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Becoming an Ethical Hacker – The Facts

April 22, 2020 No Comments

Featured article by Calvin Paige, Independent Technology Author

The term hacking does have negative connotations. However, ethical hacking should not be confused with the malicious counterparts out there. The rise in cybercrime means that companies now have to shift their attention to protecting vital systems and data from outside attackers. This has opened up a variety of job openings that use computer sciences as their foundation.

In a study conducted by (ISC)2, a leading non-profit association for cybersecurity professionals, they stated that there is almost a gap of around 3 million cybersecurity jobs globally. At present, many organizations are relying on artificial intelligence to monitor and mitigate problems. However, as the industry is in its infancy, this has noticeable restrictions, which in turn has caused companies millions in lost data and privacy breaches.

The need for formal qualifications is a relatively new concept too, as many people currently in the sector are not trained in cybersecurity. The landscape is changing fast, and more recently, individuals are taking up study in computer science fields and developing their careers with qualifications such as a masters in cybersecurity. There are many jobs on the horizon, as well, including ethical hacking or otherwise known as penetration testing.

The role of a penetration tester

Unlike its unethical counterparts, penetration testers are authorized by companies to find vulnerabilities in their systems. The intention here is to find out where weaknesses lie with the use of creative methodologies and techniques that may be used by hackers. Once found, an ethical hacker also works with businesses or the government to repair and strengthen existing security processes to prevent malicious attacks.

The demand for this role in companies is increasing due to the ever-changing landscape of cybersecurity. The use of various and sophisticated techniques to crack sensitive information is more prevalent than ever before. So this type of role will be an essential fixture within the cyber world.

Attributes required for this role

Although holding qualifications such as a masters in cybersecurity is a beneficial thing to have, there are specific attributes that make up this position. The role can vary dramatically depending on the type of organization you join, and in some cases, you will be working for government bodies and public services.

To gain a better understanding of the traits you need for ethical hacking, take a look below:

Communication skills

Although this role may require you to work with small teams, excellent communication skills are still a significant benefit in this job. You will not only need to speak technical languages, but you will also need to translate this into understandable terminology so non-technical staff can process the data. If you have undertaken a degree education or online masters in cybersecurity, this will equip you for the type of translatable language you will need to use.

An ability to channel your intuition

Intuition is something that can be rarely taught in the classroom. However, in this role, it is undoubtedly an attribute that will help you think outside the box. Getting inside the hacker’s mind is something that can be challenging, but your experience will tackle common weaknesses while considering previous attacks and breaches. Looking at previous case studies also helps give your intuition a starting point when looking into security solutions. Although you may be faced with an alternative scenario, the basis of some attacks remains similar in intention.

How to code

There is a lot of theory surrounding hacking and attacks, but in this role, you will need to put them all into practice. Throughout your career, you will gain technical experience and understand the complexities of security systems in a range of environments. You will be familiar with coding languages such as C, C++, C#, Python, Ruby, or Java. Higher education courses such as a masters in cybersecurity also give you relevant scenarios and case studies to examine, which will help build your know-how. It is also crucial to stay up to date with new networking and architecture, as the cyber world is changing rapidly, and your technical skills must adapt to the situation.

Problem-solving skills

The role of a penetration tester is built around solving problems. In some cases, you will create issues to be able to resolve them effectively. This position will also need quick and accurate problem-solving abilities. Plus, you will need the ability to assess failings and outcomes in order to correct them. Problem-solving will potentially come naturally to an individual looking to enter this career, and the thrill of finding solutions is another common passion.

What will you carry out?

Report writing

You will undoubtedly have a wealth of knowledge in testing situations. However, alongside having good communication skills, you will also need excellent report writing skills as you will carrying out many written reports.

You will be putting your ideas, solutions, and findings on paper (or computer) regularly. You will need to be able to explain fluidly about a range of things and not just the technical aspects. There will be areas to cover, such as how attacks may impact the business and recommendations to solve issues. These also have to be translatable for people across a business, including shareholders. In an interview situation for this role, an employer may need to see evidence of your written capabilities to ensure it fits with their criteria. If you have a personal or professional blog that shows your passion for penetration testing, this may also form part of the application process.

These reports you carry out must uphold one simple thing, however: discretion.

The very nature of this role is sensitive, and the knowledge and information you will have about internal systems will require the utmost discretion at all times. Due to the variants in this role, you will often be working in isolation and reporting to a small team to implement your findings. This will mean that you will not be able to communicate your work to anyone outside of these restrictions. If you go on to work for government bodies and public services, there will be stricter work enforcements in place.

