What Is Ethical Hacking?

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Unlike malicious hackers, ethical hackers have the permission and approval of the organisation which they’re hacking into. Learn how you can build a career from testing the security of the network to fight cybercrime and enhance information security.

[Featured image] An ethical hacker takes notes of data charts from a desktop computer.

Ethical hacking is the practice of performing security assessments using the same techniques that hackers use but with proper approvals and authorisation from the organisation you’re hacking into. The goal is to use cybercirminal’s tactics, techniques, and strategies to locate potential weaknesses and reinforce an organisation’s protection from data and security breaches. 

Cybersecurity Ventures predicts that cybercrime will globally cost an estimated $10.5 trillion every year in damages by 2025 [1]. It also predicts that ransomware alone will cost victims $265 billion every year by 2031

The present threat of cybercrime, combined with the shortage of experienced information security professionals, has created a crisis for businesses, organisations, and governmental entities. It also presents a unique opportunity for a career path. In this article, learn about ethical hacking, the job opportunities in the cyber security field, and how to get started.  

Ethical hacking vs. hacking: What’s the difference?

According to BBC, India ranks globally as the top hacker location [2]. As the country seeks to digitise its infrastructure and make more online services available, the risk of cyber attacks increases. The cyber security field needs ethical hackers to help protect against possible attacks and access flaws in the digital infrastructure. To better understand the differences between ethical hackers, commonly called white-hat hackers, and malicious black-hat hackers, review the chart below:

Ethical hackersBlack-hat hackers
Increase security frameworkReduce security and steal data
Develop strong security and structuresAccess accounts and data without permission
Develop systems like ad blockers and firewalls and regularly update and maintain security systemsSteal valuable data and break into restricted data areas

Types of hackers 

Black-hat hackers are those with malicious intentions. But, over time, the ethical hacker role has shifted into a variety of roles other than white-hat hackers. Here are several types of hackers that exist today:

  • Grey-hat hackers are a mix of white and black-hat hackers. They may breach a company’s private servers without permission but won’t steal anything or do anything bad. Instead, they notify the organisation about the vulnerability. 

  • Red-hat hackers pose as cyber attackers to assess a network or system's risk and vulnerabilities in a controlled environment. They examine potential weaknesses in security infrastructure and also physical locations and people.

  • Blue-hat hackers are typically aware of the business objectives and security strategy of the organisation. They gather data, document areas that need protection, conduct risk assessments, and strengthen the defences to prevent breaches. 

Benefits of ethical hacking

New viruses, malware, ransomware, and worms are emerging all the time. Ethical hackers help safeguard government agencies, defence departments, and business networks. The main benefit of ethical hacking is reducing the risk of data theft. Additional benefits include:

  • Using an attacker’s point of view to discover weak points to fix

  • Conducting real-world assessments to protect networks

  • Safeguarding the security of investors' and customers' data and earning their trust

  • Implementing security measures that strengthen networks and actively prevent breaches

Job opportunities for ethical hackers

As an ethical hacker, you could find a job in nearly any organisation. You could work in government or for financial institutions, ecommerce marketplaces, data centres, media providers, cloud computing, or SaaS companies. Some common job titles you'll find within the ethical hacking realm include:

  • Penetration tester

  • Information security analyst

  • Security analyst

  • Vulnerability assessor

  • Security consultant

  • Information security manager

  • Security engineer

  • Certified ethical hacker

Projected ethical hacker salary

The average monthly salary for ethical hackers in India is ₹51,251, according to Glassdoor, as of April 2023 [4]. However, the salary differs depending on where you live, the company you work for, your level of experience, and the certifications you hold.

Breaking into ethical hacking

Many ethical hackers begin with 12-Science or 12-Mathematics and then earn a bachelor’s degree, which employers typically look for. Gaining certifications may also boost your credibility with potential clients and employers and increase your earning potential. 

Common courses

To work as an ethical hacker, you'll need a strong knowledge of basic computer applications, programming languages, networking, operating systems, and databases. You must also be proficient in web application and server hacking, system hacking, social engineering, and wireless networks.

You may not be able to learn all this in an undergraduate degree. Yet you can choose a common field of study that will give you foundational technical skills and foster your analytical thinking and problem-solving skills. You might consider:

  • Computer science

  • Computer systems engineering

  • Network engineering

  • Information security

Should I get a master’s degree?

A master's isn't always required to work in cybersecurity. Still, employers may prefer it. Earning your master’s degree allows you to deepen your knowledge and gain experience through hands-on exercises that often simulate real-world scenarios.


Get certified.

One of the core certifications to consider is the Certified Ethical Hacker credential issued by the EC-Council. This certification gives you exposure to over 500 unique attack techniques and offers hands-on scenario-based learning. Other popular certifications include:

  • CompTIA Security+ covers a broad range of knowledge about troubleshooting and problem-solving issues, including networking, mobile devices, and security.

  • Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) is offered by (ISC)² and demonstrates your proficiency in designing, implementing, and managing cyber security programs.

  • Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA) is offered by ISACA and is designed to prove your expertise in IS/IT auditing, control, and security.

Next steps

Prepare to launch your career in cybersecurity with the Google Cybersecurity Professional Certificate on Coursera. Learn to identify common risks, threats, and vulnerabilities, as well as techniques to mitigate them, at your own pace from almost anywhere with an internet connection.

Article sources


Cybersecurity Ventures. “Cybercrime to Cost the World $10.5 Trillion Annually by 2025, https://cybersecurityventures.com/cybercrime-damage-costs-10-trillion-by-2025/.” Accessed February 20, 2023.

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