What is Ethical Hacking? Everything You Need to Know (2023)

By Tibor Moes / Updated: June 2023

What is Ethical Hacking? Everything You Need to Know (2023)

What is Ethical Hacking?

In today’s digital world, cybersecurity is of the utmost importance. But did you know that not all hackers are out to cause harm? Enter the world of ethical hacking, where skilled professionals use their expertise to protect organizations from cyber threats and strengthen their security measures.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll dive into the fascinating world of ethical hacking, exploring various techniques, certifications, and career paths. Get ready to uncover the secrets of these cybersecurity superheroes!


  • Ethical hacking is a type of security testing in which a trained professional simulates malicious attacks on computer systems, applications, or networks to identify security flaws and vulnerabilities.

  • Ethical hackers are employed by organizations to find and fix security vulnerabilities, playing a vital role in protecting digital assets.

  • It’s important for ethical hackers to be aware of legal & ethical considerations when conducting their activities, as well as obtain permission & define scope before beginning work.

Don’t become a victim of cybercrime. Protect your devices with the best antivirus software and your privacy with the best VPN service.

Understanding Ethical Hacking

Ethical hacking is the practice of authorized hacking to identify potential vulnerabilities or threats in computer systems and networks. Ethical hackers, also known as white hat hackers, help organizations ensure their systems are secure by finding and fixing vulnerabilities before malicious hackers can exploit them.

Ethical hacking involves bypassing or cracking security measures to discover vulnerabilities, data breaches, or potential threats. The process is broken down into five main phases: Reconnaissance, Gaining Access, Enumeration, Maintaining Access, and Clearing Tracks. This methodology helps ethical hackers identify security vulnerabilities and protect sensitive information from falling into the wrong hands.

The Role of Ethical Hackers

An ethical hacker is employed by an organization and trusted to break into networks and computer systems using the same methods and techniques as malicious hackers. Their job is to protect against cyberattacks and security breaches by legally hacking into systems and identifying potential vulnerabilities.

Ethical hackers perform various tasks such as penetration testing, verifying the organization’s system and network, identifying and documenting security flaws, and providing the best security solutions. They play a crucial role in safeguarding an organization’s digital assets and managing risks.

Ethical vs. Malicious Hacking

While ethical hacking aims to find and fix weaknesses, malicious hacking, also known as black hat hacking, exploits these weaknesses for personal gain or to cause harm. Ethical hackers are driven by a passion for making the world a more secure place, while malicious hackers are motivated by personal gain or malicious intent.

The key distinction between the two lies in the authorization; ethical hackers have the green light to hack into systems, whereas malicious hackers do not. By understanding the differences between ethical and malicious hacking, organizations can better protect their systems and data from cyber threats.

Advantages of Ethical Hacking

Ethical hacking offers numerous benefits to organizations, such as preventing data theft and abuse by malicious hackers. As cyber threats continue to evolve, government agencies and businesses increasingly rely on ethical hackers to help safeguard their IT security.

Having ethical hacking skills is essential for businesses with a digital presence to protect themselves from cyber attacks and maintain their reputation. As the cybersecurity landscape continues to change, ethical hackers will remain an integral part of ensuring the safety of data systems across various industries.

Strengthening Network Security

Organizations turn to ethical hackers to bolster their network security by identifying vulnerabilities before they can be exploited by malicious hackers. Ethical hackers scan the organization’s infrastructure, detect malicious activities, and trace them back to their source, preventing systems from being exploited.

By discovering and fixing vulnerabilities before they can be used by attackers, ethical hacking helps improve an organization’s overall security posture.

Enhancing Risk Management

Ethical hacking plays a significant role in risk management by identifying vulnerabilities and suggesting appropriate countermeasures to address them. It empowers organizations to take proactive security measures and fix weaknesses before they are exploited, thus lowering risk, identifying potential cost savings, and increasing their capabilities to protect their IT and information assets.

Types of Ethical Hackers and Their Motivations

There are three main types of hackers: white hat, black hat, and grey hat. White hat hackers, or ethical hackers, focus on keeping networks and systems safe from malicious attacks. On the other hand, black hat hackers exploit vulnerabilities for their own benefit or to cause damage. Grey hat hackers fall somewhere in the middle, with both good and bad intentions.

Understanding the different types of hackers and their motivations is crucial for organizations to effectively safeguard their systems and data. By employing ethical hackers, organizations can maintain a strong cybersecurity posture and stay one step ahead of potential threats.

White Hat Hackers

White hat hackers take an ethical stance when it comes to improving cybersecurity. They are trusted professionals who are employed by organizations to conduct penetration testing and find cybersecurity issues.

By following a code of ethics and working within legal boundaries, white hat hackers play a vital role in helping organizations protect their digital assets from malicious attacks.

