Cybersecurity - ethical hacker - what is an ethical hacker

A Peek Into the World of Ethical Hacking

An ethical hacker is someone who has permission to get “unauthorized” access to a computer system, app, or data. Ethical hacking means using hacking practices to help find the weak spots in security systems. By using ethical hacking, the vulnerabilities in security systems can be solved before an actual hacker has the chance to attack

Ethical hackers are also sometimes referred to as “white hats.” They are experts in cybersecurity and able to perform security assessments that test online systems. They have permission from the organization or the person who owns the IT asset to attempt to hack into the system for an ultimate test of online security.

What’s the Difference Between Malicious & Ethical Hackers?

Ethical hackers vs. malicious hackers. It’s the classic good guys versus the bad guys narrative. Ethical hackers use their education and training for the good of people, businesses, and organizations. 

Simulating what could go wrong tells us how to prevent a security breach. Ethical hackers execute the “hacking”, identify the problems in security, and then provide the solution to fix any weak spots. The ethical hacker should then retest after the solutions are in place and continue to repeat the process until the system is fully and properly secured. 

A malicious hacker has bad intentions and no authorization to systems. They will do what they can to take advantage of sensitive information, typically to eventually somehow steal or to vengefully take someone down. Malicious hackers want to deface sites, crash servers, and damage reputations.

What are the Protocols for Ethical Hacking?

Ethical hackers need to have these systems in place in order to work:

  • Legality: Make sure you have approval before the assessment 
  • Know the boundaries and scope: Get a clear definition of what exactly your employer wants to be done and what you have the ability to do. Make sure everything is perfectly legal and with the permission of the business organization.
  • Know the sensitivity of the data: It is common to sign an NDA or a non-disclosure agreement prior to hacking. This will include the terms and conditions of the business and what you are allowed to speak upon.
  • Honestly reporting the vulnerabilities: Letting the business know what vulnerabilities you have found while performing the hack. Also being able to offer solutions to any weaknesses. 

What Should an Ethical Hacker Be On the Lookout For?

The most common problems ethical hackers should be prepared for are security misconfigurations, injection attacks, broken authentication, sensitive data exposure, and the use of components with known vulnerabilities. You should frequently test for these issues, then report back with details.

What Does It Take to Become an Ethical Hacker?

Ethical hackers need excellent computer skills. It is typical to specialize in one area and become a subject matter expert (or SME). But every ethical hacker should have an expert level of understanding of scripting languages, knowledge of operating systems, networking, and a basic understanding of the principles of information security

It is also incredibly helpful to have a certification like Cisco’s CCNA Security, CompTIA Security+, EC Council Certified Ethical Hacking Certification, or Offensive Security Certified Professional (OSCP) Certification. 

Hacking for Good

Interested in gaining offensive security skills to protect an organization’s computer networks and systems? Start your journey to meet the growing demand for cybersecurity professionals with Udacity’s Ethical Hacker Nanodegree program.


Jennifer Shalamanov
Jennifer Shalamanov
Jennifer is a content writer at Udacity with over 10 years of content creation and marketing communications experience in the tech, e-commerce and online learning spaces. When she’s not working to inform, engage and inspire readers, she’s probably drinking too many lattes and scouring fashion blogs.