A padlock placed over a computer to suggest computer security how to learn ethical hacking

How to Learn Ethical Hacking: A Beginner’s Comprehensive Guide

Ethical hacking is a cornerstone of cyber security. It involves a security professional hacking into a computer network, system, or app to check for vulnerabilities. This helps companies and institutions guard their information against malicious hackers. Computer security experts need to have knowledge of tools like Python, Ruby, PHP, and SQL.

Becoming an ethical hacker is an excellent career choice because it offers high salaries and job security. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a 31 percent growth for security analysts by 2029, much higher than average. This article breaks down the best ways to learn ethical hacking in 2021. 

What Is Ethical Hacking?

Ethical hacking is an authorized attempt to access a computer system, data infrastructure, or application. This practice uses many strategies designed to identify security vulnerabilities within a computer system’s infrastructure. These vulnerabilities can be resolved before a malicious hacker can cause damage. 

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The term ethical hacking is used interchangeably with penetration testing, a similar practice where hackers try to penetrate security systems. Today, most businesses and financial transactions are web or cloud-based, which can make them vulnerable. Worldwide, organizations hire ethical hackers to ward off threats while protecting sensitive data. 

What Are the Main Types of Hackers?

There are three main types of hackers: white hat hackers, black hat hackers, and grey hat hackers. All these individuals are described as wearing different hats, and they derive their names from old Spaghetti Western films. 

  1. White Hat Hackers. White hat hackers are also called ethical hackers. A white hat hacker uses their programming skills to identify loopholes in a computer system’s security infrastructure to make recommendations for improvement. 
  2. Black Hat Hackers. Black hat hackers use their skills to exploit loopholes in a system with the aim of stealing money and sensitive information. They use techniques like phishing attacks and remote access tools to break into computer networks with malicious intent. 
  3. Grey Hat Hackers. Grey hat hackers are a blend of both white and black hat hackers. Grey hat hackers will often break into a computer network and report the issues to the respective organizations for a small fee. However, some grey hat hackers are known to use their skills for fun, to show off, or to gain publicity.

Three Main Reasons Why You Should Learn Ethical Hacking

1. Increased Employment Opportunities

Ethical hackers are classified under information security analysts, whose jobs are expected to grow by 31 percent over the next decade, as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This rate is much higher than the national average, making this industry one of the most promising in the United States. 

2. High Salaries

Even as entry-level employees, ethical hackers across the world are known to earn significantly high salaries. According to the BLS, the average national salary for information security analysts is $103,590. This is more than double the average for all occupations.

3. Good Job Satisfaction Levels

Multiple reports from Quora and other career review websites suggest that ethical hackers experience decent job satisfaction levels. The ability to secure sensitive data from people without malicious intent can be very rewarding. Passionate ethical hackers consider problem-solving to be the best part of the job. 

Learn Ethical Hacking: Best Courses, Bootcamps, and Certifications

There are a ton of ways to learn ethical hacking. Such methods include in-person classes, online courses, and certification courses. Finding the best ethical hacking course, bootcamp, or certification can be a challenging task, especially for beginners. Browse our list below to discover the best ethical hacking learning paths. 

10 Best Ethical Hacking Courses Online for Beginners

Ethical Hacking Course Course Provider Price Program Length
Cybersecurity for Business Coursera and the University of Colorado $49 per month 5 months
Introduction to Cyber Attacks Coursera and New York University $49 per month 19 hours
Introduction to Cybersecurity Tools and Cyber Attacks Coursera and IBM $49 per month 20 hours
Network Security & Database Vulnerabilities Coursera and IBM $49 per month 14 hours
Penetration Testing, Incident Response, and Forensics Coursera and IBM $49 per month 17 hours
Cyber Security Basics: A Hands-on Approach edX $99 6 weeks
Ethical Hacking: Penetration Testing LinkedIn $25 per month 2 hours
The Complete Ethical Hacking Course: Beginner to Advanced! Udemy $195 25 hours
Learn Ethical Hacking From Scratch Udemy $135 15 hours, 29 minutes
Website Hacking / Penetration Testing & Bug Bounty Hunting Udemy $195 10 hours

Studying through a top online cyber security course is one of the best ways to quickly pick up new hacking skills. Below are the 10 best ethical hacking courses online that you should consider as a beginner. They are affordable and often short-term options to help you learn the basics.

