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How to Become a Hacker: Your Path From A to Z

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Whether you’re a veteran programmer, a hobbyist, or a novice, you might want to pick up some hacking skills and start a career in the industry.

However, if you don’t know much about the field, you might be lured into the wrong area.

But the reality is much more straightforward than popular media often depicts it, and there are plenty of excellent career opportunities for aspiring ethical hackers to become self-employed.

Read on if you want a step-by-step guide on how to become a hacker, including an overview of the field and its benefits.

An Overview of Hacking: A Primer

When most people hear about hacking, their brains automatically conjure images of mysterious and malicious attackers that are often exploiting vulnerabilities in computer systems and going against the law.

These types, also known as black hat hackers, pose a danger to many businesses that rely on an online presence or a large set of computer systems.

As such, many companies hire other hackers, called ethical hackers or white hat hackers, to try and replicate popular hacking attacks to catch potential vulnerabilities in the system and prevent data breaches.

Of course, ethical hacking requires permission from the owners of a system first, as the attacks carried out can potentially expose sensitive information. And once a weakness has been found, the ethical hacker reports it to other software engineers to repair.

It’s important to note that ethical hacking isn’t a one-to-one lawful emulation of black hat hackers, as you’ll often fall under workplace restrictions.

Your role may lead you to a position where you can pose a malicious risk to the authorizing company, so it’s always important to stay within the allowed boundaries.

For instance, attacks that can hinder the company’s regular operation, such as Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks, are typically out of bounds.

Note that hackers can bump into sensitive information after cyber attacks, so many companies enforce a non-disclosure agreement beforehand.

How Much Do Hackers Make?

Your salary as an ethical hacker will depend on your ethical hacking skills, years of experience, the company you’re in, and more.

In general, ethical hacking is considered a financially prestigious field that offers lucrative salaries. For exact figures, let’s look at some popular salary-calculating websites.

According to Glassdoor, the median pay for an ethical hacker in the United States is $109,581 per year, with massive companies like Google offering $208,206 per year for the position.

PayScale has a much lower median salary of $84,770 per year, with the top 10% making more than $118,000 per year. In contrast, Salary.com estimate a median pay of $105,330 per year.

What You’ll Need to Become a Hacker [& Associated Costs]

Ethical hacking is comparable to other computer science fields when it comes to learning.

If you can pick up programming languages and hacking concepts by yourself, then you might consider self-teaching. Or you might find courses and universities more useful.

Either way, here’s a general list of what you’ll need:

  • Courses: You can learn a lot from online courses on popular course websites like Udemy, Udacity, and Coursera.
  • Get Certified: To become a certified ethical hacker, you’ll need a certification from a prestigious platform, which tests your knowledge and certifies you if you pass. Popular options include PenTest+ by CompTIA and OSCP by OffSec.
  • University: Although a bachelor’s degree isn’t strictly required in most computer science-related fields, having a bachelor’s degree in computer science or computer engineering certainly boosts your chances of getting employed.

How Much Does It Cost to Become a Hacker?

After you’ve learned basic hacking skills, courses can help you take it to the next level. You can find pre-recorded ones on Udemy for $10-20 or enroll in a live course on Udacity for $399 per month.

After that, you might want to prove that you made an effort to learn hacking by getting certified, which can go from about $400 (PenTest+) to $5,499 (OSCP).

Lastly, if you want a university degree, that’s a massive undertaking that’ll probably cost you tens of thousands of dollars.

Is It Hard to Become a Hacker?

If you follow a loose definition of the word “hacker,” then no; anyone can pick up hacking and cybersecurity skills in a few months, test them on virtual machines or other operating systems, immerse themselves in the hacker culture, and call themselves a hobbyist internet hacker.

But becoming a professional hacker can be difficult. Companies always prioritize ethical hackers with a proven track record, so after you learn hacking at a theoretical level, you still need to apply your knowledge practically.

After you’ve established yourself, you also need to keep up with the rapidly-advancing technologies surrounding the field. Learning to adapt quickly is especially important as an ethical hacker, as your slip-ups can lead to lots of damage.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Hacker?

This entirely depends on where you are on the journey. If you’re a complete beginner, learning your first programming language can take a few months of practice before you can even start to delve into hacking.

