What is Ethical Hacking and How to Become an Ethical Hacker?

Hacking is a term that is often associated with illegal activities with malicious intent. However, in the world of technology and information security, hacking can also refer to the legitimate practice of discovering and exploiting vulnerabilities in a system for the purpose of improving its security.

Ethics and Legality of Hacking

The ethics of hacking are a crucial aspect of the practice, as they determine the responsibility of a hacker and the impact of their actions. What differentiates ethical and unethical hacking is that for the former authorization has been obtained prior to hacking and agreed upon limits are never breached.

Regardless of the context, it is crucial for hackers to consider both the ethical and legal implications of their actions. In this article, we will explore the importance of ethical and legal considerations in the world of hacking.

Read our full post on the ethics and legality of hacking and its implications.

What Are the Various Benefits of Ethical Hacking

Ethical hacking when performed with pre-authorization can provide multiple benefits to organizations, primarily preparedness in advance and identification of weak points in the system so they can be strengthened before an actual attack takes place.

Listed below are some benefits of ethical hacking activities.

  1. Better awareness: Ethical hacking can help individuals to better understand the security risks associated with technology and the methods used by malicious hackers.
  2. Better risk management: By knowing the weaknesses of one’s infrastructure and policies an organization is better prepared to manage risk before it becomes an actual issue. When an actual attack happens they have a plan in place on how to resolve the issue and communicate with the affectees.
  3. Career advancement: As the demand of skilled ethical hackers grows, so does the need for experienced ethical hacking hackers. Ethical hacking skills provide more job opportunities and career paths.
  4. Compliance: Helps meet regulatory and industry requirements for data security and access. For example, regular security assessments like PCI-DSS ensure that their systems and networks are secure.
  5. Improved reputation: By demonstrating a commitment to security and data protection, organizations improve their reputation and trust with their customers, partners, and other stakeholders.
  6. Improved security: It can help organizations identify and address security vulnerabilities before they can be exploited. Being proactive means, finding and fixing security vulnerabilities to reduce the risk of data breaches and other cyber attacks.

Types of Activities Hackers Engage In

Activities used to identify and address vulnerabilities in systems and networks with the goal of finding weaknesses in access and come under the umbrella of hacking.

Ethical Hackers

Ethical hackers, engage in authorized hacking activities, such as penetration testing and vulnerability assessment, to identify vulnerabilities and improve the security of computer systems and networks.

  • Penetration Testing: Penetration testing involves authorized hacking into a system to identify vulnerabilities and weaknesses. The objective is to identify security flaws and provide recommendations to improve security.
  • Vulnerability assessment: Identify potential weaknesses in a system or network. Such activities should be conducted on a regular basis to ensure that security measures are up to date.
Unethical Hacker Activities

Unethical Hackers

On the other hand, unethical hackers engage in a wide range of activities, many of which are illegal and unethical. These activities include attempting to gain unauthorized access to computer systems, networks, or data and stealing sensitive information and damaging and disrupting those systems. Some hackers may also sell stolen data on the dark web or use it for fraudulent purposes.

Below is a partial list of activities that unethical hackers engage in.

  1. Botnet Creation: Create and control a network of compromised computers (botnet), in order to carry out coordinated attacks, distribute malware or mine cryptocurrencies.
  2. Defacement: This involves altering a target’s website or online presence in order to display a message or image, often for political or ideological reasons.
  3. Information Theft: This involves stealing sensitive information such as login credentials, financial information, or intellectual property.
  4. Malware Development: Hackers can develop and distribute malware such as viruses, trojans, and ransomware to infect and control target systems.
  5. Password Cracking: Hackers can use tools and techniques to crack passwords and gain unauthorized access to systems or accounts.
  6. Phishing: Use phishing techniques to trick individuals into divulging sensitive information such as login credentials or financial information.
  7. Physical Security Testing: Evaluating and testing physical security measures such as access controls, alarm systems, and surveillance cameras in order to gain unauthorized access to a facility or system.
  8. Wireless Network Attacks: Hackers can target wireless networks using techniques such as packet sniffing, rogue access points, and denial-of-service attacks.
  9. Social Media Attacks: Hackers use social media platforms to launch phishing attacks, spread malware, or gather information against individuals or organizations.
  10. Web Application Attacks: Hackers can target vulnerabilities in web applications such as SQL injection, cross-site scripting (XSS), and cross-site request forgery (CSRF) in order to gain access to sensitive data or take control of the system.

