What is an ethical hacker and what do these experts do?
Since the pandemic and subsequent lockdown, businesses across the globe have been forced to reevaluate their operations. For the majority, this involved a shift towards digital working patterns and, as a result, cyber criminals sought out new and increasing opportunities to target information, data and systems.
Ethical hackers are cyber security experts who identify risks and vulnerabilities within system configurations. This is done by employing similar techniques to criminals, but in a highly regulated environment and within strict legal guidelines. The overall purpose of employing an ethical hacker is to improve the resilience of an organisation’s defence against cyber crime.
What is an ethical hacker?
Ethical hackers are professionals who use their expertise to perform proactive security assessments. Organisations are increasingly facing the risk of data breaches, where unauthorised third parties gain access to sensitive company information. The assailants in these instances are known as hackers and carrying out such actions is illegal.
Conducting an ethical hack involves copying the same strategies of malicious attackers. However, the actions of unauthorised third parties gaining access to data are considered illegal. This means that ethical hackers are given wide latitude by hiring companies in terms of what they’re allowed to do, but instead of exploiting vulnerabilities, they use their expertise to document weaknesses and areas for improvement, also known as threat intelligence.
What does an ethical hacker do?
An ethical hacker helps an organisation to bolster its defences against malicious threats and third-party attackers attempting to penetrate systems or steal information. There are numerous ways in which they achieve this, but they can be broken down into three simple areas.
After ethical hackers have completed their technical work and the hacking has concluded, they report back to senior leaders about areas of vulnerability. This can range from whole systems being exposed whilst running outdated software to insufficient password encryption. Businesses use the data from ethical hacking reports to inform decisions on how to improve cyber security in the future.
Demonstrating criminal operations
The main difference between ethical and illegal hacking is that businesses are employing the former to expose weaknesses, while the latter are acting against the law and with malicious intent. As such, a skilled ethical hacker will employ most of the same tactics as any unauthorised third party. This means organisations can see exactly how attackers could try to enter their systems, leading to a clearer understanding of how to prevent it from happening.
Supporting preparation for a cyber attack
Even though cyber attacks can ruin a business, most organisations are still unprepared for them. Ethical hackers know exactly how threat actors think and operate, as well as how attackers will constantly seek out newer, more advanced techniques to gain access to confidential information. Consequently, when organisations work with ethical hackers, they gain a level of insight into cyber attacks that non-experts simply wouldn’t consider.
How do you become an ethical hacker?
Unlike many other career paths, there isn’t a standard route in education for ethical hackers. Generally, companies set bespoke requirements for positions depending on the specific needs, threats or vulnerabilities they might be looking to work on. Any professional hoping to pursue a role in ethical hacking should consider achieving a degree in computer science - or a related field - to both increase their appeal on paper and develop some of the core foundational skills required to succeed in the position.
For individuals without university experience, a viable way to enter the field is by pursuing a career in the military. This is an especially compelling option for those who hold the ability to gain certain security clearances and many businesses consider a military background to be extremely beneficial for candidates.
How do you become a certified ethical hacker?
There are plenty of industry certifications for ethical hackers that validate how much a professional knows about specific areas of the field. For example, a Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) certification shows that a professional has a mastery of network security and attack technologies. Conversely, a certification such as the CompTIA Cybersecurity Analyst (CySA+) demonstrates proficiency in using behavioural analytics to solidify network security.
Ethical hacker jobs in the United Kingdom
Ethical hacking is a field that demands a significant amount of technical knowledge, but it’s certainly a highly rewarding career path. Since the pandemic and subsequent shift from traditional to digital working patterns, companies are at a higher risk of cyber attacks than ever. As such, the need for ethical hackers is rapidly expanding and the market favours jobseekers over recruiters.
How much does an ethical hacker make?
Like any career, the salary of an ethical hacker is contingent on the organisation they work for, the location and the experience they have in their career. Starting in the field, an expert could earn between £30,000 and £40,000. However, the median salary for ethical hackers in the UK is in the region of £60,000 and the most experienced professionals in the industry take home upwards of £75,000 per year.
How to find ethical hacker jobs in the UK
The best way to find ethical hacker jobs is by making use of a specialised online job board. Hiring companies use these sites to find promising candidates, so registering with them can be highly beneficial to your job search. Just uploading your CV to CyberSecurityJobsite.co.uk will start the process, allowing recruiters to reach out to you directly if your experience and qualifications are desirable to them.
It’s also worth checking out one of our Cyber Security EXPOs to meet established professionals and highly reputable companies within the industry. These events are a great opportunity to gain inside information on what organisations are looking for, as well as what you can expect from these positions.