How to Become a Hacker
Hackers find vulnerabilities in computer hardware and software and exploit these vulnerabilities to gain access to networks and the information contained within them. While some hackers carry out attacks with malicious intent, others, known as ethical or white hat hackers, discover vulnerabilities so they can be fixed before they are exploited maliciously.
Hackers can work for government agencies, private network security firms, tech firms, banks, or other organizations that want to secure their IT systems.
Hackers come from a variety of different educational backgrounds. Some have four-year computer science degrees, while others are self-taught. In the past few years, hacker training programs have become another viable option for those interested in entering the field. There are now several hacker “boot camps” across the country that train people who have little to no programming experience.
Becoming a successful hacker depends on building a base of knowledge and computer programming skills. One of the most important areas of knowledge for hackers is computer networking. Hackers must know how computers communicate with each other through the Internet and internal networks, so they should be very familiar with the protocols on which these networks are built. Hackers should also be very familiar with the security measures used to protect computer networks.
Programming plays an important role in hacking, and hackers should know how to read and write code written in different programming languages. They should also work in different operating systems, like Windows, Unix, Linux, and Mac OS X. Many hackers work extensively on Unix and Linux operating systems because many servers are Unix or Linux-based, and because these operating systems give end users a great deal of freedom to explore and manipulate.
Computer systems are maintained and operated by humans, so many hackers also develop skills in what is called “social engineering.” Social engineering involves gaining the trust of the users and guardians of a computer network and manipulating that trust to gain access to it. A hacker may gain physical access to a server room, for example, by misrepresenting himself to employees in the building, or gain access to a network by convincing a user to give him their password.
No matter their training, hackers gain experience and credibility through practice and collaboration with the hacker community. Hackers can contribute to the knowledge in their field by writing and sharing software tools, testing software written by others, and writing documentation.
Are there any certification or licensure requirements?
There are no licensure requirements to become a hacker, but there are many voluntary certifications that could enhance your chances of finding a job in the field.
There are many general IT certifications you can pursue to show your expertise in areas of knowledge like hardware maintenance (CompTIA’s A+ certification), networking (CompTIA’s Network+ certification and the Cisco Certified Network Professional certification), and computer security (CompTIA’s Security+ certification and the CISSP certification). Earning one of these certifications typically involves self-study, though many organizations offer training courses, and passing an exam.
You can also become a Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH). The International Council of E-Commerce Consultants (EC-Council) developed the Certified Ethical Hacker program, which is now recognized by the Department of Defense as an approved training program and certification for its computer network defenders. To become a CEH, you should already have some experience in computer security. The CEH course lasts five days and includes hands-on training in topics like network scanning, intrusion, intrusion detection, social engineering, and various types of cyber attacks, such as viruses, buffer overflows, and DDoS attacks. At the end of the course, you can take an exam to earn your certification.
How long does it take to become a hacker?
While some hacker boot camps claim to prepare hackers for jobs in as little as 12 weeks, many hackers spend years building their knowledge and practicing their skills.
What does a hacker earn?
Hackers can command a high salary for the work they do. The median yearly pay for information security analysts, which includes ethical hackers and penetration testers, was $86,170 in 2012. The top ten percent of earners in this field made more than $135,600 that year and the lowest ten percent made less than $49,960.
What are the job prospects?
The amount of money spent worldwide for IT security can be measured in the tens of billions of dollars, and has increased significantly over the past few years. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that employment of information security analysts in the United States will grow by 37 percent between 2012 and 2020, much faster than the average growth for all occupations.
What are the long term career prospects for hackers?
With experience, ethical hackers can advance into senior positions in their company, land more lucrative jobs with other companies, or start their own consulting services.
How can I find a job as a hacker?
Hackers can find work with many different kinds of organizations, including the government. Working for the government with groups like the Departments of Defense or Homeland Security typically requires earning a security clearance, which involves passing an extensive background check.
Making contacts within the hacker community can help you find job opportunities. Hackers are heavily recruited by all types of organizations looking to secure their IT systems, and participating in events like hacking conferences and conventions can put you in contact with colleagues and recruiters.
How can I learn more about becoming a hacker?
There are many different online communities where hackers work together and share information. To learn more about becoming a hacker, you can look to these communities for advice, but you should be prepared to put some effort into teaching yourself and contributing something back to the community.