Step by step guide to becoming an ethical hacker
Hacking is one of the most misconstrued words in computer dictionary with some having glamorous connotation about it while others who view hackers with contempt. Hacking was mainly used in the “good old days” for getting information about systems and IT in general. However, it is now associated with the unauthorized use of computer and network resources.
By definition, hacking is the practice of altering the features of a system, to accomplish a goal which is not in scope of the purpose of its creation. However, hacking has more to it than just altering a code, as it is a high paying career choice with huge reputation for successful hackers.
In the last few decades, there’s been an increasing demand for ethical hackers (also known as white hat hackers or penetration testers) as they protect the computer systems from dangerous intrusions. Businesses and government-related organizations that are serious about their network security hire ethical hackers and penetration testers to help probe and improve their networks, applications, and other computer systems with the ultimate goal of preventing data theft and fraud. Ethical hackers use the same methods as their less-reputable namesakes, but document vulnerabilities instead of exploiting them, preventing potential crises and minimising damage.
What is Ethical Hacking?
The term ‘hacking’ has very negative connotations, but that’s only until the role of an ethical hacker is fully understood. Ethical hackers are the good guys of the hacking world, the ones who wear the “white hat.” So what does the role of an ethical hacker involve? Instead of using their advanced computer knowledge for nefarious activities, Ethical hackers or white hat hackers identify weaknesses in data computer security for business and organizations across the globe, to protect them from hackers or criminals with less honest motives. This not only helps them earn a good and honest living but also keeps them away from facing prison time.
To be a professional ethical hacker, you require motivation, dedication, initiative, self-education and formal training in ethical hacking.
Many ethical hackers start out by obtaining a computer science degree. Start with the basics: Earn your A+ Certification and get a tech support position. After some experience and additional certification (Network+ or CCNA), move up to a network support or admin role, and then to network engineer after a few years. The Network+ certification validates foundation-level knowledge in networks, including management, maintenance, installation, and troubleshooting. The CCNA qualification ensures the same abilities and aims at foundation-level expertise.
Next, invest some time into earning security certifications (Security+, CISSP, or TICSA) and find an information security position. While you are there, try to concentrate on penetration testing and get some experience with the tools of the trade. Then work toward the Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) certification offered by the International Council of Electronic Commerce Consultants (EC-Council for short). At that point, you can start marketing yourself as an ethical hacker.
For a hacker, networking know-how is important. Ensure that you gain experience in related areas as well. Discover and play with Unix/Linux commands and distributions. Make sure you also learn some programming such as C, LISP, Perl, or Java. Also, spend some time with databases such as SQL. In addition, also learn about Windows and Mac OS.
Hacking isn’t all technical. Just like any other IT job does, it also requires so-called soft skills. You will need a strong work ethic, very good problem-solving and communications skills, and the ability to say motivated and dedicated.
Ethical hackers also need street smart, people skills, and even some talent for manipulation, as there may be times when they are not able to convince others to disclose credentials, restart or shut down systems, execute files, or otherwise knowingly or unknowingly help them achieve their ultimate goal. You will need to master this aspect of the job, which people in the business sometimes call “social engineering,” to become a well-rounded ethical hacker.
Be a part of a project or sign up for a course
Most youngsters want to take up hacking but don’t know where to start. Many of them think hacking happens at a click of fingers but it is not so. You have to put in lot of hours to get your hacking targets right. Websites such as Coursera and Udemy are a good place to learn these basic skills; you can also sign up for a course for the same. Depending on how to learn best, taking a step-by-step course with tutorials could be the way forward, or otherwise, find a project.
Hacking, patches, improvement, and mods are all interweaved through understanding a programming language or an operating system. So, take up something that interests you whether it is streamlining and creating a program, or creating a gaming mod, or fixing a security issue, or joining community competitions offered by groups such as Hackthissite.org.
Hacking is about choosing the right path and you need to specialise. You can’t go about hunting for desktop vulnerabilities one day and switch on to finding Android vulnerabilities on the next. If you really want to become a specialist, then do not limit yourself to just learning a programming language. There are a huge range of topics and subjects that you should research and learn about, including learning about the essential fundamentals.
Learning about hacking history, the Metasploit framework, online security and privacy, social engineering, Shell, and databases are only some of the areas you should explore.
Be a part of the bug lovers’ community
Sharing helps and in hacking, sharing is often the key to success. The open-source community always welcomes people who have a good knowledge of computers, operating systems and programming and love to solve problems and think creatively. A great place to start is GitHub, which is not a wonderful way to meet other hackers, developers and both professionals and enthusiasts but also is a good way to polish your skills and have a hand in enhancing coding and streamlining.
Last, but not the least, it is important not to get involved in “black hat” hacking, which means intruding or attacking anyone’s network without their full written permission. Engaging in illegal activities, even if it doesn’t lead to a conviction, will likely kill your ethical hacking career. Many of the available jobs are with government-related organizations and require security clearances and polygraph testing. Even regular companies perform a basic background check to hire employees. So, ensure that you stay away from black hat hacking. Always, remember hacking pays well as long as you are on the right side of the law at all times.
The author Kavita Iyer
An individual, optimist, homemaker, foodie, a die hard cricket fan and most importantly one who believes in Being Human