Guide to the Best Programming Languages for Cybersecurity

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  • Programming languages are a key element of cybersecurity development.
  • Cybersecurity pros use programming languages like Python and JavaScript.
  • If you want to work in cybersecurity, a degree can expand your career options.

In 2021, there were over 4,100 publicly disclosed data breaches, according to a Data Breach Quickview report by Risk Based Security. This resulted in the exposure of over 22 billion records. As a result, people who work in cybersecurity and IT face big challenges.

Cybersecurity professionals — and people with similar roles, like information security analysts — protect digital information from misuse and loss. One of the ways they do that is with programming languages.

Cybersecurity's career outlook is very positive.

Information Security Analyst

Projected employment growth
+35% | 2021-2031

Median salary
$102,600 | 2021



Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Keep reading to learn more about programming for cybersecurity. We'll explain if you need to know how to code to work in cybersecurity and identify what cybersecurity's most commonly used programming languages are.

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 in low-level languages.

For example, Visual Basic, a high-level language, is easy to understand. 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.

What Is Cybersecurity?

Cybersecurity is the practice of protecting data, websites, networks, and individual devices from digital attacks. In cybersecurity attacks, hackers may attempt to access, change, or erase information. They may do this for financial gain. Cybersecurity attacks may also come from a desire to punish an individual or organization. The risks of poor cybersecurity include:

  • Exposure to malware, ransomware, or viruses
  • A loss of business, financial, or personal information
  • Losing your business reputation and customers

Organizations may employ one person who is responsible for all IT functions, including cybersecurity. Or a business may have a large department of specialists who focus only on cybersecurity. Larger organizations typically have more complex cybersecurity needs.

If you're interested in a cybersecurity job, bootcamps are a good option. Compared to college programs, bootcamps focus more on hands-on practical learning. You'll take what you learn and apply your knowledge to real-world scenarios.

And you'll learn those skills faster — in a few weeks or months versus several years. Many bootcamps also offer multiple learning options: in-person, hybrid, or online. A person wanting to advance their cybersecurity career may later earn a degree in computer science, information technology, or computer engineering.

Essential technical skills in cybersecurity include:

  • Data and device management
  • Digital analytics and forensics
  • Firewall development and maintenance

Here are some of the soft skills you'll need in cybersecurity:

  • Critical thinking
  • Project management
  • Communication and collaboration

Some useful professional certifications in cybersecurity include:

  • CompTIA Security+
  • GIAC security expert
  • Certified information systems security professional

Why Are Programming Languages Important for Cybersecurity?

To understand how an attacker breaches a system, cybersecurity professionals must understand the programming languages that hackers use. 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 it's 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 various 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

  • Hackers often use Python to write malicious programs, exploits, and hacking scripts.
  • Python's frequent use of in-network programming makes it a popular choice for hackers.
  • Hackers love Python's ready-made modules for accessing operating systems and IP addresses, especially since it is cross-platform (runs on all operating systems).

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 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++

  • A large portion of malware is written in the C and C++ programming languages.
  • Using low-level languages like C/C++ gives hackers access to system infrastructures like system processes and RAM.
  • C/C++ can take years to master and are not typically used by newbies.

C++ is an extension of C that is sometimes referred to as "C with classes." These two low-level languages are powerful in the hands of experienced cyber criminals. You can learn C++ by taking a bootcamp offered by Udemy.


JavaScript

  • JavaScript allows programmers to add interactive or animated details to webpages.
  • Since most web applications use JavaScript, it is frequently used for hacking websites.
  • Node.js allows JavaScript to be used for back-end 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 created through JavaScript. Because this language is so widely used on the web, it's a top choice for hacking web applications. Many web development bootcamps, including online web development bootcamps, primarily teach JavaScript.


Ruby

  • Hackers have used Ruby, a web-oriented language with a syntax similar to Python, for many years.
  • Ruby is easy to use. It's a good beginner language.
  • Ruby has tools that allow for storing passwords securely via a stored hash.

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. Udemy offers a beginner-friendly course for learning how to code with Ruby.

Note that Ruby differs from Ruby on Rails, which is a web development framework.


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 can access a large pool of target websites to attack. To learn PHP, you can check out the PHP full-stack web developer bootcamp on Udemy.


PowerShell

  • PowerShell is used for configuration management and task automation.
  • PowerShell is native to Windows operating systems.
  • It can be hard to tell between legitimate PowerShell code and malware PowerShell code.

PowerShell malware is becoming more prevalent and is a good cybersecurity programming language to learn if you're working within Windows operating systems. Udemy provides an introduction to Windows PowerShell course that's a good option for learning the language's basics.

Frequently Asked Questions About Cybersecurity Programming Languages

What coding experience do you need for cybersecurity?

For cybersecurity careers, you must 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.

Is cybersecurity harder than coding?

Some people may find cybersecurity a harder job than coding. That's because some employers require a bachelor's degree for entry-level roles. Also, high-level cybersecurity positions may require coding skills. Cybersecurity professionals may also face stressful moments, as they’re responsible for identifying and responding to security breaches in real time. In addition, many cybersecurity jobs require workers to know more than one programming 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 and 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, cybersecurity professionals can use their C++ knowledge to help prevent vulnerabilities that hackers could exploit.

Is Python enough for cybersecurity?

Yes, Python is a good programming language to know to work in cybersecurity. Python can perform essential cybersecurity functions like malware analysis, scanning, and penetration testing. Python also has a short learning curve and is relatively easy to learn. Because of its popularity and versatility, Python also works well for complex applications in cybersecurity.

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