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Learn ethical hacking with online courses and programs

Ethical hacking is a proactive security measure where an individual attempts to expose vulnerabilities in an existing computer system, network, or software. Learn ethical hacking with courses delivered through edX.

What is ethical hacking?

Ethical hacking, also called “white-hat hacking” or “penetration testing,” is one method to proactively manage the cybersecurity of computers, networks, and software applications. With the complexity of the digital threat landscape, many companies rely on white-hat hackers to intentionally attempt to breach their networks to expose vulnerabilities. 

Ethical hacking aims to identify and report potential vulnerabilities before malicious hackers find them. Essentially, it involves reverse-engineering a cyberattack. The key difference between malicious hackers and ethical hackers is the intent behind their actions. Ethical hackers help to identify security weaknesses, ultimately helping organizations improve their security and protect their data.Footnote 1

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Ethical hacking course curriculum

Learners with an interest in how to learn ethical hacking can explore various cybersecurity courses and programs that feature tools and techniques commonly utilized by different types of hackers. 

An ethical hacking tutorial may include:

  • Overview of ethical hacking

  • Footprinting techniques

  • Scanning and enumeration

  • Vulnerability analysis

  • System hacking

  • Malware threats

  • Packet sniffing

  • Social engineering

  • Web application hacking

  • Wireless network hacking

  • Techniques for bypassing firewalls

  • Encryption and decryptionFootnote 2

For technical professionals, one way to upskill is by completing an ethical hacking course or cybersecurity boot camp. Designed as accelerated learning opportunities, boot camps provide targeted, hands-on instruction in a particular subject area.

Degree-seeking learners can explore opportunities to complete a bachelor’s degree in computer science or data science that includes relevant cybersecurity coursework. An undergraduate degree program typically provides learners with a broad spectrum of coursework and experience to prepare them for entry-level careers in a particular field.

Advanced learners can also enroll in a master’s degree program, while professionals might benefit from executive education courses. These programs provide senior-level executives with opportunities for continuing education in targeted areas of study, like technology.

Explore ethical hacking jobs

As the complexity of cybersecurity threats continues to evolve with the digital transformation and the adoption of new technologies; white-hat hackers will play an increasingly important role for many organizations. Many jobs might utilize hacking as a primary or secondary task, including:

  • Penetration testers: This role is part of a security team responsible for conducting pen tests, or intentional security breaches, intended to test the strength of an organization’s security posture. Ethical hacking training courses can provide specialized study in the skills needed to obtain an entry-level job as a penetration tester.Footnote 3

  • Security analysts: Analyst roles work directly with data to monitor and implement various security protocols. This is a more advanced role responsible for a variety of security-focused tasks, which might include penetration testing as one tool to do the job.Footnote 4

  • Cybersecurity administrators: This role, sometimes called a system administrator, manages an organization’s collective cybersecurity needs through tasks such as updating software or conducting pen tests. An ethical hacking course may help these admins be more effective at protecting their organizations.Footnote 5

  • IT trainers: This role provides technical education to both technical and non-technical employees. It is important for IT trainers to remain up to date with current trends in technology, including hacking and other cybersecurity needs. Some trainers might specialize in ethical hacking training for cybersecurity professionals.Footnote 6

  • Cybersecurity and IT consultants: This role provides expert guidance to organizations based on firsthand experience in cybersecurity. As the prevalence of cyberattacks continues to grow, outside consultants can provide unique insight to help improve network security.

How to use ethical hacking in your career

Ethical hacking involves the use of tools and techniques traditionally used to obtain unauthorized access to a network, device, or connection. However, the purpose of penetration testing is to identify and fix vulnerabilities rather than exploit them. As such, the use of these skills is more common in technical roles with cybersecurity job duties.

For example, a penetration tester will simulate cyberattacks to identify vulnerabilities and ultimately strengthen an organization’s security posture. Other job roles that might use these techniques include security consultants who need to demonstrate vulnerabilities to a client, analysts who need to assess security data, and incident response specialists who need simulations to prepare for potential events.