How to Become an Ethical Hacker: Salary, Certification & Training

Hackers can be good guys, too. Learn about the education and certification requirements, salary and training information to see if you have what it takes to be an ethical hacker.

Career Information at a Glance

Ethical hackers help companies and organizations identify and fix vulnerabilities in their computer security systems. These 'white hat' hackers generally need a bachelor's degree in a computer-related field, though some are hackers who are self taught. For more on ethical hacking, see our chart below.

Required Degree Bachelor's degree common
Education Field of Study Computer science, information technology
Key Skills Problem solving, analytical skills, strong ethics
Licensure Optional Certified Ethical Hacker credential
Job Growth (2016-2026) 28% (for all information security analysts)*
Median Salary (2019) $95,000**

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **PayScale.com

What Are Ethical Hackers?

Hackers -- we've all seen them in the movies and some of us have been their victims. But not all hackers are bad guys looking to steal identities, break into corporations and take people's life savings. In fact, many hackers are on the other side of the fight, protecting consumers and companies from attack by exposing and fixing vulnerabilities in their systems.

An ethical hacker might help install protections and encryptions for sensitive data, monitor networks for suspicious activity and investigate security breaches to ensure they don't happen again. It's a world that moves and changes almost daily, so ethical hackers must stay on top of new technologies and new sources for potential attacks.

Do You Need a Degree to Become an Ethical Hacker?

Typically, employers in the IT field look for candidates who hold a degree in a related subject such as information technology or computer science. However, in the IT world, experience can sometimes trump a degree. It's not unheard of for former malicious hackers to change their ways and turn to protecting sensitive information instead of trying to exploit it.

How Do You Become a Certified Ethical Hacker?

Hackers can become a Certified Ethical Hacker by applying through a vendor-neutral governing body called the EC-Council. There are a number of prerequisites for becoming certified. The EC-Council generally wants candidates with at least a couple of years working in information security and an in-depth understanding of penetration testing, social engineering and reconnaissance. Applicants can take a 5-day course offered by the EC-Council, or they can do self-study before applying to take the required CCISO (ANSI) Exam.

How Much Can You Make as an Ethical Hacker?

Ethical hacking may not hold the same potential for striking it rich as so-called 'black hat' hacking, but ethical hackers can enjoy a relatively good salary. In fact, according to PayScale.com, 'white hat' hackers made a median salary of $95,000 as of February 2019. Some ethical hackers at the higher end of the field brought home a salary in the ballpark of $359,000 or more per year.

Will Ethical Hacking Continue to Grow?

As cyber attacks and data breaches become more and more prevalent, the need for 'white hat' hackers to shore up security systems and thwart 'black hat' hackers will go up. So much so, in fact, that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the field will see an increase in employment for information security analysts (which includes ethical hackers) of 28% between 2016 and 2026. By comparison, the average projected increase for all other careers during that period is 7%.

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