Identify risks

A significant part of the job will be to identify the risk specific attacks may pose to a company. Many cybersecurity jobs will involve risk assessment, and you will often work with other cybersecurity teams to develop more robust systems and processes to create a watertight network.

This often means that day to day life as an ethical hacker will mean you have to be adaptable. You will be faced with many challenges and different scenarios in this line of work, so frequent change is the norm. If you are a contractor, you will also face different company set-ups and a variety of security systems throughout your work. Cyber attacks can come in many different forms, so being able to adapt to continually moving goalposts will become a natural part of the role.

Qualifications required for the role

As this position is relatively new in the computer science sector, there are no formal qualifications for many roles. However, as the industry is growing, businesses are requiring top people to join their teams, and are therefore putting in benchmarks to hire the best. The requirements can differ from one company to another, but there are a few ways to enter this career with qualifications.

Take a look at some of the common entry points that can help you pursue a career in penetration testing:

Associate degree in computer science

An associate’s degree is usually undertaken in computer sciences or a similar field, as at the moment there are limited courses available in cybersecurity as a niche. This degree is often taken before a bachelor’s or masters in cybersecurity. However, it can be used to boost your career if you are already in a computer science role and looking to progress.

Bachelor’s degrees in computer science and cybersecurity

There are numerous bachelor’s degrees in computer sciences, and some educational establishments now offer specialty degrees in cybersecurity and related fields. Taking further education will help you further your understanding and knowledge in this area, and build your expertise in specific niches such as ethical hacking. This course will also prepare you for a masters in cybersecurity so you can take your career prospects further.

Masters in cybersecurity

Until recently, there were very few courses that specialized in cybersecurity. The introduction of a number of qualifications such as the online masters in cybersecurity gives you the option of topping up your education from the ease of your own home. This qualification will help gain relevant knowledge and experience in a cybersecurity role. Plus, employers often look favorably on individuals that hold a masters in cybersecurity as this shows passion and drive to further their career.

Continuing professional development in cybersecurity

The nature of a penetration tester job means that you will need to continually keep your skill level and industry knowledge relevant. Attending conferences, seminars, and obtaining professional qualifications within the field can do this. These courses can be completed to boost your knowledge gained during your masters in cybersecurity and can include certification such as the Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) certification.

Entry routes into penetration testing

A penetration tester will have rarely walked into the job and started the role the very same day. This role requires specialist knowledge and experience, and many years in a computer science role. A masters in cybersecurity and relevant qualifications will support your journey, but there will be a period of progression to this role. Many ethical hackers start their careers in security administration or as a network engineer. While working in these roles, you will develop a deeper understanding of systems and networks, and gain valuable knowledge in the maintenance of them.

As you go further in your career, you may want to specialize and start to consider your options in cybersecurity. Gaining relevant qualifications such as a degree or masters in cybersecurity will set you on the right path towards penetration testing. As this role is a specialist avenue, it will require a focus on security and solving complex problems.

Career progression for ethical hackers

As the cybersecurity world is in its infancy, there is often no linear progression in these sectors. Each type of career can open up a world of opportunities in different areas within cybersecurity. However, there are clear progressions in seniority of roles within this sector, and as you gain knowledge and experience, you may well become a figurehead in the cybersecurity industry.

Salary expectations for penetration testers

The cybersecurity industry is growing, and the importance of these roles is companies are being recognized. As a penetration tester, you will have possibly worked in a number of different roles within the industry and have progressed your career. If you hold qualifications such as a bachelor’s or masters in cybersecurity, you may also be able to take advantage of higher wages due to your experience and skills.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for a penetration tester is $92,600 per annum. This role is also known as an information security analyst and may come under similar salary medians.

With further education, such as progressing your career with a masters in cybersecurity, you could also strive for higher positions that command higher salaries. A typical step to take from penetration tester is into an Information Systems Manager or Information Security Officer role. This type of post can expect to earn at least $100,000 a year. Plus, figures from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics have suggested the median is $135,800 per annum.

Want to become an ethical hacker?

Penetration testing or ethical hacking is a rewarding and exciting career choice for both men and women. There is clear career progression for passionate people, and you can also enjoy a range of benefits that come with it. This is an excellent option for anyone interested in the cybersecurity industry that wants to make their mark on the sector. Why not take a look at the range of careers and job openings available and take the next step in your journey?






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