In old cowboy movies, the good guys usually wore white hats and the bad guys wore black ones. Today, this same Wild West symbolism is very important in cyberspace, especially when we talk about online outlaws and the ethical hackers whose job it is to stop them from doing bad things and trespassing.
Black-hat hackers work for the bad guys and use malware, ransomware, phishing, and other methods to break into computers, steal data, and steal money. White-hat hackers, on the other hand, use similar high-tech methods to defend against a steady stream of cybercrime.
In the world of ethical hacking, it pays to be on the right side of the law. This is good news for people who work in cybersecurity or want to work in it. Read on to learn more about the career options for white-hat hackers, whose services are in high demand in almost every industry and who can often make $100,000 or more per year.
What Do Ethical Hackers Do?
Ethical hackers get paid a lot to try to break into computer systems in a good way. People often say that cybercrime fighters must “think like a black-hat hacker” to do their jobs well. This means that they must understand a black-hat hacker’s strategies, motivations, and mode of operation to stop criminals from breaking into networks and systems illegally.
In general, and depending on what their employers need, ethical hackers do things like penetration testing, vulnerability assessments, and a variety of other things that are meant to keep their companies safe from all kinds of cyberattacks. This could mean:
- Keeping bad guys from getting to private information and stealing it
- Finding holes in the networks and systems of their employers
- Putting up barriers to protect or “harden” those weak spots
- Putting together secure networks to stop security breaches
- By keeping information and assets safe, they help their company gain the trust of customers and investors.
For ethical hackers who work in the private sector, this usually means protecting company assets. For ethical hackers who work for the government, this usually means protecting systems and secrets from terrorists to protect national security.
Types of Hackers (White Hat, Black Hat, Gray Hat)
Even though the “hat” is a symbol, hackers can’t be identified by what they wear on their heads. Here is a list of the different types of hackers, beginning with the white hats and black hats:
What is a White-Hat Hacker?
The white-hat hacker is a professional in cybersecurity who is hired to find weak spots in software, hardware, and networks that could be used to attack. They report on these weak spots and often help fix them.
TechTarget.com says that it will tell the company whose hardware or software is vulnerable so that it can fix other customers’ systems. White-hat hackers use a lot of the same tools, methods, and strategies as black-hat hackers.
What is a Black-Hat Hacker?
The bad guys are the hackers who wear black hats. They are known for breaking into victims’ networks without permission to mess with systems, steal or destroy data, spy on them, or sometimes just do something bad to show they can.
Most black-hat hackers know a lot about how to get around security protocols and break into computer networks. Some of them are also good at writing malware that can be used to get into systems.
What is a Gray-Hat Hacker?
The gray-hat hacker combines the best parts of both white-hat and black-hat hackers. For example, the gray-hat hacker checks a system for weaknesses without trying to do anything bad, but also without the owner’s knowledge or permission.
If they find holes, they would probably tell the owner about them and ask for money to fix the problem. If the owner doesn’t respond or agree, the gray-hat activity can get a little darker.
Those are the big three, but there are also green, blue, and red hats that people don’t know as much about.
What is a Green-Hat Hacker?
Green-hat hacker is usually used to describe an amateur, beginner, newcomer, or “noob”—someone who wants to hack but doesn’t have the technical skills or education to do so well. In this group, there are a lot of people who want to learn more and get deeper into the world of hacking.
What is a Blue-Hat Hacker?
Blue-hat hackers can mean two very different types of people. One is a hacker who is just starting and wants to get even. The other is usually written as “BlueHat,” and it refers to a security expert hired by a company to check software for flaws (such as Microsoft and Windows).
What is a Red Hat Hacker?
The black-hat hacker is the enemy of the red-hat hacker. Black-hat hackers are often called “vigilantes” because they are known for going after people who break the law.
Red hats look for hackers who are trying to do bad things, but they don’t just report them. They are known for using sophisticated methods to shut them down or even disrupt or destroy their computers.
