What Is Ethical Hacking?

Ethical hacking is one of the fastest-growing careers, essential to most industries. Find out how to become an ethical hacker and how much they make.
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Updated on April 21, 2023
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  • Ethical hacking, or white-hat hacking, works to protect organizations from cyberattacks.
  • Ethical hackers test systems and locate vulnerabilities to prevent malicious attacks.
  • The demand for ethical hackers is growing as understanding of security needs increases.
  • You can learn to become an ethical hacker through online courses, bootcamps, or degrees.

Cybersecurity has emerged as one of the most pressing security concerns for governments, businesses, and individuals. Organizations and governments rely on ethical hacking to protect sensitive data and ensure strong cybersecurity.

Ethical hackers are professionals who work to combat illegal or unethical hacking by locating and patching system vulnerabilities. Ethical hacking jobs are some of the fastest growing across all industries. Demand for these jobs is projected to grow in the next decade.

What Is Ethical Hacking?

Ethical hacking refers to the actions and tests used to prevent malicious hacking attacks. Ethical hackers are security professionals specialized in locating vulnerabilities that hackers could use to enter or destroy systems. Ethical hacking must be authorized by the owner or system administrator and adhere to regional or organizational cyber laws and rules.

What Is Ethical Hacking Used for?

Ethical hacking, also called white-hat hacking, aims to identify security vulnerabilities to prevent malicious attacks. Ethical hackers work for governments and businesses to locate and fix vulnerabilities.

These professionals infiltrate a system and document the steps involved to prevent other hackers from entering. To do this, ethical hackers find ways to bypass or crack security measures and gain unauthorized access to computer systems, applications, or data.

Ethical hacking includes password testing, penetration testing after software updates, and ensuring that data isn't intercepted or compromised. In addition to improving cybersecurity, ethical hackers reinforce security protocols, prevent computer system downtime, safeguard client information, and prevent industrial espionage.

At this point, there is no data on the number of attacks that are prevented with ethical hacking. However, professionals across industries, from hotels to banking, recognize its importance.

White Hat vs. Black Hat

White-hat hackers use the same skills and techniques as black-hat hackers for different purposes. Black-hat hackers employ technological understanding and techniques to create malicious attacks and systems breaches that compromise data for personal gain. They use their skills to gain entry into computers or systems illegally.

White-hat hackers use their skills with permission from their clients and according to laws and established ethics to keep companies safe. White-hat hackers work to protect the data and integrity of systems for governments and businesses. These cybersecurity professionals are increasingly essential to maintain confidential information and business integrity.

There are also gray-hat hackers who use a mix of black-hat and white-hat hacking. These hackers try to find vulnerabilities in organizations without malicious intent. However, because gray-hat hackers work without permission, their actions are still considered illegal.

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Ethical Hacking Jobs

Ethical Hacker

Average Salary (2022): $79,620

Ethical hackers use their technical skills and knowledge to secure and improve technology and data security in all types of organizations. These professionals look for vulnerabilities in networks, computer systems, and software that can lead to a security breach and provide remedial measures.

Many ethical hackers earn a Certified Ethical Hacker credential from the International Council of E-Commerce Consultants. For some positions, professionals must pass high-level security clearances and background checks. Ethical hacker salaries have significant growth potential.

Information Security Analyst

Median Salary (2021): $102,600

Information security analysts work to protect an organization’s computer networks and systems. Responsibilities include planning and performing security tests, monitoring and investigating network security breaches, maintaining firewalls and data encryption programs, building patches, and creating new security measures.

Information security analysts report security metrics and develop evolving best practices for the IT security of their organization. Information security analysts need a minimum of a bachelor's degree.

Cybersecurity Analyst

Average Salary (2022): $77,310

Cybersecurity analysts work to detect threats and protect an organization's computer systems, data, and networks from malicious attacks. Cybersecurity analysts can work in many sectors — from government and public policy to software development.

Skills that increase a cybersecurity analyst's salary include vendor management, intelligence analysis, SIGINT, Splunk, network support, and policy support. Cybersecurity analysts need a minimum of a bachelor's degree.

Security Architect

Average Salary (2022): $130,730

Security architects or network security architects plan, research, and design security elements for an organization or company's computer system. These professionals design a general plan with intended features and functionality and then assign programmers to build the final security structure.

Most positions require a minimum of a bachelor's degree in computer security, computer science, or a related field.

Programming Languages Used in Ethical Hacking
Name of Language What Is This Language Used For?


Programmers use PHP, a server-side programming language, to build websites. Ethical hackers can use PHP to understand web hacking techniques.


Ethical hackers use C/C++ to manipulate system resources and hardware. Penetration testers use C/C++ to write programming scripts.


Hackers use Python to write hacking scripts, exploits, and malicious programs. Python socket programming can help ethical hackers to discover vulnerabilities in a system.


Ethical hackers use SQL for database interaction, including hacking large databases, and for counteracting a database attack.


Ethical hackers can use Ruby to write small or large scripts, interchangeable with Bash Script, to automate security tasks.

Where Can I Learn Ethical Hacking?

Some students choose to learn the foundations of ethical hacking with a degree in computer science, computer security, cybersecurity, or a related field. Bootcamps and online coding courses also provide a strong basis for ethical hacking.

Many professionals find that coding bootcamps and online courses offer more thorough job-specific training for ethical hacking. Cybersecurity bootcamps train professionals with the skills and experience in as little as 12 weeks. Some top universities now offer cybersecurity bootcamps that take around 24 weeks.

Frequently Asked Questions About Ethical Hacking

Is ethical hacking easy to learn?

It depends on your abilities and interests. Most people can learn ethical hacking skills with study and persistence in a course or bootcamp. How long it takes depends on the time each student needs to acquire the necessary skills and expertise. An ethical hacker's salary can reflect this high level of professional skill.

Ethical hacking requires foundational coding knowledge, including proficiency in one or more coding languages. Ethical hackers must understand wired and wireless networks, operating systems, firewalls and file systems, servers, workstations, and computer science.

Ethical hacking also requires continuing education to keep up with ever-changing hacking techniques, attacks, security features, and tools.

What type of laptop do ethical hackers use?

Laptop preference varies by the ethical hacker. Ethical hackers can work from any main operating system, including Windows, Linux, Apple, or Raspberry Pi. Many ethical hackers choose a Windows operating system because of its enhanced security over Linux and greater flexibility over Apple.

Some top laptops for ethical hackers include:

  • Acer Aspire 5
  • Apple MacBook Pro
  • Asus VivoBook Pro
  • Dell G5 15
  • OEM Lenovo ThinkPad E15

What skills do ethical hackers need?

Ethical hackers need to have proficiency in at least one coding language. Most ethical hacking positions require professionals with proficiency in operating system security, forensics procedures, wireless network hacking methods, web application vulnerabilities, cryptography methods, and current malware threats.

To pass the official Ethical Hacker certification from the EC-Council, professionals need to demonstrate working knowledge in nine areas:

  • Cloud computing
  • Cryptography
  • Information security and ethical hacking
  • Mobile, Internet of Things (IoT), and operational technology (OT) hacking
  • Network and perimeter hacking
  • Reconnaissance techniques
  • System hacking phases and attack techniques
  • Web application hacking
  • Wireless network hacking