Note: Unethical hacking is illegal and can have severe legal and ethical consequences.


The difference between ethical and unethical hacking boils down to the intent. The former (ethical) is trying to identify weak points of the system to fortify whereas the latter (unethical) is looking to find vulnerabilities to break into the system.

There is a lot of overlap as the same activity can be performed to acheieve a different result.

Process of Hacking. How Unethical Find and Exploit System Weakness

The process of hacking can be divided into several phases or steps, each with its own focus and objectives. Planning for hacking attacks could take a few hours, but most successful attempts of hacking have taken months to plan.

The typical phases of hacking include one or more of the following.

Note: Use of the term target below refers to a network or system.

  1. Reconnaissance involves gathering information about a target, such as its network topology, system configurations, security protocols and physical access. The goal of this phase is to gather as much information as possible about the target to support the later stages of the hack.
  2. Scanning: For system scanning, automated tools are used to search for vulnerabilities and weaknesses in a target. This phase is critical to the success of the hack, as the information gathered here will be used to determine the most effective attack vector. For example, port scanning tools are used to identify open ports for targeted exploitation.
  3. Social Engineering: Using psychological manipulation to trick individuals into divulging sensitive information or taking actions that are harmful to their organization. This step is not always necessary but can be very useful when other ways of accessing a system may not work.
  4. Gaining Access: In the access phase, a hacker uses the information gathered through the previous phases to exploit vulnerabilities and gain access to the target. These include exploiting software, hardware, network or physical access vulnerabilities to gain access to a target.
  5. Privilege Escalation: Once access is gained, the goal is to escalate access privileges within the system to gain greater control over a target.
  6. Maintaining Access: Maintaining an ongoing presence on a target, in order to continue active surveillance for carrying out further attacks. Access can be maintained by installing backdoors, creating new user accounts, or modifying system settings.
  7. Covering Tracks: Covering up evidence of a hacking attack, in order to avoid detection or attribution. Although in certain cases hackers do want attribution even then they want to remove traces of the hacking process to preserve the hacking method for future use against future targets. Generally removing the evidence of an attack is done by removing log files, hiding malicious files, or by damaging physical devices.
  8. Exploitation: Use known vulnerabilities and weaknesses to gain unauthorized access to a target and carry out malicious activities. The specific goals of the exploitation phase will vary depending on the motivations of the hacker.

Examples of Actual Hacking Attacks Methods

Here are some of the most common types of hacking.

Bluetooth Attack

Bluetooth hacking involves exploiting vulnerabilities in Bluetooth-enabled devices to gain access to the device or steal data. Attackers can use Bluetooth hacking to remotely control a device, intercept communications, or steal sensitive information.

Cross-Site Scripting (XSS)

XSS attacks involve injecting malicious code into a website, which can then be executed by unsuspecting users who visit the site. This can be used to steal sensitive information or take control of a user’s device.

DDoS Attacks

Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks involve overwhelming a website or network with traffic, rendering it unavailable to users. DDoS attacks typically involve a large number of compromised devices, known as a botnet, that are coordinated to flood the target with traffic.

DNS Spoofing

DNS spoofing involves changing the IP address associated with a website’s domain name in order to redirect users to a fake website. This can be used to steal sensitive information such as login credentials or credit card details.

Inside Attacks

Insider attacks involve employees or individuals with authorized access to a system using their access to steal or damage sensitive information. Insider attacks can be challenging to detect, as the attackers have legitimate access to the system.


Keylogging involves using software or hardware to record a user’s keystrokes, allowing attackers to obtain sensitive information such as login credentials or credit card details.


Malware is software that is designed to harm or disrupt computer systems, networks, or devices. Malware can be delivered through various methods, including email attachments, infected websites, and software downloads. Malware can take different forms, including viruses, Trojans, worms, ransomware, and spyware.