Cybersecurity for Business – Coursera and the University of Colorado

This course will introduce you to cyber security for business and teach you more about cyber threats and attack vectors. You’ll also learn how to detect cyber threats and mitigate risk. If you want to learn the basics for your own business, this course is the best choice.

Introduction to Cyber Attacks – Coursera and New York University

Consider this course if you are a beginner looking to further your knowledge of cyber security. It covers common cyber security threats, risks, and vulnerabilities. You’ll be able to apply this fundamental knowledge to more advanced ethical hacking courses later on.

Introduction to Cybersecurity Tools and Cyber Attacks – Coursera and IBM

With over 150,000 enrolled students, this course from IBM is ideal for those looking to launch their careers in tech. You will learn the history of cyber security and enhance your knowledge of the threats facing organizations today. You’ll also gain the basic tools to start ethical hacking on your own.

Network Security & Database Vulnerabilities – Coursera and IBM

After enrolling in this course, you’ll understand network basics and be able to recount DNS, DHCP, and IP addressing. The course also describes the structures of key databases for cyber security including Oracle and SQL. 

Penetration Testing, Incident Response, and Forensics – Coursera and IBM

This course covers more complex cyber security topics, including phases of penetration testing and popular penetration tools. This course also gives you a first look at scripting and why it is important for systems analysts. This is a good course for intermediate students.

Cyber Security Basics: A Hands-on Approach – edX

This course from edX is perfect for those on a tight budget because you can choose to audit the course for free. You’ll learn reverse engineering, computer forensics, malware, penetration testing, vulnerability management, and management of network cyber security attacks. 

Ethical Hacking: Penetration Testing – LinkedIn

This course is led by cyber security professionals who teach you the steps involved in performing a worthwhile penetration test. This course also involves auditing systems, prioritizing vulnerabilities, listing, and mapping out attack points which hackers might target. You’ll earn a certificate for your LinkedIn profile.

The Complete Ethical Hacking Course: Beginner to Advanced! – Udemy

As the name suggests, this course will teach you everything you need to know as a beginner and an advanced ethical hacker. Among other things, you’ll learn how to secure and protect any network or data from hackers. 

Learn Ethical Hacking From Scratch – Udemy

This Udemy course is excellent for beginners as it introduces hacking concepts on multiple operating systems, including Windows and Linux. Additionally, you’ll learn how to use over 30 hacking tools like Aircrack and Metasploit. You’ll gain basic hands-on ethical hacking skills.

Website Hacking / Penetration Testing & Bug Bounty Hunting – Udemy 

This course will help you become a bug bounty hunter and find software vulnerabilities before they’re released to the public. You’ll learn how to intercept requests using proxies, exploit and mitigate CSRF vulnerabilities, and gather sensitive information about websites. 

10 Best Cyber Security Bootcamps 

Bootcamps are one of the best ways to pick up new tech skills fast. They offer fast-paced, immersive programs which include real-world projects to ensure students graduate as competent tech professionals. Consider enrolling in one of the following 10 cyber security bootcamps.

Cyber Security Bootcamp Location Program Length Price Payment Options
Claim Academy St. Louis, Remote 14 weeks (full-time), 20 weeks (part-time), 3 – 5 months (online) $13,998 – $15,998 Loans, Scholarships, Upfront Payment, GI Bill
Code Fellows Seattle, Remote 1 – 9 weeks $99 – $5,000 per course Income Share Agreement, Loans, Payment Plans, Early-Bird Discount, Course-Bundle Discount, Scholarship, GI Bill,
Washington State Worker Retraining Program, Upfront Payment
Coding Dojo Remote 24 weeks $16,245 Income Share Agreement, Accent Funding, Scholarships, Upfront Payment
DevLeague Hawaii, Remote 34 weeks $12,500 Upfront Payment, Scholarships, Loans
Evolve Security Academy Remote 20 weeks $12,500 (remote)
$14,500 (in-person)
Ascent Funding, Upfront Payment, Installments
Flatiron School Remote, New York, Chicago, Houston, Austin, Seattle, Denver, Washington DC, San Francisco 15 weeks (full-time), 20 – 60 weeks (Flex) $16,900 Upfront Payment, Ascent Loan Financing, Scholarships
Fullstack Academy Remote, New York 13 weeks (full-time), 26 weeks (part-time) $15,980 Upfront Payment, Personal Loans, Scholarships, Veteran Benefits
Ironhack Remote, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Berlin, Lisbon, Madrid, Mexico City, Paris, São Paulo 12 weeks $12,500 Upfront Payment, Loan Financing, Scholarship
Louisiana State University Cyber Bootcamp Remote 12 weeks (full-time), 26 weeks (part-time) $11,995 Upfront Payments, Scholarships
Springboard Remote 6 months $9,540 Monthly Installments, Climb Credit Loan, Deferred Tuition Plan, Upfront Payment, Scholarships

