Career Insight

What is Ethical Hacking and How Do I Practice It?

Side view of ethical hacker using computer with digital interface while sitting at desk of blurry interior.

The word “hacker” doesn’t necessarily drum up feelings of rightness, morality, or honesty. In fact, hackers, also known as black hats, are frequently responsible for data breaches, theft, and other nefarious activities that can be extremely damaging to corporations and individuals alike. But, what if we told you there’s a way to use the skills of a hacker for good? Let’s take a closer look at what ethical hacking is, how it can be used in a professional setting, and how Kenzie Academy can help you make it part of your future career.

The Problem With Hackers

In order to begin discussing ethical hackers, it’s important to fully understand what they’re up against. Businesses, organizations, and all other types of institutions rely on the web for transactions, records, data, communications, and so much more. While security measures are in place to ensure all this information is safe, hackers use their skills to pinpoint and exploit vulnerabilities using several techniques. These include:

  • Web application hacking: The process of manipulating applications to exploit users
  • System hacking: A method used by hackers to gain access to individual computers
  • Web server hacking: A type of attack in which a hacker penetrates a server to gain access to information, passwords, or other sensitive data
  • Social engineering: The process of targeting people and using them as vulnerabilities to hack a system

Once a hacker finds a way in, the damage they can cause is limitless. They can install malicious software to wreak havoc on an institution’s software, loot valuable and sensitive information, or even steal money from companies and individuals alike. These cybercriminals can even go as far as using malware, worms, viruses, and ransomware to compromise a nation’s security, potentially leaving it exposed and within arm’s length of international conflicts. The individuals terrorizing cyberspace are unlike an everyday criminal. It’s the reason why ethical hackers, or white hats, are in such high demand. But, what exactly are ethical hackers? And what makes them so effective against cybercrimes?

What is an Ethical Hacker?

Let’s say you’re at the top of a multinational company that has been the victim of way too many cyberattacks as of late. Your previous defensive measures were lacking in effectiveness, so they’ve been readily replaced by seemingly stronger initiatives. Now, you need to know if these new defenses will do the job you so desperately need to be done. This is where ethical hackers take center stage.

An ethical hacker, sometimes known as a penetration tester, is a certified professional who can be hired by a company to test its systems and detect any potential vulnerabilities. These professionals are highly skilled, under contract, and usually present with the knowledge of all involved teams and individuals. Once this audit has been completed, ethical hackers provide documentation to the company that details their system’s performance, vulnerabilities, and even offers potential solutions.

What Skills Should an Ethical Hacker Have?

Ethical hackers need to be very well versed in computing. Their proficiency with computers determines just how well they can navigate their entire working environment. Yet, this is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what skills ethical hackers need to have in order to perform effectively. As a rule of thumb, penetration testers need to:

  • Be extremely proficient in the field of scripting languages
  • Know and work effortlessly with different types of operating systems
  • Have a comprehensive understanding of networks
  • Be thoroughly familiar with the concept of information security and its principles
  • Closely follow the most up-to-date hacking trends and techniques
  • Frequent hacker forums to keep a close eye on developing exploits
  • Fraternize with unethical hackers to remain proficient in their job

Black Hat vs. White Hat

You now have a better idea of what an ethical hacker does, but you may be wondering where exactly the dividing line is drawn between black and white hats, which are terms used historically to describe two types of hackers: black hats are considered to be hostile and have malicious intent, whereas white hats search for vulnerabilities so they can safeguard systems from the dangerous black hats. Is it possible for white hats to turn on the companies that hire them and use the weaknesses they identify for nefarious purposes? The answer to this question is in the name of the profession: ethical.

The difference between an ethical hacker (white hat) and an unethical hacker (black hat) is the former’s integrity, which stems from their duty to protect personal information, company data, communication, and financial transactions. While black hats gain access to a company’s network for financial gains, recognition, identity theft, or purely to cause damage, white hats find those same vulnerabilities for the sake of getting rid of them.

