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How to Become an Ethical Hacker
How to Become an Ethical Hacker

Companies everywhere are looking to outsmart hackers by hiring hackers of their own. And that means big demand for honest professionals who can break into computer code — before anyone with malicious intent does it first.

“An ethical hacker is someone who has the skill set of a real hacker, but who uses those skills professionally, for good purpose,” said Jason Tsang, an advisory board member and one of the course designers for UW Professional & Continuing Education’s Certificate in Ethical Hacking.

Companies Need Information Security Experts

Ethical hacking is a foundation of the growing field of information security. This specialization starts with mastering the technical aspects of how technologies work, then using those skills to find vulnerabilities that might allow a system or technology to be exploited. These professionals also document any problems they find, how they found them and how to fix them.

People trained in ethical hacking are prepared for a variety of jobs to defend against computer breaches or corporate missteps that can lead to stolen data, consumer hassles and major costs for companies.

Projected Growth

U.S. (2020-30): 31%
Washington state (2018-28): 28%

Median Annual salary

U.S. (2020): $103,590
Washington state (2020): $106,900

Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, O*NET

Penetration testers, for instance, are coding experts who launch simulated cyberattacks against a computer network or application, then work with software programmers to fix any security problems. Titles for roles in security engineering and analysis vary, with penetration tester, security engineer and security analyst among the more common. According to Tsang, some roles focus on a certain kind of technology. In the current market, he said there’s demand for those who specialize in security for applications, networks and cloud infrastructure.

In Tsang’s own role as a Microsoft security engineer, he leads penetration testing and code review for applications that run on the Azure platform. He also lends his expertise for security training, offers insights to developers and policymakers, and constantly keeps his skills updated: “Security is knowing a technology better than the people who designed it,” he said.

Advance Your Career

Information security jobs are some of the hottest around. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects nearly 30% growth through the year 2028 — much faster than most industries. There’s a wealth of entry-level opportunities at Seattle-area employers such as Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook, Google and T-Mobile.

A background in computer science is a plus for those who want to enter the field. Obtaining certification as a Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) or as an Offensive Security Certified Professional (OSCP) can be an advantage, or even a requirement, for jobs at firms that have strict compliance policies or bid for government contracts, Tsang said. As technologies change, information security jobs are constantly being redefined, so it’s vital to keep your skills current.

UWPCE’s Certificate in Ethical Hacking provides a good foundation for pursuing either of these certifications. Students learn about penetration testing, reconnaissance methods, and tools and tactics to find vulnerabilities from inside an organization. They’ll also learn how to protect enterprises from flaws in applications, networks, passwords, denial-of-service attacks and malware.

Plus, the certificate’s simulation exercises prepare students for what Tsang said is the real challenge of jobs in information security.

“They’re going to give you a product,” Tsang said. “It’s going to be basically a lockbox. And they’re going to say ‘hack it.’ You can’t tell them the instructions weren’t specific enough. You’re the expert.”

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