Claim Academy

  • Program: Cyber Security

Claim Academy offers a wide range of courses, including web development and cyber security. The cyber security course includes databases, unit testing, and network security. Having some experience in programming helps, but previous experience is not a requirement for enrollment. However, you must be able to commit to about 70 hours of learning per week. 

Code Fellows

  • Program: Ops and Cybersecurity

Code Fellows is a top-rated bootcamp that offers a wide array of cyber security courses designed for every learning level. There are five courses available, so you can start from the basics or explore more complex topics. As a student, you will get hands-on experience with some of the top tools and techniques used by ethical hackers.

Coding Dojo

  • Program: Part-Time Remote Cybersecurity Bootcamp

Coding Dojo’s 24-week boot camp will teach you to use many popular tools like Wireshark, Metasploit, and Kali Linux. Skills you pick up during this period will apply to certifications such as CySA+, Cloud+, CompTIA Security+, and Linux+, which can all help you get jobs in the field.


  • Program: Cybersecurity

This program is designed to help students become cyber security professionals with core competencies in networks, operating systems, application attack vendors, structured analytics techniques, and countermeasures. Students get to interact with programming languages and technologies such as CompTIA Security, Python, Wireshark, and Metasploit.

Evolve Security Academy

  • Program: Cybersecurity Bootcamp 

Evolve Security Academy offers an immersive program designed to prepare you for the cyber security job market. Courses are ideal for both advanced and beginner students as they offer prep courses for those with no experience in programming. Evolve Security Academy has an employment rate of 94 percent, which is extremely high. 

Flatiron School

  • Program: Cybersecurity Engineering 

Flatiron offers a ton of immersive courses, including cyber security engineering. This course takes between 15 and 60 weeks to complete, depending on your schedule preference. You can learn at your own pace or take advantage of this school’s fast-track schedule. After enrolling, you’ll learn network security, system security, Python, threat intelligence, and more.

Fullstack Academy

  • Program: Cybersecurity Analytics Bootcamp

Full Stack Academy offers a program that can help you launch your career in just 13 to 26 weeks. During this time, you’ll learn offensive and defensive skills in cyber security. Among other things, you’ll learn AWS basics, Linux, and computing and networking concepts.


  • Program: Cybersecurity Bootcamp

Ironhack is a well-known coding bootcamp that offers a ton of immersive programs designed to help students launch their careers in tech. You can become a cyber security professional in just 12 weeks as this bootcamp will teach you all about security and threats by working on real-world projects.

Louisiana State University Cyber Bootcamp

  • Program: Cyber Bootcamp

Louisiana State University’s cyber security bootcamp features a curriculum that teaches students both offensive and defensive skills in cyber security. Such skills include computing and networking basics, Linux, Python, digital forensics, introduction to automation, bash scripting, and other security essentials. 


  • Program: Cybersecurity Bootcamp

Springboard has partnered with CompTIA to create this program. This bootcamp will equip you with cyber security skills employers are looking for in about six months. If you want to eventually get your CompTIA certification, this course is the best place to start.

Top 5 Ethical Hacking Professional Certifications

If you’re serious about joining the field, you should consider getting certified. A professional certification is a credential you can get after taking an exam with a cyber security organization. They are different from a certificate because they don’t involve classes and they eventually expire. Read below for the best ethical hacking certifications you should get in 2021.

Certified Ethical Hacker – CEH Certification

  • Requirements: Two years of work experience in a security-related field
  • Key Topics Covered: Information security, reconnaissance techniques, system hacking phases, network and web application hacking
  • Price: $1,199

Certified Ethical Hacker is a qualification earned after demonstrating competencies in computer systems security. This certification is designed for security officers, security professionals, auditors, and site administrators. CEH is issued by the EC-Council Certification Department and is valid for a year, after which holders are free to renew it for $80. 

