When Is Hacking Good? A Closer Look At ‘Ethical Hacking’ In Cybersecurity

The word “hacking” conjures so many negative connotations, and that’s understandable. The modern world is almost always at the mercy of hackers, considering how most of our lives are now reliant on digital infrastructure. But that’s only one side of the coin, believe it or not.

(Photo: Unsplash / Kevin Ku)

If you didn’t know, there is a good side to hacking – ethical hacking. Otherwise known as white hat hacking, this practice is an integral part of cybersecurity which proves critical in increasing people’s protection from bad hackers. Here’s a closer look at what this practice entails and why it might be a career for you.

Ethical Hacking Definition

According to EmergingEdTech, ethical hacking’s definition varies. But every ethical hacker has more or less the same skillset as that of a bad hacker. They are experts in cybersecurity, network design and architecture, and processes such as penetration testing – wherein they launch simulated cyberattacks on a company’s systems to test its security and identify any weak points.

There’s so much technical talk that describes what a white hat hacker does. But the simplest explanation of their work is this: they find weaknesses in an organization’s digital infrastructure before bad hackers do, and help their employers fix those weaknesses.

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(Photo: Jefferson Santos via Unsplash)

Real World Example

This description of a white hat hacker’s job was in full swing back in 2016, with the challenge known as “Hack the Pentagon.” The United States Department of Defense challenged cybersecurity experts to breach the department’s digital infrastructure and see if they can find weaknesses before any black hat hackers can.

A total of 250 participants out of a pool of 1,400 found at least one vulnerability, as a result. And in that 250, 138 were considered to be legitimate major weaknesses that could have been catastrophic for the government branch. One of those hackers was a teenager named David Dworken, who just graduated from high school back then.

He wasn’t hired by the government, as the video above reveals. But his career did blossom as a result of participating in the event.

As of 2022, Dworken’s LinkedIn profile states that he is now an information security engineer at Google, and has spent most of his working life as a cybersecurity expert. This then brings us to the next topic in this article: jobs.

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Ethical Hacking Salaries

Dworken is perhaps the perfect example of somebody making a full-time, legal career in hacking. If you make the right moves and apply for the right companies, you can earn a considerable amount of money as a white hat hacker.

According to U2B, the average salary for an ethical hacker in the United States is around $ 101,387. But don’t expect to get that on your first try. The more realistic estimate for annual salaries is between $ 90,442 and as much as $ 115,661 – if you have the skills and experience to back that salary up.


(Photo: NICOLAS ASFOURI / AFP via Getty Images)
In this file photo taken on August 04, 2020, Prince, a member of the hacking group Red Hacker Alliance who refused to give his real name, uses a website that monitors global cyberattacks on his computer at their office in Dongguan, China’s southern Guangdong province .

Considering how an average, well-paid salaried employee in the US earns around $ 50,000 a year, white hat hacking pay is astounding and could be considered life-changing money. Sure, it’s nothing compared to what you could just steal as a black hat (they do make millions of dollars from single heists), but you won’t be a target of the feds. That’s always good, right?

What Kind Of Jobs To Look For?

As for the actual jobs you can apply for, there are several to choose from. Simplilearn lists these as the most common:

  • Cybersecurity analyst
  • Information security analyst
  • IT security engineer
  • Network security analyst
  • Intrusion detection analyst
  • IT security admin
  • Penetration tester

Aside from these titles, white hat hackers can also be held responsible for their employer’s hardware, not just their software. So if you love the process of hacking itself and computer hardware, ethical hacking is a perfect road for your dream job.

The world is getting more and more vulnerable to black hat hackers looking to steal and sow discord. But remember the old saying, “fight fire with fire,” and you’ll be on a great career path – one that will never run out of jobs for the foreseeable future due to how cybersecurity will always evolve.

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Written by RJ Pierce

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