Last updated on October 13, 2019
By: Ben Sadeghipour, Head of Hacker Operations, HackerOne
Ethical hacking is one of the fastest-growing areas in the cybersecurity space: the demand for labour is high, which means it pays handsomely, and the barriers to entry are relatively low.
While barriers to entry are low, this should not discount how difficult a skill hacking is to learn and harness. However, the opportunity to begin learning and developing is available to anyone with basic computer skills and a high degree of curiosity, creativity and intuition.
Unlike many other high paying jobs, becoming an ethical hacker doesn’t require a university degree or decades of experience working in cybersecurity. Many of today’s top hackers are completely self-taught, with research showing as little as six per cent of today’s ethical hackers has learned their hacking skills in a classroom.
So where do budding hackers begin looking to learn, or brush up their skills begin?
Where to begin
According to a recent study, 81 per cent of white hats point to online resources and blogs as their primary source for foundational learning. So, if you’re contemplating a career in hacking or cybersecurity more generally, or simply want to learn a bit more about the profession and the opportunities it provides, check out these resources:
- WebHacking 101; HackerOne offers a free e-book version to get you started. This eBook is written by one of our hackers and Shopify engineers – Peter Yaworski – and is based on real vulnerability reports disclosed on HackerOne’s Hacktivity pages.
- Getting Started in Bug Bounty – by Sahil Ahamed, Security Engineer at Zomato.
- YouTube video “How to get started in bug bounty – 9 X Professional Tips”
- HackerOne’s “Resources for Beginning Bug Bounty Hunters.” This is a great place for new hackers to learn the basics of Web Application Security.
How hackers can stand out from the crowd
The cybersecurity industry is a rapidly evolving and growing space. This means that every hacker, irrespective of their experience, is perfectible: capable of improving to increase their impact and earnings and be more appealing to employers.
Once again, the Internet provides a rich range of resources for those in a more developed stage of their career that are looking to refine their craft, build upon their current knowledge, diversify their skillset or specify in a particular area of the industry. Some of the key sites to visit, include:
- Cybrary, a free platform for cybersecurity training providing world-class training.
- Bug Hunter University Google’s Bug Hunter University, which provides tips, in-depth knowledge and vulnerability reports from the Google Security Team.
- Hacker101, a collection of videos, resources, and hands-on activities that will teach you everything you need to operate as a bug bounty hunter.
- HackerOne’s Hacktivity showcases thousands of publicly disclosed reports to learn from. Many of our hackers have learned to hack by reading these publicly disclosed vulnerability reports.
- Portswigger’s Burp Suite has been the first scanner to detect vulnerabilities and is available for minimal costs to security researchers and hobbyists. Hackers should start using Burp Suite once they start looking for more complex bugs and are in need of automation. Portswigger also offers Web Security Academy, free training on web security vulnerabilities, techniques for finding and exploiting bugs.
- HackEdu, offers interactive web application security training courses, including both free and paid-for programs. The free program offers SQL injection courses, 6 public vulnerability sandboxes to test your hacking skills, and a variety of practices and challenges. In fact, HackEdu provides free training modules using real-world vulnerabilities found on the HackerOne platform, that are now available in sandboxed environments.
These sites provide new and experienced hackers with great knowledge and education around hacking to help them become successful and teach them all the skills required in becoming successful in the pursuit of their vocation. However, the underlying core skills all hackers must have are the ability to problem solve and a strong sense of curiosity of how the technology works and how it can fail us.
A significant majority of top hackers are completely self-taught and have learned much of their skills through these online tutorials and web courses. One of these hackers is Santiago Lopez, the world’s first ethical hacker to become a millionaire at the age of nineteen. It’s safe to say that this autodidactic approach has had no inhibiting effect on his success and technical development.
Since Santiago Lopez was announced as the world’s first million-dollar bug bounty hunter, another five hackers have reached the million-dollar milestone. Each of these hackers has had no formal cybersecurity education, highlighting that the opportunities for self-taught hackers to earn big has never been greater.
Once an aspiring hacker feels confident enough to test their skills there are various public bug bounty challenges they can sign up to. Finding that first bug can take time, however many hackers confess that once they start hacking in bug bounty challenges the thrill of finding vulnerabilities can be very addictive.
When looking back at the first bug Santiago Lopez found he said it took a lot of time, but with determination, he succeeded and the sense of achievement was second-to-none: “The first thing I hacked was a website and I discovered a Cross-Site Request Forgery vulnerability. This earned me $50 in 2016 when I was 16 years old. It took me a long time to find my first vulnerability, but with patience and effort it was achieved, and it was really worth it.”
Pursuing a career in ethical hacking has never been more financially rewarding, and with research showing that nearly a quarter of security professionals believe hacking is the most important skill to see on a CV when hiring security talent, it is a great way to break into the cybersecurity industry.
If you possess these innate intuitions and attributes, the practical skills required to become a successful hacker can be learned online, without going back to school or university. This means that embarking on a long and successful career in hacking has never been more attainable, or more rewarding.