Inclusive Terminology

While the cybersecurity industry has traditionally used “black hat” and “white hat” to refer to opposing sides of hacking, it’s important to understand why the industry is moving away from these terms and replacing them with “malicious hacker” (black hat) and “ethical hacker” (white hat). The decision has been adopted by members of the community and organizations such as the UK National Cyber Security Centre to end the use of what could be considered offensive terminology perpetuating harmful racial associations and stereotypes. The initiative to stop the use of problematic terminology has also been seen in other areas of tech. For instance, Python, a coding language, has ceased the use of “slaves” or “master process.” Similarly, Google Chrome is now using “blocklist” and “allowlist” as alternatives to “blacklist” and “whitelist” respectively.

What Should Companies Expect from Ethical Hackers?

Ethical hackers come into the fray of a company’s network security as a legal, approved penetration tester. These individuals are expected to help determine the scope of their assessment so both the company and the ethical hacker can understand the parameters in which they will be working. If the problem appears to come from the company’s transaction process, the ethical hacker will only work within the boundaries of that process.

Once the ethical hacker’s work is complete, they are expected to provide a report of the company’s vulnerabilities along with any possible solutions. However, companies should not expect these professionals to fix the security issues they have. The ethical hacker’s job is to find weak points, not fix them. It’s important to understand companies will almost certainly include a non-disclosure agreement in their contract to ensure the confidentiality of their data.

What Else Can Ethical Hackers Do?

The main benefit an ethical hacker brings to the table is their ability to recognize and identify vulnerabilities in any given system. Yet, there are plenty of other roles an ethical hacker can take on.

For instance, ethical hackers have the ability to gain the trust of their employers — something that is incredibly valuable in any working relationship, especially one as dynamic as this one. Additionally, the work ethical hackers do enables the creation of new and more advanced security measures that push these types of technologies forward. On top of that, ethical hackers can help educate security teams on the latest hacking trends to boost employee awareness and preparedness.

Getting Started with Kenzie Academy

If you’re reading this, chances are you’re ready for an exciting future in the tech industry and maybe even a career in cybersecurity as an ethical hacker. Fortunately, Kenzie Academy is an excellent place to take your first step into a profession you can count on. As you advance through your journey, remember there are certain qualities that make people especially successful in our programs, including:

  • Determination and the constant pursuit of new knowledge
  • Endlessly curious
  • Love to engage with new applications, technologies, and developments
  • Are motivated by their drive to create a more secure technological future

Kenzie Academy Certificate in Cybersecurity Program

With Kenzie Academy’s Certificate in Cybersecurity program, learners can prepare to take an active role in making real-world impact in cyber defense. Our partnership with EC-Council, a global leader in cybersecurity certification programs, allows us the opportunity to provide a curriculum created by the world’s largest cybersecurity technical certification body. Some of the program courses include:

  • Network Security Controls
  • Ethical Hacking Fundamentals
  • Data Security
  • Cyber Attacks and Countermeasures
  • Computer Forensics Fundamentals
  • Dark Web and Malware Forensics

Our priority is real-world preparedness, which is why learners have the opportunity to earn 3 certifications upon completion of the Certificate in Cybersecurity program and after passing EC-Council’s certification exams. These additional credentials include:

  • Network Defense Essentials
  • Ethical Hacking Essentials
  • Digital Forensics Essentials

Why Choose This Program?

When it comes to learning at Kenzie Academy, one of the most important factors is our hands-on learning style. Not only will you learn from the specially designed EC-Council curriculum, but you’ll also do so with real-world tools, technologies, and scenarios. You’ll experience what it’s like to tread through vulnerable websites, hidden machines, at-risk operating systems, and even fully networked environments. It’s a highly involved curriculum built to challenge you, but one that can prepare you to enter the tech industry.

Your Future Starts at Kenzie

It’s not difficult to see just how much the tech industry continues to develop and expand. So, why not be part of that growth? If you’re ready to begin a career in tech, look no further than Kenzie Academy. Team Kenzie is ready to help you get to the future you desire, from the very first step you take in the admissions process, all the way to graduation. Learn more about our programs and get in touch with us if you have any questions.

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