Certified Penetration Testing Consultant C)PTC Certification

  • Requirements: Working knowledge of A+, Net, MS Operating, Sec+, Linux+, C)PTE
  • Key Topics Covered: Threat analysis, test evaluation, cyber security management, risk management
  • Price: $3,500 (instructor-led), $1,500 (self-paced)

The National Initiative for Cybersecurity Careers and Studies (NICCS) offers this certification course for professionals in cyber security and network administration. This course will help you perform penetration testing on large network infrastructures such as those in telecommunication companies and network service providers. 

GIAC Penetration Tester (GPEN) Certification

  • Requirements: N/A
  • Key Topics Covered: Comprehensive penetration test planning, password attacks, pivoting, scanning, exploitation, web app penetration testing
  • Price: $2,499

This certification validates your ability to properly perform a penetration test using the best methodologies and practices. This program is designed for ethical hackers, auditors, defenders, forensic specialists, and penetration testers. It’s for those who work as security personnel assessing networks and systems to find and tackle vulnerabilities. 

CompTIA – CySA+ Certification

  • Requirements: Three to four years of working experience of Network+ and Security+
  • Key Topics Covered: Threat and vulnerability management, compliance and assessment, incident response, software and systems security
  • Price: $370

The Computer Technology Industry Association (CompTIA) is a non-profit organization committed to issuing professional certifications in the information technology industry. This certification is ideal for cyber security professionals with hands-on experience in information security. This certification expires after three years. 

CompTIA – PenTest+ Certification

  • Requirements: Three to four years of working experience of Network+ and Security+
  • Key Topics Covered: Penetration testing tools, post exploitation techniques, analyzing data, vulnerability testing
  • Price: $370

This certification is unique as it demonstrates a professional’s ability to test devices in new environments such as cloud applications, services, desktops, and mobile devices. It lasts for three years, after which holders can renew. 

Ethical Hacker Job Outlook and Salary

A cursor clicking on security features on a computer how to learn ethical hacking
There are plenty of ethical hacking careers with positive job outlooks in 2021.

Are Ethical Hackers in Demand? 

Yes, ethical hackers are in demand. As mentioned previously, information security analyst jobs are expected to grow by 31 percent over the next decade, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This is 27 percent more than the average for all professions. 

What’s the Average Ethical Hacker Salary?

PayScale reports that the average salary for ethical hackers is $79,327. This is already high, but PayScale also reports that experienced ethical hackers earn an average salary of $114,783 and entry-level ethical hackers earn ​​$67,147. Ethical hacking is a lucrative field at any level. 

Top 5 Common Ethical Hacking Careers

Ethical hacking is an enormous field with many career opportunities. These professionals can work at universities, financial firms, social media companies, government agencies, and major corporations. Below are the top five most common ethical hacking careers. 

Security Architect

A security architect reviews existing security systems and makes recommendations for improvement. They also establish disaster recovery procedures by running security drills. Security architects swiftly respond to all security breaches and provide post-exploitation analysis. This is one of the highest-paying network security jobs.

Cyber Security Engineer

Cyber security engineers identify potential vulnerabilities and cyber threats. They apply essential skills to defend against android malware, financial malware, cloud attacks, connection attacks, ransomware, and insider threats. These engineers also create cyber security software for organizations to use.

Penetration Tester

These professionals perform penetration tests on networks and computer systems to identify vulnerabilities. These tests also include physical security assessments of networks and servers that require physical protection. Similar to an ethical hacker, a penetration tester is vital to cyber security.

Security Consultant

Security consultants make security recommendations after analyzing security systems using hacking tools. These security professionals give viable suggestions post-exploitation. Security consultants are usually more experienced in the field so they can give useful advice.

Information Security Analysts

Information security analysts use their programming skills to analyze computer networks and systems to find security flaws and make recommendations. The salary for these analysts varies according to different sources, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the highest average salary at $103,590.

How to Learn Ethical Hacking FAQ

What do ethical hackers do?

An ethical hacker uses computer programming skills to identify security flaws in a network system or wireless network to make improvements or recommendations.

Is hacking better than coding?

Although hacking and coding are two separate fields, they are often interconnected. You need to have excellent coding skills to become a hacker. However, hacking has more job opportunities due to the increased demand for cyber security professionals.

Is ethical hacking good to learn?

Yes, ethical hacking is good to learn, considering the increase in demand for ethical hackers, especially in the corporate world. In addition, ethical hackers are well compensated and have a strong sense of achievement.

Where can I learn ethical hacking?

There are plenty of avenues to learn ethical hacking, including online bootcamps, online courses, universities, and colleges. Be sure to look out for free online courses if you are on a budget.

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