WTH is Ethical Hacking?
In the past, most professionals would cringe at the thought of having the word “hacker” tied to their names and reputations. IT professionals would go to great lengths to keep their résumés polished and professional, while avoiding any references to this negative term. However, organizations including EC-Council, Hacker Academy, and the Sans Institute have taken the word “hacker” into a new domain and turned it into a highly lucrative and desirable goal.
So, what's an ethical hacker?
The title of “ethical hacker” is confusing to many who hear about it. Yes, the title is an apparent contradiction, but it’s a clever one. Ethical hacking has become a critical aspect of information security. To put it simply, ethical hackers demonstrate that they have the knowledge needed to understand and recognize hacking methodologies and tools, yet they use their knowledge in an ethical and honest manner. Ethical hackers bring the shadowy tools and methods used by the bad guys into the mainstream IT security world in a structured and governed fashion. Put another way, an ethical hacker is the Batman of the IT world, going to battle with the world of criminals and cyber-villains.
Traditional hackers are widely recognized as lawless miscreants who exploit and purposely damage the systems they gain access to. Hackers are the bad guys that IT security professionals build a career around thwarting. The tools and methods used by hackers are complex and dynamic, and they change quickly, creating the need for skilled professionals who understand the why and the how behind new attacks and exploits. Ethical hackers understand the hacker mindset, but instead of causing destruction and mayhem, they work to secure and protect the systems and data that their evil counterparts would seek to steal or destroy.
I get it, but what does an ethical hacker actually do?
Ethical hackers are typically employed by a company and entrusted to secure the company's networks and data. They attempt to penetrate the organization's computer systems using the same mindset, methods, and tools of an actual hacker so that they can identify vulnerabilities before the criminals do.
Ethical hacking is similar to the way Batman operates. No, seriously. Batman understands the criminal mindset, and he uses his knowledge and skills to thwart criminals, making Gotham City a safer place. He might have to act at the edge of legality at times, but he does this only when necessary to beat the villains. He always uses his powers and tools for the greater good.
As the Batmen and -women of the IT security world, ethical hackers use the same tools and methodologies as the bad guys, but they do it for the greater good. Sure, their Bat Cave more closely resembles a server room, and their Batmobile might be a Subaru wagon, but hey—at the end of the day, they’re fighting crime and making the world a more secure place. Their methods and tools are not always squeaky-clean, white-hat material; they often dip into the gray-hat arena, and sometimes an ethical hacker even has to take a black-hat approach to certain situations. However, while the hats may change, the ethical hacker always seeks the same “greater good” result that Batman pursues.
Why should you become an ethical hacker?
Besides the cool title, becoming trained as an ethical hacker has many benefits, the most tangible of which are the career opportunities that it brings. We’re not talking Bruce Wayne–levels of wealth and fortune, but reputable training from organizations like the Hacker Academy or EC-Council's Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) program can lead to elite career opportunities and elevated salary ranges.
Much like Gotham City, the IT world is a dangerous place full of villains who do harm and steal from the innocent. Businesses of all types and sizes recognize this risk and the implications of being attacked.
There are not enough superheroes in the IT security field to keep all the villains in check, and the demand for skilled professionals in this field continues to expand. So there are ample opportunities in the field, and the salary ranges for ethical hackers are excellent—at the high end of all job roles in the IT field.
Then there’s the reputation enhancement. Much as the bad guys rightfully fear Batman, criminals rightfully fear ethical hackers. Like Batman, ethical hackers have the tools, knowledge, and elite skills needed to bring down miscreants and secure an environment. Being an ethical hacker sets an IT security professional apart from the crowd. Completing training and/or receiving certification in ethical hacking demonstrates that you have the knowledge and skills necessary to successfully fight the good fight for an organization. It tells employers that you’re dedicated to ongoing learning and fighting for a more secure world. Any police station would jump at the opportunity to have Batman helping them fight crime, and businesses see the same benefits when hiring ethical hackers.
As an ethical hacker, you’re also able to gain knowledge and insight that are not readily available to the mainstream public and that are typically gained only on the criminal side of the fence. Combined with traditional IT skills, this uncommon knowledge makes you a well-rounded and remarkably educated professional. You’re better equipped to look at complex situations and decipher key components that would be overlooked by mere mortals.
The knowledge that the ethical hacker training or certification process brings can translate directly into crime-fighting actions. Batman doesn’t fight crime for the money and accolades; he does it for the personal satisfaction of doing the right thing and seeing justice done. And even though salaries can be high for ethical hackers, many successful professionals in the IT security field have chosen this path due to the great levels of personal fulfillment and satisfaction that come with keeping the bad guys at bay. Pros in this field commonly report elevated levels of happiness in all areas of their lives; this happiness likely stems at least in part from knowing that they make a positive difference in the world.
Are you ready to answer the call?
Ethical hacker training makes it possible for ordinary people to do extraordinary things in the IT security field. By learning the ways of an ethical hacker, you gain rare insight into the dark world of hacking and you get to use your powers for the greater good. Ethical hackers are in high demand, and the right training or certification creates a unique and interesting way for IT professionals to rise above traditional positions and pursue careers that are lucrative, intellectually stimulating, and personally satisfying.
If you’re thinking about getting trained as an ethical hacker, there’s only one question to ask yourself: At the end of the day, do you want to be a server administrator, or do you want to be a superhero?
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