best Java bootcamps to find a program where you can learn this language.

Python

Python's expansive user community makes it popular with newbie hackers due to the ease of getting help from other users. The high readability of the language makes it a good choice for new programmers and hackers alike.

Explore our list of the best Python bootcamps to find out where you can learn this language. You can also learn Python online with an online Python bootcamp or a free Python course.

SQL

  • SQL organizes relational databases, allowing users to query the database and find records that match their search.
  • Hackers can run an SQL injection on an SQL database, allowing them access to confidential information.
  • Because SQL is used in most enterprise environments, learning SQL is the best programming language for hackers to use to attack large databases.

SQL is among the top cybersecurity database languages to know because stopping an attack on a database is nearly impossible without it. Cybersecurity professionals need a solid understanding of how databases work alongside SQL.

You can learn SQL at many data science bootcamps, along with general cybersecurity, web development, and software engineering bootcamps.

C and C++

C++ is an extension of C that is sometimes referred to as "C with classes." These two lower-level languages are powerful in the hands of experienced cybercriminals.

JavaScript

  • JavaScript allows programmers to add interactive or animated details to web pages.
  • Since most web applications use JavaScript, it is frequently used for hacking websites.
  • Node.js allows JavaScript to be used for backend development, which opens up a much larger field for exploitation.

JavaScript brings interactivity to the web. Anything you see on a website that is not static was probably implemented through JavaScript. Because this language is so widely used on the web, it is a top choice for hacking web applications. Many web development bootcamps, including online web development bootcamps, primarily teach JavaScript.

Ruby

Unlike most programming languages, Ruby supports object-oriented programming, procedural programming, and functional programming. The language supports rational and complex numbers, which enables it to solve complex mathematical problems.

PHP

  • PHP is used to build websites. It is a server-side language that helps hackers understand how web hacking techniques work.
  • PHP is used in most web domains and helps cybersecurity professionals defend against malicious attackers.
  • Older versions of PHP can lead to many security vulnerabilities. It’s important to keep your version patched (alongside all of your code), otherwise PHP websites are prime targets for hackers.

Some of the most popular content management systems, including WordPress and Drupal, run on PHP. Hackers who find a way to compromise those systems will have a large pool of target websites they can attack. An estimated 64 million websites currently run on WordPress.

PowerShell

PowerShell malware is becoming more prevalent, and is a good cybersecurity programming language to learn if you're going to be working within Windows operating systems.


Frequently Asked Questions About Cybersecurity Programming Languages

What coding experience do you need for cybersecurity?

For cybersecurity careers, you need to be fluent in at least one of the above languages. The more programming knowledge and experience you have, the better prepared you are to counter cyberattacks in any language.

What programming language do hackers use?

The top programming languages used by hackers include Python, JavaScript, PHP, SQL, and C. Understanding these languages will help cybersecurity professionals counter attacks as well as understand how to defend against them.

Is C++ good for cybersecurity?

Hackers frequently use C++ to remove trial periods from paid software to get free use of the software. During the software development life cycle (SDLC), cybersecurity professionals can use their C++ knowledge to help prevent vulnerabilities that hackers could exploit.


Reviewed by:

Born and raised in upstate New York, Brian Nichols began his IT education through a vocational high school where he focused on computer science, IT fundamentals, and networking. Brian then went to his local community college, where he received his associate of science in computer information science. He then received his bachelor of science in applied networking and system administration from a private college. Brian now lives in Kansas City, where he works full-time as a DevOps engineer. Brian is also a part-time instructor in cybersecurity. He's passionate about cybersecurity and helping students succeed.


Brian Nichols is a paid member of the Red Ventures Education freelance review network.