In the digital age, information is one of the most valuable commodities. With the vast majority of information now stored online, it’s more important than ever to ensure that this data is secure. Therefore, it should not be surprising that the information security industry is one of the fastest-growing industries in the world. (Expected to reach $146.3 billion in 2022!)
An important role within cybersecurity is that of an ethical hacker. Ethical hackers are employed by organizations to test their computer networks and systems for vulnerabilities. Their aim is to pinpoint these vulnerabilities before they can be exploited by malicious hackers.
To become an ethical hacker, you need to have a strong understanding of computer science, software, and hardware. You also need to be able to think like a hacker in order to anticipate their next move. One way to demonstrate your ethical hacking skills and knowledge is by obtaining the Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) credential.
In this article, we’ll take a look at what ethical hacking is, what the CEH credential entails, and how you can go about obtaining it.
Ethical hacking overview
Ethical hacking is a complex process involving various stages, from planning and reconnaissance to execution and reporting. The ultimate goal of ethical hacking is to help organizations improve their cyber security posture by identifying vulnerabilities and attack vectors in their information technology systems before they can be exploited.
Compared to malicious hackers, who seek to exploit vulnerabilities for personal gain or to cause damage, ethical hackers use their skills and knowledge of hacking concepts for good. They do use a lot of the same tools, such as footprinting tools, IP scanners, various sniffing tool sets, and more. These security professionals work with organizations to improve their cybersecurity defenses and ensure that their systems are as secure as possible.
Importance of ethical hacking
To better understand why ethical hacking is so important, let’s look at some statistics.
According to a 2021 report from IBM, the average cost of a data breach is now $4.24 million. Furthermore, this report found that the average time to identify and contain a data breach is 287 days (212 days to identify it and an additional 75 days to contain it). These numbers highlight the importance of ethical hacking in today’s digital world.
Not only can ethical hacking help to save organizations money, but it can also help to protect their reputation. In the event of a data breach, it is vital that organizations act quickly to contain the damage and limit the exposure of sensitive data. By carrying out regular ethical hacking checks, organizations can mitigate these risks before they are exploited and drastically improve their security controls.
Types of hackers
We’ve already mentioned the two main types of hackers: ethical hackers and malicious hackers. However, there are actually a number of different kinds of hackers, each with their own motivations and goals.
Here is a brief overview of the most common types of hackers:
- Black hat hacker: A black hat hacker is a type of malicious hacker who attempts to gain unauthorized access to computer systems and networks. Black hat hackers typically have little or no ethical standards and may use their skills to steal data, commit fraud, or cause damage to systems.
- White hat hacker: A white hat hacker is a security professional who uses their hacking skills for good. They work with organizations to test their systems for vulnerabilities and help them improve their security posture.
- Gray hat hacker: A gray hat hacker is a type of hacker who may sometimes act ethically and sometimes not. For example, a gray hat hacker may help to identify and fix vulnerabilities in an organization’s systems, but they do it without explicit permission (or knowledge) of the system owner.
Types of ethical hacking
Just like there are different types of hackers, there are also other types of ethical hacking. Here are the most common types of ethical hacking based on the type of work that is carried out:
- Vulnerability assessment: A vulnerability assessment is a type of security test used to identify and assess weaknesses in systems and networks. Vulnerability assessments can be conducted manually or using automated tools.
- Penetration testing: A penetration test, also known as a pen test, is a type of security test that simulates a real-world attack on a system or network. Pen testing is used to identify and assess vulnerabilities in systems and networks.
- Social engineering: Social engineering is an attack in which hackers trick people into revealing sensitive information (especially on social networking sites) or downloading malicious software. Social engineering attacks often exploit human vulnerabilities, such as gullibility or greed.
There is also a different categorization of ethical hacking based on the type of system that is being tested:
- Network hacking: Network hacking is a type of ethical hacking that focuses on testing the security of networks and network devices. This includes testing for vulnerabilities in routers (hacking wireless networks), web servers, switches, and other types of networking equipment.
- Application hacking: Application hacking is a type of ethical hacking that focuses on testing the security of applications. This includes web application hacking, hacking mobile platforms, and desktop software exploitation.