Black Hat Hackers

Black hat hackers break into systems without permission, causing damage or stealing data for personal gain. Driven by financial rewards through ransomware or other illegal activities, black hat hackers exploit vulnerabilities in individual computers, businesses, and public institutions.

Understanding the motives and methods of black hat hackers is essential for organizations to defend themselves against cyber threats.

Grey Hat Hackers

Grey hat hackers operate in the middle ground between ethical and malicious hacking. They hack without malicious intent, usually for fun, but without obtaining approval from the targeted organization. While their motives may not always be harmful, grey hat hackers can still pose a risk to organizations, making it important to differentiate between ethical and grey hat hackers when assessing cybersecurity.

Organizations should be aware of the potential risks posed by grey hat hackers and take steps to protect their systems. This includes implementing strong security measures, such as implementing strong security measures.

Common Ethical Hacking Techniques

Various ethical hacking techniques are used to identify vulnerabilities, such as phishing, social engineering, SQL injection, session hijacking, reconnaissance, scanning, gaining access, maintaining access, and clearing tracks. Ethical hackers use these techniques to test an organization’s defenses and provide recommendations for improving security.

Understanding common ethical hacking techniques enables organizations to be more proactive in addressing potential security concerns. By employing these techniques, ethical hackers can help organizations stay ahead of the curve and protect their systems and data from malicious hackers.

Social Engineering

Social engineering is a type of attack that takes advantage of human interaction to obtain confidential information. It involves manipulating people into performing certain actions or divulging sensitive information.

Ethical hackers use social engineering techniques to test an organization’s human defenses against cyberattacks, identifying potential weaknesses in the process.

Password Cracking

Password cracking is the process of trying to gain access to a system or network by guessing or cracking passwords. Ethical hackers use automated tools that attempt to guess passwords based on a dictionary of common words or variations of them.

By testing the strength of an organization’s password policies, ethical hackers can help identify potential vulnerabilities and recommend improvements.

SQL Injection

SQL injection is a type of attack that takes advantage of weaknesses in a website’s code to gain access to sensitive data. Malicious code is inserted into a website’s database to gain access to confidential information.

Ethical hackers test for SQL injection vulnerabilities in web applications in order to prevent unauthorized access to databases.

Ethical Hacking Certifications and Skills

Certifications and skills are invaluable for aspiring ethical hackers, showcasing their technical knowledge and demonstrating their proficiency to their organization. Popular certifications for ethical hackers include the Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH), Offensive Security Certified Professional (OSCP), and Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP). All these certifications are designed to ensure seasoned professionals are providing high-level security services.

In addition to certifications, ethical hackers must possess crucial skills such as programming, networking, and critical thinking. A strong foundation in these skills enables ethical hackers to effectively identify vulnerabilities and safeguard organizations from cyber threats.

Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH)

The Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) certification provides an excellent introduction to the world of ethical hacking and is a great way to get started if you’re looking to pursue a career in the field. Obtaining the CEH certification demonstrates to employers that you have the expertise to safeguard their networks and systems from cyber threats.

Offensive Security Certified Professional (OSCP)

The Offensive Security Certified Professional (OSCP) certification, offered by Offensive Security, focuses on teaching hands-on penetration testing skills. To obtain the OSCP certification, candidates must pass a challenging 24-hour practical exam.

This certification is highly regarded in the cybersecurity industry and attests to an ethical hacker’s ability to conduct thorough assessments of an organization’s security posture.

Key Skills for Ethical Hackers

In addition to certifications, ethical hackers must possess crucial skills such as programming, networking, and critical thinking. A strong foundation in these skills enables ethical hackers to effectively identify vulnerabilities and safeguard organizations from cyber threats.

Furthermore, ethical hackers must be able to communicate their findings effectively and provide guidance on security best practices to relevant parties.

Career Opportunities in Ethical Hacking

Ethical hacking offers a range of career opportunities, including in-house ethical hackers, independent consultants, and penetration testing consultants. As the demand for cybersecurity professionals continues to grow, ethical hackers can find employment across various industries such as healthcare, financial services, government, and energy.

Whether working within an organization or as an independent consultant, ethical hackers play a crucial role in protecting digital assets and ensuring the safety of data systems. Pursuing a career in ethical hacking can be both rewarding and challenging, offering ample opportunities for growth and development.

In-House Ethical Hackers

In-house ethical hackers work for a company or organization, identifying and patching up security vulnerabilities in their computer systems, applications, or data. They are responsible for ensuring that the organization’s security measures meet industry standards and regulations, as well as providing advice and guidance on security best practices.

By having dedicated ethical hackers on staff, organizations can maintain a strong cybersecurity posture and stay ahead of potential threats.