How “Ethical Hacking” Helps Keep Computers Safe?
Cybersecurity Ventures says that the annual global cost of cybercrime will reach $6 trillion by 2021. This is a problem that needs to be solved on many different levels. Ethical hacking is one of the most important ways to stop cybercrime, find out what hackers are after and how they do it, and stop them from causing trouble online.
Ethical hacking is important for businesses that want to protect their information and assets, as well as for governments that want to keep bad people from hurting people and damaging shared infrastructure.
Stats About the Cost of Data Breaches
There are trillions of dollars at stake, and data breaches happen so often that the list of high-profile victims keeps growing.
It includes big companies like Target and CVS, restaurant chains like Wendy’s and Panera, financial companies like Citigroup and Equifax, universities like UC Berkeley and Johns Hopkins, social media sites like Facebook and LinkedIn, and secret government agencies like the NSA and IRS.
IBM’s 2020 Cost of a Data Breach Report says that a data breach costs about $3.86 million on average. These kinds of calculations are, of course, not an exact science. A 77-page report by Digital Guardian looked at incidents reported by 507 organizations from 17 industries and 16 regions around the world.
The report found that the average cost of a breach can range from $1.25 million to $8.19 million, depending on the location and industry.
The average cost of a data breach in the United States is $8.19 million in 2019, which is up from $7.91 million in 2018. When it comes to industries, health care, finance, and energy are some of the hardest hit.
Demand for Ethical Hackers
With the amount of cybercrime that is happening right now, it is easy to see why there is such a high demand for cybersecurity professionals and ethical hackers in particular. Cybersecurity Ventures, an industry watchdog, says that there will be 3.5 million unfilled cybersecurity jobs around the world by 2021.
Due to the lack of qualified people, the cybersecurity job market has been called one with zero percent unemployment.
A recent search on LinkedIn for “ethical hacking” jobs turned up several thousand jobs at well-known companies like Booz Allen Hamilton, Fidelity Investments, Microsoft, TikTok, Tesla, the Federal Reserve Bank, and the U.S. Department of Defense.
Common Careers in Ethical Hacking
In the field of ethical hacking, these are some common job titles:
- Penetration Tester
- Vulnerability Assessor
- Information Security Analyst
- Security Analyst
- Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH)
- Ethical Hacker
- Security Consultant
- Security Engineer/Architect
- Information Security Manager
The skills needed for these kinds of jobs vary a lot depending on the job and the company. The EC-Council, which runs the certification program, says that you need the following skills to pass the exam and earn the highly sought-after Certified Ethical Hacker credential:
- Strong knowledge of computer systems and how they work together
- Knowing the current security rules for commonly used operating systems like Linux, Windows, and Mac
- With permission, the ability to hack into networks or systems to check for weaknesses.
- able to take preventative, corrective, and protective steps against attempts to harm.
- Should be good at finding and breaking different kinds of passwords.
- Know what ethical hacking is and how it works.
- Should know how to get rid of digital evidence of attacks on networks and systems.
- Know how encryption works and what cryptography is.
- Follow the rules of ethics and professional behavior.
- Should know about common cyberattacks like phishing, social engineering, trojans, insider attacks, identity theft, etc., and know how to avoid them and take countermeasures.
The EC-Council also recommends that hackers who want to be good at what they do know how to code in several languages, such as Python, SQL, PHP, Java, C, and C++.
How to Become an Ethical Hacker
The key things are education and experience. Having a strong background in computer science or a bachelor’s degree in the field is very helpful. Working in network support, network engineering, or any other job related to information security is a good way to get started in your career.
Ethical hacker certifications
Professional certifications are also a very important part of the job market for ethical hackers. The CompTIA Security+ certification is often the first one that cybersecurity professionals get. Many companies that hire ethical hackers look for the EC-Certified Council’s Ethical Hacker (C|EH) certification. Other popular certifications in cybersecurity are:
- Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP)
- Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA)
- SANS/GIAC Certification