But assuming you have the basics down, you can enroll in an extensive ethical hacking course for 12-18 months. It can also take another 1-4 months to earn certifications.

How to Become a Hacker in 6 Simple Steps

Assuming you’re a complete beginner, you’ll want to follow these steps closely before you start applying for positions as an ethical hacker.

Step One: Learning Programming Skills and Languages

You’ll want to learn a serious programming language like C or C++, and it certainly helps to know more popular languages like Python, JavaScript, Ruby, and PHP. Additionally, knowing SQL is useful for hacking databases.

Step Two: Pick Up Linux

You’ll want to learn a UNIX operating system, as most back-end systems run on Linux. Common Linux distributions in the hacker community include Kali Linux, BlackArch, ParrotOS, BackBox, and CAINE.

Step Three: Get Familiar With Important Networking Concepts

Most hacking revolves around exploiting weaknesses in computer networks, so learning about networking concepts and network security is crucial. Start with things like TCP/IP, subnetting, network masks, CIDR, and popular protocols like SNMP and SMTP.

Step Four: Branch Into Hacking

The networking concepts you learn are essential before transitioning to hacking, as now you should be applying them at a lower level.

Find online virtual machines like HackTheBox to test your newly-acquired skills. And search for online hacking communities and join forums that’ll help you get into the hacker mindset.

Step Five: Explore the Ample Tools for Hacking

There are numerous hacking and networking tools that are ubiquitous in the field, and you need to be familiar with them. Some of these are:

  • Wireshark: It’s the king of network analysis; it allows you to see and analyze packets in real-time.
  • Nmap: Nmap, also known as the network mapper, allows you to scan for and discover hosts on a network.
  • Metasploit: Metasploit helps with penetration testing by executing exploits against targeted networks.
  • Burp Suite: An all-inclusive tool for debugging web applications.

Step Six: Get Certified

Although getting certified isn’t strictly necessary, having proof of your skill set will significantly boost your chances of finding employment, especially if you’re up against stiff competition.

Explore courses offered by high-name organizations like CompTIA, EC-Council, and OffSec. Although they won’t come cheap, think of them as a long-term investment.

Reasons to Consider Becoming a Hacker

Pursuing a hacking career sounds overwhelming, given the difficult nature of the field and how it quickly changes as technology advances.

But this is a massive undertaking with a long list of benefits, including the following:

  • It’s Here to Stay: With the rising fear of AI taking over human roles, ethical hacking and penetration testing are one of the jobs that need a human touch.
  • It’s in High Demand: Companies are always afraid of the threats of black hat hackers. Hence, they always need a good hacker to help test programs.
  • It’s Highly Flexible: You often don’t need to be at the office to work on hacking projects, and this means you can find jobs in the field that allow you to work flexibly from home.
  • It’s Financially Lucrative: As we’ve seen above, the median yearly salary for ethical hackers is around six figures, and it only goes up with experience.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I Become an Ethical Hacker By Myself?

You can learn and practice ethical hacking on your own by using the wide array of resources available online.

Books and courses are also a rich source of information, as they are in most computer science fields. You’ll need practice, too, which you can get through virtual machines.

What Are the Three Types of Hackers?

Hackers are often categorized as white hat, black hat, and gray hat hackers.

White hat hackers are lawful, ethical hackers, while black hat hackers are the opposite—criminal and often malicious. Gray hat hackers are an in-between type that ventures into both areas.

Do I Need to Learn Mathematics to Be a Hacker?

You need to learn math to an extent, as it can help you as an ethical hacker, especially since you might end up creating algorithms.

You won’t need complicated math like calculus; instead, you’ll learn computer maths like number bases, cryptography algorithms, bits and bytes, etc.

Similar Gigs to Check Out

If you’d like to explore a similar field, here are some great alternatives to ethical hacking:

Wrapping Up

Learning to be an ethical hacker sounds overwhelming, especially if you don’t have any knowledge in similar programming-related fields.

However, it’s worth exploring if you have the passion for it, as you’ll reap some hefty rewards when you make it as an established hacker.

Let us know in the comments if you have any questions or suggestions to help other prospective ethical hackers!

And if you have a friend with the same itch for this field, make sure to share this guide with them.

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