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Part of Western Governors University

November 21, 2019

Information Technology

How to become a hacker.

Hand on laptop coding

What is hacking?

“Hacker” is a buzzword that has come to mean a lot of things in this modern, technology-driven world. In the eyes of many people, being a hacker involves typing furiously at your computer throughout the night, engaged in some dangerous or illegal activity, and always looking over your shoulder for the FBI or CIA. In reality, though, many “hackers” actually play an important role in securing the computer information of business and governments alike.

At the basic level, hacking is getting into a computer without authorization. Hackers are able to use a variety of methods to do their work, from finding vulnerabilities in a network and manipulating code, guessing and cracking passwords, using spoofs to pass themselves off as an authorized user, using malicious software to gain access, and more. 

While it may seem like hacking is always a negative thing, because of cybercriminals and cyberthreats, ethical hacking has emerged. Ethical hackers use their skills to help protect organizations and individuals from cyberattackers.

Ethical hackers can find jobs in many industries. There are many software organizations that compile teams of certified ethical hackers (CEH), and these hackers are hired by organizations to help with their security. Many certified ethical hackers are hired by government agencies for cyber security purposes. They can analyze exactly what a malicious hacker would do, from how they would access the information to what they would do their information. Government agencies have extensive data and information that is private and sensitive in their systems. Hackers that have the proper certification know the best way to keep malicious hackers at bay. Businesses also need cyber security professionals to help with their sensitive information. Certified ethical hackers can help clients fix vulnerabilities and provide further protection for their internet, programs, and computer system. They help by introducing computer software to an organization, giving them information on proper internet usage, are in charge of programming firewalls and other systems to help keep cyber threats away.

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What is a white hat hacker?

Certified ethical hacking is often called white hat hacking. Ethical hackers use their hacking skills for good. White hat hackers have the permission of an organization to hack into their systems. They aren’t trying to steal information or corrupt a computer system, instead they are trying to find vulnerabilities and secure the system so that real, malicious hackers can’t get in. Ethical hackers have skills and certifications that help them hack into a computer, and those same skills help them with programming code to protect the organization in the future.

White hat vs. black hat.

Black hat hackers are up to no good. They are criminals often looking to steal money or information. Black hat cyber hackers can hold computer systems or data for ransom, they can intimidate or scare victims with messages or manipulation of their own data, computer, and much more. Federal organizations, individuals, and private organizations are all at risk when it comes to black hat hackers.

White hat hackers or ethical hackers are often cybersecurity experts who have the proper education, skills, and certification to help. Certified ethical hackers often work for software companies or security firms and are hired out to help specific businesses protect their networks and data. They hack in and then are able to help the organization work on ways to improve their security from updated security standards, to better firewalls and software, and more.

White hat hacker salary.

White hat hacker isn’t technically a job title. This skill is part of cybersecurity, and there are many cybersecurity positions that utilize white hat hacking. Cybersecurity is an extremely profitable field and there are lots of high salary opportunities. There are two cybersecurity job titles that use white hat hacking regularly.

  • Cybersecurity analysts.

A cybersecurity analyst is in charge of watching for threats that can come to an organization. They then implement changes to increase security. They may use white hat hacking to help them analyze vulnerabilities in a system, called vulnerability scans. They use their knowledge of hacking to help them establish good practices moving forward to protect the organization from further hacking. The average salary for cybersecurity analysts is around $100,000 per year. The more education and experience you have, the higher your salary is likely to be. As technology evolves and hacking gets more sophisticated, cybersecurity analysts will be in increasingly high demand to help protect companies and individuals. This will also contribute to higher salary opportunities.

  • Penetration tester salary.

Penetration testers are directly in charge of hacking into a system to help the organization understand how intruders could get in, and what they can do about it. It’s their job to do whatever they can to get into a system, and when they do they can give a report to the network administrator of the organization. Penetration testers make an average yearly salary of over $81,000 per year. More and more organizations are hiring security firms to help them tighten up their network system. As these professionals are in more demand, their salary potential will rise. Similarly the more experience you have, the higher you can expect your salary will be. As more organizations understand the importance of preventing cyberattacks, more penetration testers will be needed to meet demand.

How to become a white hat hacker.

Cybersecurity professionals are extremely well educated. Anyone who wants to become a white hat hacker should begin with a bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity. Most people who want to get into cybersecurity need to start in other computer fields doing software development or programming to get the skills they need. They can then move over to cybersecurity. A master’s degree in cybersecurity can help take you even further, helping you prepare to pursue better job titles and higher salaries. 

Certification is key for white hat hackers. It demonstrates that you're actually trained and properly licensed to do this kind of work. Certifications can be done through a wide variety of organizations, and WGU includes some certifications as part of your degree program. Sometimes a security firm or software company will have their own certification preferences and will help you get those certifications.

WGU offers a highly reputable cybersecurity program that can help you prepare for a future as a white hat hacker. You can get started as soon as next month on your journey to a great cybersecurity degree.

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