10 Best Programming Languages for Ethical Hacking

What are the best programming languages for ethical hacking? And what is ethical hacking, anyway? Learn about the languages used in cybersecurity.

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by Sharon Wilfong

Updated September 15, 2022

Reviewed by Monali Mirel Chuatico

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According to Forbes, cyber risks, including ransomware attacks, data breaches, and IT outages, are a top concern for businesses globally in 2022. Some of the hardest hit sectors in 2021 were education, research, healthcare, communications, and government. Consequently, the need for ethical hackers like information security analysts is also rising. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects the need for these professionals to increase by 33% between 2020 and 2030. Information security analysts monitor network security breaches and check for vulnerabilities.

Ethical hackers are crucial in protecting businesses from cyberattacks, using the same programming languages as malicious hackers. They must stay updated on IT security and the latest methods and programming languages attackers use. Information security analysts may need a bachelor's degree in computer and information technology. However, learning and practicing specific programming languages and security tools is another way to start a career as an ethical hacker.

What Are Programming Languages?

Programming languages enable people to connect with computers. They are sets of instructions that ask a computer to implement certain tasks. These languages power everything from software and mobile applications to complex systems in automobiles and satellites. Functional, logic, object-oriented, procedural, and scripting are five basic programming language categories.

However, there are over 300 programming languages and many overlap categories. The C programming language is the oldest of a family of languages that are different but overlap. For example, C is a procedural language, C++ is an extension, and C# is an object-oriented language also built as an extension of C.

What Is Ethical Hacking?

Like preventive medicine, ethical hacking is proactive instead of reactionary. Criminal hacking and ethical hacking reveal weaknesses in a computer network system. On the one hand, cyber criminals use their coding skills to break safety protocols, change or steal information, and wreak havoc.

On the other hand, ethical hacking can prevent cyber attacks, malicious software downloads, and data breaches. Ethical hackers test for vulnerabilities and weaknesses and use that information to make the system more secure. These professionals must stay up-to-date on the latest cybercrime tech and follow hacking trends while maintaining their integrity.

Why Are Programming Languages Important for Ethical Hacking?

Ethical hackers need a deep knowledge of programming languages because they must be able to analyze code and make modifications. Programming languages can also automate time-consuming tasks and identify errors in applications. Ultimately, the best programming languages for ethical hacking depend on the target computer systems and platforms.

They're often platform-dependent and used specifically for Windows, Mac, or Linux operating systems. However, some languages like JavaScript are cross-platform, meaning they can be deployed on different systems. Hackers can use JavaScript code to read saved cookies and execute cross-site scripting.

Additionally, open-source platforms provide ready-to-use applications in various programming languages to customize as needed. Ethical hackers must develop open-source programs and participate in hacking forums to keep up with current trends. After all, what is ethical hacking without knowledge of what tools and languages hackers are using?

Which Ethical Hacking Programming Language Is Best for Me?

The best programming languages for ethical hacking are the ones cyber criminals use. From Bash to JavaScript and SQL, here are 10 hacking languages to explore.

Bash

UNIX and Linux operating systems come with Shell (SH) and the Bourne Again Shell (Bash) by default. These shells provide an ordered list of commands that hackers can use to gain access to data. Bash enables interactive line editing and job control, with features similar to C Shell (C SH).

It provides automation of repetitive tasks, navigation through directories to perform network configurations, and job control on supporting architectures. Beginners can learn Bash basics with a free online course exploring the automation of repetitive processes with a re-usable script. A coding bootcamp that covers Shell scripting is another learning alternative.

C

C is a valuable low-level language for hacking into hardware components and writing fast programming scripts. It's one of the oldest programming languages, developed in the early 1970s for the Bell Labs' UNIX operating system. Developers use the C programming language and expansions to build operating systems, databases, and compilers.

The C programming language is suitable for ethical hacking as it helps access memory and system processes. Ethical hackers use C to reverse engineer, simulate a cyberattack, then gain access as if a system breach occurred. Students can study this popular language online through tutorials, workshops, or cybersecurity-focused coding bootcamps.

C++

C++ is an extension of the C programming language and supports functional, procedural, and object-oriented programming. It's a popular language for developing advanced computations, browsers, database software, games, graphics, and operating systems. Hackers exploit C++ by using it as a low-level programming language to gain access to hardware and system processes.

Employers may require a bachelor's degree in cybersecurity with a solid foundation in computer science. Some online colleges offer C++ as a stand-alone program, with a certificate for completing the course. Students could earn the certificate on their path to obtaining an online bachelor's degree in computer information systems.

Java

Java ranks as the third most popular programming language worldwide, according to the Tiobe Index in July 2022. It's a widely used class-based, object-oriented programming language for application development, enterprise software, and scientific computing applications. Java is also popular for data analytics, programming hardware devices, and using server-side technologies such as Apache.

This reliable programming language is widely used for ethical hacking and tracking future risks. It's a cross-platform language, so ethical hackers can deploy Java on various operating systems, including Mac, Linux, and Windows. Additionally, they need a deep understanding of Java if their focus is developing hacking programs for Android.

