Career Definition of an Ethical Hacker
An ethical hacker is a computer professional who is specifically trained to test the strength of a computer network's security system. They do this by attempting to gain access to the system without authorization. They use hacking skills to try to get past firewalls and other security measures that are in place to protect computer and data storage systems.
Ethical hackers schedule these hacking attempts and use them to gather relevant information about how effective the existing security measures are. They determine what parts of the system are vulnerable to attack and make recommendations about how to improve the system's security by upgrading computer hardware or software. As part of their duties they produce reports about their hacking attempts, the techniques used to test system security, and their findings.
|Educational Requirements||Bachelor's degree|
|Job Skills||Attention to detail, problem-solving skills, analytical skills, communication skills|
|Median Salary (2020)*||$79,096|
|Job Outlook (2019-2029)**||31% (information security analysts)|
Sources: *PayScale; **U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Employers typically look for ethical hackers who have a bachelor's degree in a related subject area, such as computer programming. Relevant work experience in computer technology is also usually required so ethical hackers may start out as systems analysts or network systems administrators. Although it isn't always required, earning a master's degree in a relevant discipline can also increase job prospects.
Required Training and Certification
In order to prepare for employment as an ethical hacker it may be necessary to earn certifications to demonstrate the skills required for this profession. It's common for information security analysts to obtain Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) certification, which can be done by completing an exam after earning a bachelor's degree. Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) certification, which typically involves five days of training, is also available. Those who complete this certification will learn about the latest cybersecurity threats and develop the practical hacking skills needed to work as an ethical hacker.
Ethical hackers must be able to pay attention to details in order to identify any indication of a problem with a computer or data storage system that may result in unauthorized access. They also need to have good problem-solving skills in order to determine the most effective way to correct problems with the network's security. Their work can involve reviewing data from their hacking attempts so they also need to have good analytical skills. Communication skills are important because they need to summarize their work and conclusions for others in their company so that they can understand the basis for any recommended changes to improve network security.
Career Outlook and Salary
Ethical hackers are computer experts who enjoy high salaries. According to PayScale, as of 2020 ethical hackers took home $79,096 per year. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) includes ethical hackers with the listing for information security analysts. From 2019 to 2029, the BLS expects information security analysts, including ethical hackers, to see a 31% increase in job opportunities, which is considerably higher than the national average job growth rate of 4%.
Ethical hackers are highly trained computer professionals and those interested in this type of work may be interested in developing firewalls and security software or pursuing other careers that involve security computer networks. A list of links to information about careers that involve computer and network security is provided here.