How to Be a Hacker – Starting a Career in Cybersecurity

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Hackers – you’ve probably watched countless movies showing individuals or groups of people furiously tap-tap-tapping away on their keyboards, racing against time to extract valuable information from an enemy corporation or country.

Although hacking has entered the realm of pop culture, many people are still unaware of what it is exactly. Or maybe you have an idea of what it is, and you want to become one.

Here’s a brief overview of what hacking is and how you can possibly make a career out of it.

What is hacking?

Hacking can be defined as the act of finding the weaknesses of a computer system in order to gain information from it. Some hackers do it for fun, others for profit. At its core, hacking is about looking at a problem and finding a solution.

Hackers are classified into different categories. First, you have white hat hackers or ethical hackers who find vulnerabilities in a system so that its owner can address these. Then you have black hat hackers whose goal is to get unauthorized access.

In between these two are what are called grey-hat hackers. These people may gain unauthorized access to a system. However, they inform the company or other entities of the vulnerabilities they found. Finally, you have those who are called hacktivists. The primary goal of these hackers is to send a social or political message.

Why consider a career in hacking?

Whatever type of hacker you might want to be, success often lies in your ability (and drive) to find a solution to tough questions.

As a career, hacking offers plenty of lucrative opportunities in a diverse array of industries. But outside of white hat hacking, be aware that your actions can result in punishment and hefty fines.

Educational and skill requirements

Unlike other careers that have a more or less strict requirement of skills and educational background, hacking does not.

Many successful white hat hackers have a background in computer science, information security, and mathematics. Others have a military intelligence background.

In terms of skill, problem-solving is vital. Apart from this, you have to supplement this skill with intelligence, technical and organizational skills, and poise.

As a white-hat hacker, you are going to test your mettle with black hat hackers. As such, it is essential that you think like one in order to get one or two steps ahead. It is not unusual for black hat hackers to go to the other side and convert to white hat hacking after getting caught.

Getting started

Although there are no degree programs for a career in cybersecurity, there are a few options that you can explore.

Start by asking yourself what field of specialization you want to pursue. Cybersecurity is a broad field with different areas of specialization.

Next, you should choose which programming language to specialize in. Although you should explore different programming languages, you need to find one to learn and master. You can start with the basics like C++ and Python, which can serve as a robust foundation and from there, move to an area of specialization.

It is also worthwhile to look into your options when it comes to operating systems. Look into the features of each option as well as their pros and cons. As you are learning a programming language, you will discover which works best for you.

One way to dip your toes into hacking is to sign up for an online course. The advantage of taking this route is that you’ll get a structured approach to learning.

Alternatively, you can join online communities that specialize in finding bugs. You will find that these communities are very welcoming and can help you get started down the right path.

Getting certifications

If you are strongly considering a career in white-hat hacking, getting certified is one viable option that you can pursue.

You might want to consider getting EC Council’s Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) certification as your jump-off point. The advantage of this certification is that employers pay good money for professionals certified by the EC Council.

Once you get your CEH certification, you can get an intermediate-level certification or look at other providers of certifications like SANS GIAC and mile2.

One area of specialization that might interest you is computer forensics. Whether you are planning to bolster your knowledge or simply specialize in it, working knowledge of forensics will surely benefit any aspiring white-hat hacker.

If you want to set yourself apart from your peers, you may also want to get the Physical Security Professional certification offered by ASIS International. Earning this certification means that you have been trained in the different facets of penetration testing, including digital and physical.

The good thing about hacking is that there are several areas of specialization that you can explore. You can even dabble in a few to bolster your knowledge and skills and strengthen your mastery of the fundamentals.

Testing your mettle

As you acquire new information and skills, you might be tempted to show what you can do. However, you should always be aware of the consequences of your actions.

As a white-hat hacker, you must adhere to a specific code of ethics and conduct. Furthermore, know that your actions may have consequences. Be aware of pertinent laws and regulations and stay away from trouble.

Be aware that many companies don’t look kindly upon unauthorized hacking, even if your intentions are good. Companies that do allow hacking of their systems outline specific terms and conditions that you need to adhere to. Either way, it is better to err on the side of caution and avoid getting into unnecessary problems with private entities.

Where to go next

Learning to hack can be a lifelong hobby that can be a reward in itself. If you love to challenge yourself and find solutions to knotty problems, hacking will not disappoint you.

But if you choose to make it a career, there are several lucrative options waiting for you if you put in the hard work and effort.

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