What the Heck Is An Ethical Hacker?

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You’ve probably heard about hackers, those mysterious people who use tech skills to break into computers, steal identities, and wreak havoc on finances for people and business across the globe. An ethical hacker pulls from the same bag of tricks—but uses their skills for good. They test computer systems and perform risk assessments to identify potential weaknesses that criminal hackers can exploit. Think of an ethical hacker as a digital bodyguard. Their goal is to prevent cybercriminals from breaking in and stealing precious data. Once vulnerabilities are identified, they work with IT teams to repair systems, retrieve data, and shore up defenses.

What Does an Ethical Hacker Do?

Often called Whitehat Hackers, ethical hackers are cybersecurity professionals whose purpose is to protect businesses, data, and people by identifying weaknesses and penetrating security systems. If you think of cybersecurity professionals as an important line of defense for an organization’s IT infrastructure, ethical hackers test the computer systems, networks, and security measures for loopholes that criminals can take advantage of.

Important responsibilities that ethical hackers have include:

Conduct Hacks

To identify IT weaknesses, ethical hackers need to think like the bad actors who might actually attack a system with the intention to harm. Once they’ve gained access to systems, they can perform a variety attacks, such as stealing identities or denying access to company data and holding it for ransom. The five phases of a hack include:

  1. Conduct Reconnaissance: Gather info about the target such as company operations and employee names, and then look for weaknesses.
  2. Scan: Identify ways to access networks and pinpoint vulnerabilities, using tools dialers, port scanners, vulnerability scanners, and other data-gathering equipment.
  3. Gain Access: Use pathways into systems to enter places companies wouldn’t want hackers.
  4. Maintain Access: Create ways to stay connected even if discovered and build seclusion systems to prevent organizations from regaining access to their own data.
  5. Cover Tracks: Remove evidence of the hack including info on log files and intrusion detection systems.

Once weaknesses are found, the ethical hacker reports out the results, provides potential solutions, and allows the IT team and upper management to rectify the situation.

Test Systems

Ethical hackers also review the new security measures and fixes put in place. They step in to test and re-test the systems to ensure those new measures hold up. They also look for loopholes that may inadvertently be created in the process. Ethical hackers may also help write reports on the problems they identify and continue to monitor the system for potential threats.

Perform Hacking Demonstrations

Sometimes ethical hackers give hacking demonstrations to executives and IT managers. These demos show how the vulnerability was identified, how it could be used to exploit their business, and what steps can be taken to prevent similar vulnerabilities in the future.

Where Ethical Hackers Work

As long as there are cybercriminals, the skills of an ethical hacker will be in demand. The demand for cybersecurity professionals is high and employment of information security analysts is expected to grow much faster than the average against other occupations. As businesses continue to focus on protecting their digital assets, they’ll turn to ethical hackers to keep their information systems safe. Where can ethical hackers find work? In virtually every industry! Retail businesses, tech firms, healthcare organizations, finance and insurance companies, banks, and government agencies all employ ethical hackers.

How to Become an Ethical Hacker

Ethical hackers are proficient in computer systems, networks, and security protocol such as firewalls and encryption. One way to gain these skills is through a degree program that can teach you how to identify cybersecurity threats, develop secure software and web applications, and secure and monitor networks. After earning a degree, you can also earn certifications through security companies like CompTIA. Certifications validate your knowledge and skills, provide industry-recognized credentials, and help you stand out from other candidates in the job search.

If you’re computer savvy and want to put those skills to good use, consider a career in ethical hacking. At Charter College, we offer an Associate of Applied Science in Cybersecurity that can prepare you for an entry-level job in cybersecurity in as few as 15 months. And our program is offered entirely online for flexibility and convenience! Call 888-200-9942 or fill out the form to learn more.