Independent Consultants

Independent consultants are experienced professionals who offer their services to clients on a project basis, providing advisory services related to their field of expertise. Ethical hackers can work as independent consultants, offering their expertise in cybersecurity to clients across various industries.

Freelance platforms like UpWork and Freelancer.com can help ethical hackers find clients and projects that align with their skills and interests.

Legal and Ethical Considerations in Ethical Hacking

When engaging in ethical hacking activities, it is crucial to consider the legal and ethical aspects, such as obtaining permission, adhering to a code of ethics, and understanding potential limitations. By being aware of these considerations, ethical hackers can ensure that their actions are legal, ethical, and responsible.

Understanding the legal and ethical boundaries of ethical hacking can help organizations maintain a strong cybersecurity posture while avoiding potential lawsuits or infringement on the rights of others.

Permission and Scope

Before conducting ethical hacking activities, it is essential to obtain explicit permission from the system owner and define the scope of the assessment. This ensures that the ethical hacker is legally authorized to perform the tasks and helps to avoid any potential misunderstandings or conflicts with the organization being tested.

It is also important to document the assessment process and results, as this will help to ensure that the ethical hacker is held accountable for their actions and that the organization is aware of any potential security issues that may have occurred.

Code of Ethics

Ethical hackers must follow a code of ethics to maintain professionalism and integrity. This code can include principles such as respecting privacy, not causing harm, obtaining permission before running tests, and ensuring proper documentation of activities.

By adhering to a code of ethics, ethical hackers can ensure that their actions are responsible, ethical, and in compliance with the law.

Limitations and Challenges

Ethical hackers may face certain limitations and challenges, such as time constraints and evolving threats. They are only responsible for the tasks they are contracted to do, like penetration testing or vulnerability assessment.

By being aware of these limitations, ethical hackers can better navigate the complexities of their profession and continue to provide valuable insights and recommendations to organizations.


In conclusion, ethical hacking is a critical tool for protecting networks and systems from malicious attacks. Ethical hackers play a vital role in safeguarding an organization’s digital assets, managing risks, and ensuring compliance with industry standards. By understanding the different types of hackers, ethical hacking techniques, and the importance of certifications and skills, professionals can pursue a rewarding career in this ever-evolving field. As cybersecurity threats continue to grow, the need for skilled ethical hackers will only increase, making it a promising career path for those passionate about making the digital world a safer place.

How to stay safe online:

  • Practice Strong Password Hygiene: Use a unique and complex password for each account. A password manager can help generate and store them. In addition, enable two-factor authentication (2FA) whenever available.
  • Invest in Your Safety: Buying the best antivirus for Windows 11 is key for your online security. A high-quality antivirus like Norton, McAfee, or Bitdefender will safeguard your PC from various online threats, including malware, ransomware, and spyware.
  • Be Wary of Phishing Attempts: Be cautious when receiving suspicious communications that ask for personal information. Legitimate businesses will never ask for sensitive details via email or text. Before clicking on any links, ensure the sender's authenticity.
  • Stay Informed. We cover a wide range of cybersecurity topics on our blog. And there are several credible sources offering threat reports and recommendations, such as NIST, CISA, FBI, ENISA, Symantec, Verizon, Cisco, Crowdstrike, and many more.

Happy surfing!

Frequently Asked Questions

Below are the most frequently asked questions.

What is ethical hacking in simple words?

Simply put, ethical hacking is a type of security testing in which a trained professional simulates malicious attacks on computer systems, applications, or networks to identify security flaws and vulnerabilities.

By doing so, they can help strengthen a company’s security posture and protect data from being compromised.

What do ethical hacker do?

Ethical hackers are cybersecurity professionals who use their expertise to identify potential threats and vulnerabilities in an organization’s system, networks, and applications. Through testing and risk assessment, they aim to protect organizations from malicious attacks while providing advice on how to improve security.

What is an example of ethical hacking?

Ethical hacking is an example of using hacking skills to find vulnerabilities in a computer system, all while adhering to laws and regulations. It involves running security tests on applications and networks in order to identify weaknesses that can be exploited by malicious hackers.

Penetration testing is one of the most common examples of ethical hacking.

Is ethical hacking a crime?

Ethical hacking is not a crime, but rather it can be used to protect the security of systems. With the owner’s permission, an ethical hacker can look for weaknesses and fix them before malicious hackers have a chance to exploit them.

Author: Tibor Moes

Author: Tibor Moes

Founder & Chief Editor at SoftwareLab

Tibor is a Dutch engineer and entrepreneur. He has tested security software since 2014.

Over the years, he has tested most of the best antivirus software for Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS, as well as many VPN providers.

He uses Norton to protect his devices, CyberGhost for his privacy, and Dashlane for his passwords.

This website is hosted on a Digital Ocean server via Cloudways and is built with DIVI on WordPress.

You can find him on LinkedIn or contact him here.

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