- Database hacking: Database hacking is a type of ethical hacking that focuses on testing the security of databases. This includes testing for vulnerabilities in database management systems (DBMS) and database servers.
Which one of these techniques and focus areas you specialize in will likely depend on your job role or area of expertise. For example, if you work as a network administrator, you may specialize in network and wireless hacking tools. If you work as a web developer, you may specialize in hacking web applications.
Of course, if an area you have no experience in but want to learn more about, you can always choose to become a security specialist in that area. For example, if you want to become a penetration tester, you can focus on learning more about how to conduct penetration tests.
What is the CEH exam?
The Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) certification is a credential for ethical hackers. It is offered by the International Council of E Commerce Consultants (EC-Council) and is widely regarded as one of the most prestigious and sought-after certifications in information security. It opens up many doors for employment and career advancement.
To become certified, you must pass the latest version of the CEH certification exam. (CEH v11 at the moment of writing this article.)
The CEH exam tests your knowledge and skills in ethical hacking. It covers many topics, including cryptography concepts, cloud computing and cloud security, scanning networks, IoT hacking, session hijacking, analyzing malware threats, and more. Find out more about the structure of the exam in our Guide To The CEH Certification.
If you pass both the CEH and the CEH Practical exam, you can become a CEH Master.
What skills are required to become a certified ethical hacker?
Before we go into detail about how to apply and prepare for the CEH exam, let’s first explore what skills are required for you to become a successful certified ethical hacker.
When someone asks, “What are the skills of a certified ethical hacker?” People often think of the “hard” skills first. These are the technical skills you need to know to carry out ethical hacking tasks.
The five most important hard skills for an ethical hacking security engineer are:
- Programming languages and coding: Even though some very small aspects of ethical hacking might not require any programming knowledge whatsoever, the vast majority do. This is because ethical hacking and programming go hand-in-hand. The most popular programming languages for ethical hacking are Python, Java, and C/C++.
- Linux: Linux is a free and open-source operating system that is widely used in the world of information security. Knowing how to use Linux is essential for ethical hackers, as many hacking tools and techniques are designed to be used in a Linux environment.
- Networking and protocols: As an ethical hacker, you will need to be well-versed in networking concepts and have a good understanding of how networks work. You should know how to configure routers and switches, and you should be familiar with common networking protocols such as TCP/IP, UDP, and Ethernet.
- Databases: As their very name suggests, databases are where data is stored. Knowing how to interact with databases is essential for ethical hackers, as they often need to access sensitive data during their work. The most popular database management systems (DBMS) are MySQL, Oracle, and Microsoft SQL Server.
- Cryptography: Cryptography is the science of encrypting and decrypting data. Ethical hackers use cryptography to protect data from being accessed by unauthorized parties. They also use it to create “backdoors” into systems that would otherwise be secure.
By going through the training or study materials necessary to pass the CEH exam, you will develop all of the hard skills listed above and then some.
In addition to the hard skills listed above, there are several soft skills that are important for ethical hackers. These can be learned in much the same way as hard skills through books, courses, and practice.
Some of the most important soft skills for ethical hackers are:
- Problem-solving: Ethical hacking is all about solving problems. There is no situation where you won’t encounter some problem that you need to solve. Not losing your cool, being able to think clearly, and being resourceful are all essential qualities for an ethical hacker.
- Critical thinking: Critical thinking is the ability to question information and ideas. It’s an essential skill for ethical hackers, as they often need to analyze data and find weaknesses in systems.
- Creativity: Creativity is important for ethical hackers because it allows them to develop new ways to solve problems. You will gain a lot of knowledge from learning, but at some point, you will need to start thinking for yourself and coming up with original solutions.
- Communication: Communication is important for ethical hackers because they often need to explain their findings to non-technical individuals. They also need to be able to work well in teams.
- Analytical skills: Having (or developing) an analytical mindset is essential for ethical hackers. They need to see the big picture and understand how systems work. But they also need to be able to pay attention to details and find patterns in data, like when doing malware analysis.
- Organizational skills: Finally, ethical hackers need to be well-organized. Planning and executing an offensive security strategy is a complex task that requires a lot of coordination.