Man In The Middle Attacks

MitM attacks involve intercepting communications between two parties to steal information or modify communication. Attackers can use various methods to carry out MitM attacks, including using fake Wi-Fi networks, DNS spoofing, or session hijacking.

Password Attacks

Password attacks involve attempting to guess or crack passwords to gain unauthorized access to a system. Common methods of password attacks include dictionary attacks, brute force attacks, and rainbow table attacks.

Physical Hacking

Physical hacking involves physically gaining access to a computer, network, or device in order to obtain or manipulate data. This can be done through theft, social engineering, or other methods.


Phishing is a type of social engineering attack that uses fake emails, websites, or messages to trick users into sharing sensitive information such as passwords, credit card details, or personal information. Phishing attacks can be highly effective and difficult to detect, as the attackers use sophisticated methods to make their fake communications appear legitimate.


Ransomware is a type of malware that encrypts a user’s files or system, and then demands a ransom in exchange for restoring access. Ransomware attacks can be highly disruptive and can cause significant damage to individuals and organizations.

SQL Injection

SQL injection involves exploiting vulnerabilities in a website or application that uses SQL databases. Attackers use malicious SQL commands to bypass authentication measures and gain access to sensitive information stored in the database.

Watering Hole Attacks

Watering hole attacks involve compromising a website that a targeted group of users is likely to visit, in order to infect their devices with malware or steal sensitive information.

What Are The Skills Required to Become an Ethical Hacker

To become a hacker a wide range of analytical, problem solving and technical skills are required. Sometimes soft skills such as teamwork and collaboration are just as critical as technical skills.

Below are some important skills that one may need to be successful at hacking.

  1. Adaptability: Technology keeps evolving, and therefore a hacker must be able to adapt and evolve alongside. There are new systems, tools and processes that you need to stay up to date with. Learning and adapting to changes is the key.
  2. Analytical Skills: Strong analytical and problem-solving skills are critical for identifying vulnerabilities and weaknesses in systems and networks. In figuring out how to defend against or plan for a hacking activity a non-biased analytical approach is necessary.
  3. Attention to Detail: Hackers must be meticulous in their work and pay close attention to detail. Small lapses in security can provide great opportunities to gain access into a system. By not keeping track of small details a hacker may leave an identifying digital fingerprint that will trace back to them.
  4. Creativity: Ethical hackers must be creative and think outside the box when it comes to finding solutions to security problems. A hacker must be able to come up with innovative ways to test target systems and networks for vulnerabilities.
  5. Communication Skills: Good communication skills are important for a career in hacking. The ability to communicate technical information to a non-technical audience in a clear and concise manner goes a long way.
  6. Curiosity: A curious and inquisitive mindset is critical for a career in hacking. Hackers must be always learning, researching, and experimenting with new technologies and techniques.
  7. Technical Knowledge: Technical knowledge of programming languages such as Python, C++, and Java, operating systems, backend software (databases, message queues, data caches and networking protocols, is essential for a career in hacking. Above average knowledge of cryptography and security protocols (private/public keys, encryption) is key in understanding digital access and identity management. Hardware knowledge of firewalls, proxies and intrusion detection systems are also important.

The most important skill is the DESIRE to be successful in the field on hacking and will trump everything else.

Certifications in Information Security and Hacking

There are many professional certifications available for individuals interested in pursuing a career in information security. Listed below are some of the top professional information security certifications.

  1. Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP)
  2. Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH)
  3. Certified Information Security Manager (CISM)
  4. CompTIA Security+
  5. Certified in Risk and Information Systems Control (CRISC)
  6. Certified Cloud Security Professional (CCSP)
  7. Certified Information Privacy Professional (CIPP)

Check our post on the best certifications for hackers in information security for professionals and aspiring ethical hackers.

Best Practices for Ethical Hacking

Ethical hacking requires prior authorization before the execution of a planned hacking activity. There are certain steps that should be taken before, during and after an actual ethical hacking session.

Listed below are some best practices one should follow for authorized hacking.

