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Learn hacking with online courses and classes

Modern organizations must prioritize cybersecurity to ensure sensitive data doesn’t end up in the wrong hands. Ethical hackers play an important role in reducing the likelihood of cyberattacks. Learn ethical hacking with online courses from edX.
Hacking | Introduction Image

What is hacking?

Hacking is the process by which a person or group of people gains unauthorized access to data in a network, system, or computer. It’s also a major area of concern in cybersecurity. There are different types of hackers, often referred to as various colored “hats” within the industry. These include black hat, white hat, red hat, gray hat, green hat, and blue hat hackers.Footnote 1

Black hat hackers take advantage of vulnerabilities in computer systems to disable an individual’s or organization’s operations. They create malicious software (“malware”) programs that help them gain access to computer networks. Once they have access to a system, black hat hackers can spy on victims’ online activities and steal sensitive information to ransom for a price.Footnote 2

White hat hackers also infiltrate computer systems, but they do so without malicious intent. Instead, their goal is to help organizations uncover and fix system vulnerabilities that could be exploited by black hat hackers if left unchecked. By thinking like cybercriminals and anticipating malicious actions, ethical hackers can strengthen a company’s security infrastructure.Footnote 3

Hacking can cause serious financial and reputational damage. As a result, modern businesses must rely on strong defensive and offensive security measures to ensure sensitive information isn't accessed, manipulated, or stolen. Ethical hackers provide an added layer of security for companies that are prioritizing the safety of their assets and workforce from cybercriminals.

Cybersecurity professionals work on the digital front lines to protect organizations from malicious actors every day. If computer systems and cybersecurity excite you, ethical hacking could be a great career fit for you.

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Hacking course curriculum

To learn hacking, it’s important to have a solid foundation of cybersecurity basics. An online introductory course in cybersecurity may provide an overview of common types of attacks and instruction on how to fight them. Other essential basics include how to: 

  • Keep safe while working on a smartphone or accessing bank accounts

  • Build strong passwords

  • Use antivirus tools

  • Protect against criminal activities like phishing 

Courses may also cover security terminology and spend time discussing industry trends and the latest news in security systems and cyberattacks.

Beyond introductory courses, learners may opt for more in-depth boot camp programs or bachelor’s and master's degree programs. Advanced hacking courses may teach ethical hacking fundamentals like network security, risk management, and threat detection. They may also cover essential coding skills and review common hacking tools that cybercriminals use to exploit vulnerabilities.Footnote 4

Cybersecurity jobs that involve hacking

Organizations of all sizes are at risk of cyberattacks. There will always be people trying to manipulate computer systems. Companies that turn to hacking experts for help strengthening their security defenses have a greater chance of outsmarting offenders and protecting customers, employees, and citizens.Footnote 5

Many businesses are realizing the critical role ethical hackers play in cybersecurity. As a result, they are seeking qualified professionals to fill positions like information security analyst and penetration tester, which check computer and network systems for breaches or vulnerabilities, respectively.Footnote 6

Additional examples of cybersecurity jobs that rely on hacking skills include:Footnote 7

  • Certified ethical hacker

  • Chief information security officer

  • Information security manager

  • Security analyst

  • Security architect

  • Security consultant

  • Security engineer

Ethical hackers often simulate cyberattacks to help businesses fortify their security systems. They can also work for governments, testing critical technology systems like drones and satellites for vulnerabilities and building new security solutions.

How to learn hacking online

Ethical hackers must bring a creative mind and strong code of ethics to their learning. After all, it’s what separates them from the hackers with nefarious intentions. Before signing up for an online ethical hacking course, it can be helpful to brush up on cybersecurity basics, computer engineering, and computer science. That being said, prior experience with the subject matter is less important than your engagement with the course content from programs such as cybersecurity boot camps.

In addition to technical skills, some knowledge of human psychology can be beneficial to aspiring ethical hackers. Learning how to think like the “bad guys” and understand what motivates cybercriminals to target specific victims can aid in the discovery of crucial insights.Footnote 8