How to get the CEH credential, step by step
Now that we’ve explored what the field of ethical hacking entails, what the CEH exam is and what skills you need to be an ethical hacker, it’s time to give you a step-by-step guide on how to get the CEH credential.
Here’s what you need to do:
Step 1: Check your eligibility
First, you need to find out whether you are eligible to take the CEH exam in the first place.
The most important eligibility requirement you need to have is that you are of legal age in your country of origin or residence. If you are not, you need to provide written consent from your legal guardian, as well as a letter of support from your institution of higher learning. This institution must be nationally accredited.
If you meet the age requirement, you can take one out of two of the following eligibility check options:
- Take the EC-Council official CEH training. When you complete this official ethical hacking course, you are automatically eligible to take this EC-Council certification exam.
- Submit an Exam Eligibility Application Form and have it approved by EC-Council. In order to do this, you need at least two years of documented work experience in the field of information security. Submitting this form will cost $100 (non-refundable). If you get rejected (you are not eligible to take the CEH exam at this time).
If you take the application form route and get approved, you will have three months to purchase your exam voucher (see below for more info on exam vouchers).
Step 2: Prepare for the exam
Once you are sure that you are eligible, it’s time to start preparing for the exam.
The CEH exam covers a lot of ground and consists of 125 multiple-choice questions. You will have four hours to complete the exam, which means that you need to be able to answer each question in an average of two minutes or less.
By taking the time to prepare for the exam, you increase your chances of passing it significantly.
There are different ways to prepare for the CEH exam. You can:
- Attend instructor-led training. This is great for those who prefer learning in a more traditional classroom setting and benefit from interaction with instructors and other students.
- Use self-study materials. This is a great option for those already working full-time and who can’t afford to take time off to attend training. It’s also generally more affordable than attending training.
We go more in-depth on these preparation methods in our How To Get CEH Certification post.
Step 3: Purchase an exam voucher
You can purchase an exam voucher directly from the EC-Council online store. Remember, this needs to be done not more than three months after your eligibility has been approved (if you took the application form route).
The different types of vouchers you can choose from correspond to the different types of exams you can take:
- The online live-proctored exam. You can take this exam from the comfort of your own home. You will, however, need access to a stable internet connection and undergo an equipment test prior to taking the exam.
- The Pearson VUE testing center exam. You can take this exam at one of the many Pearson VUE testing centers worldwide.
The cost of the different types of vouchers varies, so be sure to check out the EC-Council online store for up-to-date pricing information.
Step 4: Schedule your exam
One voucher is valid for one exam attempt only. So, once you have purchased your voucher, you need to schedule your exam within one year.
You can do this by creating an account on the Aspen website provided to you in the instructions that you received along with your exam voucher. Follow these instructions to schedule your exam.
Step 5: Take the exam
On the day of your exam, make sure you arrive at the testing center well in advance. You will need to present a valid government-issued ID, such as a driver’s license, passport, or national ID card.
If you are taking the online proctored exam, you will need to have your equipment set up and ready to go prior to the start of the exam. Make sure you do a test run ahead of time so that you are familiar with the environment and know what to expect on exam day.
You will find out if you have passed the exam immediately after taking it.
Step 6: Get CEH certified
If you pass the exam, congratulations! You are now a CEH certified ethical hacker.
You will be able to download your certificate from the Aspen platform within seven working days of taking the exam.
If you haven’t passed the exam, there is no need to worry. You can retake the exam as many times as you need to, although you will have to purchase a new exam voucher each time. Additionally, the total number of attempts in a year is capped at five.
So there you have it, a complete guide on how to become a certified ethical hacker by passing the CEH exam and obtaining the Certified Ethical Hacker certification. Ethical hacking is a highly sought-after skill in today’s job market, and with the CEH certificate, you will be able to prove your competency and stand out from the crowd.
Now that you know all the steps involved, it’s time to get started on your journey to becoming a certified ethical hacker!
The i4 Group can help you get there. We are a leading provider of ethical hacking certification and training. We offer a wide range of courses to help you get CEH certified, including online, classroom-based, and self-study options. Contact us today to find out more.