  1. Identify a target: Before attempting to gain access to a system, one should clearly identify the target to test. This can include servers, websites, applications, networks, or physical assets such as buildings and data centers.
  2. Define the scope: The scope of target testing should be clearly defined including methods, tools and goals of the operation. This information will help to prevent unintended consequences and ensure that the testing is conducted in a known, ethical, and responsible manner.
  3. Perform risk assessment: Before obtaining authorization a proper risk assessment should be done to determine the potential negative impact on the target. This can help to identify risks and vulnerabilities in the plan, so plans can be put in place in case something goes wrong.
  4. Obtain permission: Next step is to obtain permission from the owner of the target. This should always be a written agreement or contract outlining the scope of testing and methods to be used during the testing. The risk assessment and plan should also be part of the contract.
  5. Follow industry standards: Industry standards and guidelines to ensure that all hacking activities are in line with best practices. For example, the OWASP Top 10 project provides a list of the most critical web application security risks and can be used as a reference for ethical hacking activities.
  6. Document findings: Throughout the testing process, it is important to document any execution steps, findings, and vulnerabilities discovered to a log. This keeps track of steps taken to achieve a certain goal, ensuring that one can re-execute those to recreate a specific scenario. This log should also be included as part of the final result.
  7. Report results: Upon completion of the testing, all observations, activities, vulnerabilities, and results should be reported to the owner of the target. Recommendations from the testing should also be submitted with the final report.

There may also be additional requirements imposed upon by the owner of the target system that should be completed and submitted with the final report.

Most important thing is to ensure that testing is within the scope of the agreed upon contract authorizing the testing of the target system.

Black Hat vs White Hat Hacker

Black hat and white hat hackers are terms used to describe the motivations and activities of individuals involved in hacking. There is another category of hackers and I will call them Grey Hat hackers. Let review each type briefly.

Black Hat Hackers

Black hat hackers, aka unethical or malicious hackers, use their hacking skills for illegal or unethical purposes. These include acts such as stealing sensitive information, disrupting target systems, or spreading malware.

The goal is to harm the interests of the owners of these systems and to achieve gains, such as monetary benefits or celebrity status.

Note: All unethical hacking ins illegal in most countries.

White Hat Hackers

White hat hackers, on the other hand, use their skills for defensive purposes to identify and fix security vulnerabilities in systems, networks, and access. Since they are working with prior authorization, all of their activities are within the bounds of the law.

White hat hackers are often employed by organizations as security experts, and their activities are conducted with the explicit permission of the owners of the systems and networks they are testing.

Grey Hat Hackers

Grey hat hacking refers to hacking activities that are neither completely ethical nor completely illegal. Their actions can be questionable as they are not necessarily considered illegal activities. But since there is no law prohibiting such hacking, the grey hat hackers work safely in circumventing safeguards.


Activities that may be used to illegally hack a system or network and are not prohibited explicitly by the terms of service or use can fall under the umbrella of grey hat hacking.

— FSM: FreeServerMonitor.com

A couple of examples of grey hat hacking are:

  • Password Cracking: The process of using software tools to break passwords, is in the scope of grey hat hacking as long as those are not actually used for malicious hacking.
  • Vulnerability scanning and network packet sniffing can fall in the space of grey hat activity as long as it is not prohibited explicitly by terms of service or use.

Black hat and white hat hackers often use similar techniques and tools, but the objectives and motivations behind their activities are fundamentally different. Let’s view the factors used to categorize a hacking activity.

White HatBlack Hat
ApproachA transparent and ethical approach is used with permission of the system ownerUse stealthy techniques to avoid detection. No permissions required approach.
Career PathTypically work for security companies or as in-house security experts for organizations.Operate as freelancers or work for criminal organizations.
Ethical StandardsAdhere to a strict code of ethics.Work outside of ethical boundaries.
GoalsAim to identify and fix vulnerabilities, improve security, and prevent malicious attacks.Aim to cause disruption and may seek profit.
Impact on SocietyPrevent negative outcomes and improve overall security.Can cause negative consequences for the system owner and society.
Law EnforcementCollaborate with law enforcement agencies.Are targets of law enforcement efforts.
Legal StatusOperate within the bounds of the law.Engage in illegal activities
MotivationMotivated by a desire to improve security and protection.Motivated by financial gain, revenge, or a desire to cause harm
OutcomesPrevent loss and damages of system owners.Data loss, financial damage, and damage to reputation
Public PerceptionViewed as security experts and protectors.Often depicted in the media as criminals.
ReputationRespected for their knowledge and expertiseOften viewed as a threat to the security of organizations and individuals
TechniqueUse penetration testing, vulnerability scanning, and social engineering to strengthen systems.Use the same techniques as white hat hackers for malicious intent.