JavaScript

JavaScript powers web pages incorporating outside elements and tracking user activity. It's the language hackers use in cross-site scripting (XSS) attacks to inject malicious scripts into a website via a web browser. Hackers send the malicious script to the web browser as a segment of JavaScript to access cookies and data.

An ethical hacking with JavaScript course teaches students how to exploit web security vulnerabilities using JavaScript techniques. Like malicious hackers, ethical hackers need to understand how to steal credentials, abuse application authentication, and exploit vulnerabilities. Ethical hackers can develop defensive strategies with a thorough understanding of how cybercriminals use JavaScript.

Perl

Perl is a scripting language with an archive network of 108,000 downloadable open-source modules. Each module contains a set of related functions in a library file, enabling programmers to perform network routing operations. Hackers use Perl to access a server, reach other network sources, augment existing scripts, and steal data.

Ethical hackers use Perl to create exploits and tools for penetration testing, mimicking real-world attacks. These tests help identify ways hackers breach security by locating where the app, network, or system is vulnerable. Perl provides a learning center on the website, with the language download and resources, including best practices.

PHP

Web and mobile app developers use Hypertext Processor (PHP), and hackers typically use PHP in Denial of Service (DoS) attacks. These attacks attempt to shut down the website, making its web applications unavailable to users. Ethical hackers use PHP to develop server hacking programs to detect malicious behaviors.

Various free and low-cost courses are available to learn PHP online, and some courses specifically address hacking in PHP. Coders learn to exploit, defend against attacks on PHP language, and test architecture, design, and web apps. A coding bootcamp in PHP is a more comprehensive option offering collaborative learning.

Python

The Tiobe Index rated Python as the most popular programming language worldwide in July 2022. Python is an easy-to-learn and easy-to-use general-purpose language for automation, and it powers popular cybersecurity tools like Scapy. Ethical hackers can use Python for reverse engineering, malware analysis, forensics, and readily available debuggers, disassemblers, and hex editors.

Examples, tutorials, and online courses in ethical hacking with Python are excellent ways to start learning secure coding principles. Online courses provide an opportunity to get instructions on how to install a hacking lab and the necessary software. Additionally, it's an opportunity to explore tools and practice ethical hacking.

Ruby

According to the Global Tech Council, Ruby is one of the best coding languages for hacking a multi-purpose corporate system. It's a flexible web-focused language for writing exploit code and is the base language of the Metasploit framework. Metasploit is a modular penetration platform to test, write, and exploit code.

Metasploit is one of the Ruby frameworks for advanced exploitation of vulnerabilities through easy-to-use interfaces and tools. Metasm is another Ruby framework for compiling, debugging, and disassembling native code from Ruby and is included with the Metasploit framework. Ronin is also a Ruby framework providing convenient methods for different protocols.

SQL

Structured Query Language (SQL) is what relational databases use to query, delete, insert, and update information. Malicious hackers use the SQL programming language to restrict queries, steal sensitive data, and wage web-based attacks. Understanding the language helps developers and database administrators understand and prevent SQL database-related attacks, like SQL Injection.

For example, malicious hackers can exploit SQL injection vulnerabilities, bypassing login and other app security to access data. An expert ethical hacker typically knows how to apply different solutions, including bind variables, escaping, and whitelisting input validation. Ethical hacking SQL injection tutorials can provide an opportunity to develop hacking skills.

Frequently Asked Questions About Ethical Hacking Programming Languages

Does ethical hacking require coding?

Ethical hacking requires the skills and mindset of a hacker, so the more robust your coding skills are, the better. In addition to learning coding languages, you need to be an excellent problem solver and know existing security tools. Fortunately, there's no shortage of learning methods, from tutorials to bootcamps.

Programming languages such as C++, SQL, and Python power operating systems, database applications, and networks. The best ethical hackers use various programming languages to build tools, automate tasks, and identify and exploit programming errors. Additionally, understanding programming languages enables you to use open-source options to customize existing applications and add methods as needed.

Is C++ used for hacking?

C++ is one of the go-to C languages for hackers because it helps them gain low-level access to hardware and processes. This C expansion language enables hackers to write fast and efficient programs, easily exploiting system vulnerabilities. C++ is also versatile, supporting different programming methods, including functional, object-oriented, and procedural.

Ethical hackers use C++ for reverse-engineering and exploit writing to discover vulnerabilities in a system or network. This open-source code also powers cybersecurity programs such as the network mapper tool, Nmap. Beginners can learn C++ online on platforms such as Udemy and Coursera, coding bootcamps, or pursue a degree program.

Is Python good for hacking?

Python ranks as the number one popular programming language in the world, according to 2022 Tiobe Index data. It's also a popular language with hackers because it provides powerful and easy-to-use libraries enabling them to work quickly. Additionally, Python has a sizeable third-party library with plug-ins that hackers can use.

Ethical hackers use Python to test vulnerabilities and security assessment processes like malware analysis. Python is also suitable for expediting the scanning process, data analysis, scripting, and task automation. This programming language typically has a shorter learning curve than other popular hackers' languages, like the C family.

Feature Image: Cavan Images / Cavan / Getty Images

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