Can You Make a Career Out of Ethical Hacking?

Published on: May 22, 2023

Thanks to popular culture, the word “hacker” is usually associated with shady individuals who enjoy breaking into secure systems for illegal purposes. However, while this is true in many cases, hacking has an ethical side, and some people have even built a career out of it. These people are known as ethical hackers or “white hats” and use their hacking skills for good by helping organizations to improve their security. So, if the idea of trying to break into secure systems sounds exciting, but you would prefer to stay on the right side of the law, then this career path could be perfect for you.

How Does Ethical Hacking Differ From Malicious Hacking?

Malicious hacking involves gaining unauthorized access to computer systems for financial gain or to cause damage. Some hackers do this on behalf of criminal third parties in return for monetary compensation. In contrast, others do it for their own benefit or simply because they enjoy the personal recognition it can bring. Malicious hackers have no interest in reporting the vulnerabilities that they exploit either.

Ethical hacking involves working with organizations to try and see if they can find any vulnerabilities in their systems that could lead to a security breach. Any vulnerabilities they find are reported to the organization, and they can also offer remediation advice. The purpose is to look for the same types of security vulnerabilities or loopholes as malicious hackers and fix them before they can be exploited. 

What Are the Limitations of Ethical Hacking?

Unlike malicious hackers who will go to any lengths to gain unauthorized access to systems, ethical hackers tend to have more limitations placed on them. These constraints can make it more difficult for them, but they must be adhered to for their own safety and that of their clients. Testing restrictions are the most common and stipulate that ethical hackers are not allowed to employ methods that could potentially cause server crashes or other harmful effects. Ethical hackers typically also tend to have more limits placed on them in terms of time and budget. Finally, the scope of their hacking might be more limited than malicious hackers as they have to agree to specific parameters.

Is It Possible To Study How To Become An Ethical Hacker?

Computer proficiency is a good start, but students interested in becoming ethical hackers also need a good education. Numerous free and introductory courses available online allow students to see if they are a good fit for this industry. Selecting something at the right level for your skills is vital when choosing such a course. Some courses require a certain level of background knowledge, so unless you already have these, it is better to opt for something that is aimed at complete beginners. Attempting to do courses that are above your experience level will be a frustrating experience. Many of these courses require students to have a strong background in core IT concepts, including network infrastructure, security, and computer hardware and software. Ethical hacking boot camps are also available online to help students hone their skills. 

What Online Degrees Are Useful For Ethical Hackers?

In addition to the courses, boot camps, and certification programs available online for ethical hacking, a few degrees can be helpful for students interested in this line of work.

Online Bachelor of Science in Cyber Security: An online BS in Cyber Security degree is great for learning how to apply security principles, analyze and evaluate risks and make legal as well as ethical judgments. Course topics may include Network Security, Application Security, and Incident Response and Investigation.

Online Bachelor of Science in Computer Science: A BS in Computer Science is a common degree for students who are interested in becoming ethical hackers. These degrees focus on core IT skills as well as subjects such as algorithms and data structures, database and information retrieval, numerical and symbolic computation, and more. 

Online Bachelor of Science in Software Engineering: A BS in Software Engineering is another popular online degree for students who are interested in ethical hacking. This degree covers a lot of topics related to computer programming, software design, software validation and verification, software security, and computer networks. 

What Professional Certifications Are Available For Ethical Hacking?

Several professional certifications are available for ethical hackers who want to bolster their abilities and reputation. Some of the most popular ones are as follows:

CompTIA PenTest+: This certification proves students have the most up-to-date penetration testing and vulnerability assessment skills. It teaches planning and scoping, reporting and communication, information gathering and vulnerability scanning, tools, code analysis, and attacks and exploits.

Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH): The CEH certification proves that students have knowledge of commercial-grade hacking tools and techniques and know how to hack multiple operating systems. It covers topics such as malware threats, social engineering, denial-of-service, SQL injection, cloud computing, and more. 

OffSec Certified Professional (OSCP): To earn the OSCP qualification, students must be able to successfully attack and penetrate various live machines in a safe lab environment. It is one of the more technical hacking certifications and requires evidence of practical penetration testing skills to earn. 

Computer Hacking Forensic Investigator (C|HFI): The C|FI certification is popular amongst ethical hackers who want to pursue a career in digital forensics or forensic analysis. It covers modules such as Dark Web and IoT forensics, as well as malware forensics, forensic methodologies for cloud infrastructure, and more. 


As businesses continue to move online, they will always need to safeguard their data and customer information from unscrupulous hackers. This means there will always be a need for ethical hackers and other cybersecurity experts. In addition, the nature of ethical hacking makes it perfect for students who desire a career based around remote, contracting, and freelance work. Ethical hackers can find employment as penetration testers, vulnerability assessors, security analysts, security consultants, and much more.

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