Ethical hackers are professional cybersecurity specialists who help businesses uncover and address vulnerabilities before they are exploited by cybercriminals.
Due to the ever-growing cybersecurity risks, ethical hackers are in serious demand. In fact, recent statistics show that there is three times as much demand for ethical hackers in the UK as there are suitable candidates. Given the high wages and incredible demand for talented ethical hackers, many people are considering a career in the industry.
However, it’s not quite as simple as that! Ethical hacking is not something that you can simply pick up and learn overnight. Ethical hacking is not nearly as glamorous as it is sometimes portrayed in the media – it demands a very high level of technical expertise, patience, and persistence, not to mention hard work.
It is also a myth to assume that all ethical hackers were originally criminal hackers – these people actually represent a small minority. The vast majority of ethical hackers gain their skills through years of professional training.
If you are thinking of taking up a role in ethical hacking, here are some of the skills and qualities you will need to pursue a successful career.
Excellent background IT knowledge
To be a successful ethical hacker, it is first important to have a strong grounding in IT. Some ethical hackers join the profession having already obtained extensive experience in systems administration, networking and software development. This is due to the fact that ethical hackers need to have a good understanding of systems and applications in order to learn how to exploit them.
It is worth pointing out here that there are many different areas within ethical hacking, such as web application, wireless and network penetration testing. All areas require specific knowledge that can only be gained with a thorough grounding in each field.
Network penetration experts Redscan recently published this insightful introduction to ethical hacking, pen testing and red teaming – which provides a solid overview for those interested.
Prospective ethical hackers need to gain industry qualifications. Accreditation body CREST is recognized as offering some of the most useful. It should be noted, however, that these qualifications aren’t like taking a quick evening class – many take years to study towards and complete.
To pass a CREST qualification, students are required to hold knowledge and skills around a huge range of subjects alongside two to three years of regular and frequent practical experience – usually equating to around 6,000 hours of experience and research. To become a qualified Offensive Security Certified Expert, candidates must successfully complete a grueling 48-hour online exam.
Strong problem-solving skills
High-quality ethical hackers need to think differently to most other people. The best qualities to possess are an ability to think outside of the box plus a natural aptitude and desire to solve puzzles. Patient and persistence are also crucial character traits of successful ethical hackers.
A willingness to continuously learn
A good ethical hacker is an active learner. You need to spend a lot of time keeping up with changing trends in hacking and cybersecurity, learning about adversarial tactics, techniques, and procedures. It is also important to have a good understanding of a range of hacking tools.
Cybercriminals change and adapt their methods all of the time, so ethical hackers need to keep up and respond accordingly. They also need to be passionate about their work.
Ability to script or write code
It isn’t necessary for ethical hackers to have the kind of coding skills of a skilled web developer, however, having a good grounding in code will give a tester an advantage. Knowledge of languages such as Python, Perl, Bash, and PowerShell is extremely valuable and helps hackers to perform assessments more efficiently and effectively.
Good communication skills
Finally, ethical hackers need to be able to clearly and accurately explain the results of their work to a range of stakeholders, both technical and non-technical. This means they need to have good communication skills and be able to describe complex processes and solutions in a simple way.
About the author: Mike James is an experienced business writer specializing in HR, tech, and cybersecurity. On the latter, he has contributed to many of the leading publications both online and in print – such as StaySafeOnline, GlobalSign, Tech London and more.