Penetration testing

The benefits of learning ethical hacking

Howard Poston
August 30, 2018 by
Howard Poston

Ethical hacking benefits

Learning ethical hacking involves studying the mindset, tools and techniques of hackers and penetration testers to learn how to identify, triage and correct vulnerabilities in software and computer networks. Studying ethical hacking can be useful to employees in a variety of job roles, including network defender, risk management, software developer, quality assurance tester, management and legal. Additionally, pursuing ethical hacking training and certifications can benefit those seeking a new role or wanting to demonstrate skills and value to their organization.

Understanding the hacker mindset

The most obvious benefit of learning ethical hacking is its potential to inform and improve how a corporate network is defended. The primary threat to organizational network security is a hacker: learning how hackers operate can help network defenders identify, triage and prioritize potential threats and learn how to best remediate them.

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Network defenders operate at a severe disadvantage to hackers. A hacker only needs to identify and exploit a single vulnerability to gain a foothold in a network, while a defender theoretically needs to identify and correct all potential vulnerabilities in the network’s internal and perimeter security.

In practice, it is impossible to completely remove all risk from a network and a defender needs to be able to weigh the probability of exploitation and expected impact of each potential threat and assign limited resources to minimize the probability of a successful attack. In order to be successful at this, a defender needs to be able to think like a hacker. Training in ethical hacking can help a network defender develop this mindset.

Development and quality assurance

The roles of ethical hacker and quality assurance tester have a lot of overlap. In both cases, the role of the tester is to verify that software functions correctly both under normal and extreme conditions. With today’s rapid development cycles, security testing is often neglected, leaving the software vulnerable. A trained ethical hacker could be a major resource to a development team, enabling them to perform security testing quickly, efficiently and comprehensively with industry best practices rather than developing in-house methodologies that spend too much time on some things and overlook others.

Beyond learning best practices for security testing, learning ethical hacking is also useful from a tools perspective. Many cyber-defenders, quality assurance testers and hackers have developed tools to expedite identification and remediation of common vulnerabilities. By gaining familiarity and proficiency with these tools, a developer can learn coding errors that they should avoid and how to efficiently test for code vulnerabilities.

Regulatory compliance

Recent regulations have taken a much stronger stand regarding corporate responsibility for data breaches. The new regulations outlined in the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) simplify the laws and make the penalties for breaches clear.

With the new regulations, ensuring that software and networks are free of vulnerabilities becomes much more important. Studying ethical hacking can benefit a variety of different job functions in this space. Network defenders and software developers can learn to identify and protect against common vulnerabilities. Management and strategic planners can benefit from exploring common attack methodologies and impacts, incorporating this information into risk-management plans.

Professional development

The gap between the need for worker with skills in cybersecurity and the pool of available talent is large and still growing. In the U.S. alone, an estimated 350,000 cybersecurity jobs are currently unfilled, and this number is expected to increase tenfold by 2021. While this is bad news in general and for companies trying to hire and retain cybersecurity talent, it’s great for anyone interested in a position in the field.

Learning ethical hacking is a good way to get into the cybersecurity field and position yourself to take advantage of the skills shortage (and the salary bumps that come with it). Whether you’re searching for your first job, looking to specialize and advance in a job in a related field or thinking about changing jobs entirely, learning ethical hacking may be a good first step to getting the position that you want.

Find a job

When seeking an entry-level position in a new field, you’re usually competing against other entry-level applicants with little or no practical experience. Anything that you can do to demonstrate competency can set you apart from other applicants and help you to land the job.

If you’re looking to enter the cybersecurity field, one of the best ways to demonstrate knowledge and experience is through certifications. The various specializations and experience levels within cybersecurity are well represented by certifications.

One of the most highly-regarded cybersecurity certifications is the Certified Ethical Hacker certification offered by EC-Council. The Certified Ethical Hacker exam tests the applicant’s knowledge of the tools and techniques used by hackers, penetration testers, and network defenders.

Pursuing this certification demonstrates an applicant’s willingness to work hard and passing it proves that they have the necessary knowledge to perform the tasks necessary for their desired role. For those with limited experience in the field or wanting to brush up on their skills, taking a bootcamp-style training course can be a quick way to get up to speed.

Advancement and specialization

In many organizations, advancement is dependent on finding a way to demonstrate competence and value to the company. Most entry-level employees are generalists: they’ve learned the basics of their field and know a little bit about a lot of things. This is useful because it gives them the basic skills that they need to enter the workforce and provides the necessary foundation for future growth and development. However, pretty much anyone can do what a new employee can do. In order to be truly effective in their role and advance in the company, employees require additional training and specialization.

For someone in a development, IT or other software-focused roles, ethical hacking training can be a great start toward learning specialized skills and demonstrating value to an employer. The mindset, tools and techniques used as an ethical hacker are widely applicable for anyone whose role touches on cybersecurity. By pursuing this path, an employee learns best practices in the security industry and how to minimize exploitable bugs in developed software or how to best identify and correct vulnerabilities in network defenses.

By earning certifications like the EC-Council’s Certified Ethical Hacker, an employee can demonstrate to management that they are actively working to improve their skills and value to the company. When performance review time comes around, having something tangible to point to may mean the difference in getting a raise or a promotion.

Why should I learn ethical hacking?

The skills that can be learned through self-study or coursework in ethical hacking are widely applicable to a variety of roles throughout the computer science and cybersecurity job families. For network defenders and risk management experts, understanding the hacker mindset can be invaluable for identifying and triaging different potential vulnerabilities in corporate network defenses. For developers and quality assurance testers, knowledge and experience with penetration testing tools and best practices can help to improve development and security testing processes and procedures. The new regulations around protection of personal data mean that employees can benefit from ethical hacking training to improve network defense and risk management policies.

Ethical hacking training and earning certifications can also be helpful when seeking a job or a raise. By demonstrating the skills needed to specialize in cybersecurity and fill the roles left open by the cybersecurity skills gap, an employee raises their own value. Any employee working in a related field or wanting to move into the cybersecurity arena could benefit from studying ethical hacking.

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Howard Poston
Howard Poston

Howard Poston is a copywriter, author, and course developer with experience in cybersecurity and blockchain security, cryptography, and malware analysis. He has an MS in Cyber Operations, a decade of experience in cybersecurity, and over five years of experience as a freelance consultant providing training and content creation for cyber and blockchain security. He is also the creator of over a dozen cybersecurity courses, has authored two books, and has spoken at numerous cybersecurity conferences. He can be reached by email at or via his website at