Although above I have tried to categorize white and black hat hackers in different categories. The reality is that sometimes a freedom fighter is considered adversay by the other side.

To summarize I would say a black hat hacker is one who knowingly goes against law of the land they are operating on.

Types of Tools and Techniques Used In Hacking

Here is a list of common tools and techniques used in hacking:

  • Active Reconnaissance Tools: Allow for more interactive reconnaissance, such as port scanning and vulnerability assessments.
  • Exploitation Tools: Allow a hacker to take advantage of a vulnerability and gain unauthorized access to a system. Examples include Metasploit and CANVAS.
  • Passive Reconnaissance Tools: These tools are used to gather information about a target without actively interacting with it. Examples include search engines, WHOIS lookups, and network mapping tools.
  • Password Cracking Tools: These tools are used to crack passwords and gain access to protected systems and data. Examples are Hashcat and John the Ripper.
  • Social Engineering Tools: These tools are used to trick individuals into giving up sensitive information or performing actions that compromise their own security. Examples include phishing kits and pretexting techniques.
  • Vulnerability Scanning Tools: These tools are used to identify vulnerabilities in a target’s infrastructure, such as missing patches or misconfigured systems.
  • Web Application Hacking Tools: Designed specifically for hacking web applications and websites. Examples include OWASP ZAP and Burp Suite.

Techniques and tools provided above are can be used by all types of hacking activities. The same tools can be used by a black hat or a white hat hacker. It is important to use these tools responsibly and within the bounds of the law.

Careers in Hacking

When talking about careers I am definitely talking to white hat hackers with a passion for security and technology.

Previously there were no dedicated roles for eithcal hackers within corporations. As the need for security has gone up over the years specific roles are created to target people interested in securing networks and systems. Below is a Here are some of the most popular careers in the field of hacking.

Technology Roles in Security

Ethical hackers, use their skills to identify and fix security vulnerabilities in systems and networks. They typically work for security companies, government agencies, or as in-house security experts for organizations.

Penetration testers conduct security assessments and penetration tests to identify and evaluate the security of systems and networks. They use real-world attack scenarios to assess the ability of security measures to detect and respond to them.

Cybersecurity analysts are responsible for protecting against cyber threats by monitoring networks and systems for signs of malicious activity.

Information security managers develop and implementing security policies and procedures to protect organizations against cyber threats.

Forensics Analysts, collect and analyze digital evidence in support of investigations into cybercrime and other security incidents. They may work for private corporations or government agencies.

Security researchers are responsible for finding and reporting security vulnerabilities in software and hardware products.

Non-Technology Roles in Security

I have listed above mostly technical types of security roles. There is also a need for security professionals to provide security services to guard and secure physical facilities. Examples of roles in this are:

  • Building security services.
  • Field guards and supervisors.
  • Police and other law enforcement.

Where to Search For Information and Network Security Jobs

Here are a few ways you can look for an open position in the security field.

  • Online job boards.
  • Information Technology companies.
  • Through 3-party job search agencies.

Search for jobs now

You can start searching for a new job immediately through one of the job sites below.


A hacker, uses their abilities to find vulnerabilities and weaknesses in systems and networks, with the goal of either exploiting them or for the purpose of protection.

Ethical hacking requires technical knowledge, analytical skills, creativity, and attention to detail, along with communication skills, curiosity, and adaptability.

A position in the security field, within which ethical hacking falls, is very lucrative and is desired by many. To qualify for a role in the security field, you may need to obtain relevant education and certifications. You should also gain practical experience by participating in cybersecurity competitions and by contributing to open-source projects.

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