When you think of a hacker, you might imagine a shady figure who’s up to no good. It’s time to thing again: ethical hackers also exist, aiming to find security issues that can be fixed rather than exploited.
You can even make a living as an ethical hacker, and we’ll show you how.
How to Make Money as an Ethical Hacker
When it comes to ethical hacking, there are a number of ways to earn money.
1. Bug Bounty Programs
One of the main ways ethical hackers make money are bug bounty programs. These are where companies offer cash rewards for hackers to find vulnerabilities in their products and disclose them. Loads of companies have bug bounty programs, which pay out varying amounts depending on the severity of the issue that you find.
For examples of some programs you could look into, we’ve got a list of awesome bug bounty programs for earning pocket money. Or consider looking for bugs in popular apps in the Google Play Store. Google has started paying cash to hackers who find security issues in Android apps, so there’s an opportunity to earn money for finding vulnerabilities in a big range of apps.
2. Pwn2Own and Similar Events
There are also live hacking events where ethical hackers come together to hack a particular device or piece of software. The Pwn2Own event, for example, is one of the biggest hacking events and takes place every year at the CanSecWest security conference. Participants are tasked to hack a device, such as a phone, a MacBook, or even a car like a Tesla.
If they can hack the device, they win it.
Pwn2Own also offers cash prizes for hacking software such as web browsers, enterprise applications, and servers. The event has a large prize pool and the results are covered by the tech press as well. That means it’s a great place for new hackers to make their name, as well as meeting other people in the ethical hacking community.
3. Consulting With Companies
Another big source of income for ethical hackers is doing security consulting. A company may hire a hacker to test their security system, or to advise on a new version of their product. If you are known as a competent and professional hacker, companies will approach you with offers for work that can be either freelance or long term.
How to Learn Ethical Hacking
If you’ve never done any hacking before, you can learn the basic skills at any age. Some people think it helps to get a university degree in computer science. However, most university courses don’t teach a lot of programming. Even if they do, they likely won’t teach hacking skills.
This isn’t to say computer science degrees aren’t useful. But they teach you a broad overview of computing issues. They don’t prepare you for a job in hacking specifically.
To learn hacking, almost everything you need can be found for free online. If you’re willing to dedicate the time to learning the craft, anyone can pick up the basics. For example, a great place for beginners to start is Hack This Site! This features “missions” which teach hacking in a safe and legal environment, with lots of information to help you along the way.
The HackerOne website, a digital hub for hackers, also has lots of information for beginners. Their online resources page for new hackers has site lists and guides where you can learn the basics of ethical hacking. There’s also Hacker101, which offers free online video lessons in hacking.
How to Transition to a Job in Ethical Hacking
One of the advantages of taking up ethical hacking is that it’s something you can do alongside your regular job. If you’re interested in hacking, you can start hunting for bugs in your free time after work or at the weekends. If you find a bug and submit it to a bug bounty program, you can start collecting some income on the side.
One important tip to note is that the report you write which you submit to a bug bounty program is almost as important as finding the bug itself. Your report should clearly lay out what the vulnerability you found is and how you were able to exploit it. Be clear and specific. This gives you the best chance of getting a payout.
As you become more experienced with bug bounty programs, you’ll learn how much income you can expect. You get an idea of how many hours of work will pay out how much bounty. Once you feel confident that you can earn a stable income from ethical hacking, you can try it part-time or even full-time.
It can be scary to think of leaving a job to go into hacking. But you can try out making money as an ethical hacker on the side. If you like the experience, you can do it more and more. There’s no barrier to entry for ethical hacking jobs, so you can start whenever you’re ready.
Being a Successful Ethical Hacker
The ethical hacking community is a supportive place. Like other security communities, ethical hacking involves lots of people working together to make software and the internet safer for everyone. Because of this, there is a high value placed on being a contributing member of the community.
Most ethical hackers have blogs where they describe the vulnerabilities they have found and explain how they located them. This helps others in the community to learn.
There is also the issue of responsible disclosure. When you find a vulnerability, you should disclose it to the affected company in a responsible way. It would be irresponsible to post publicly about a vulnerability before informing the affected company, for example.
Also, it’s not a good idea to demand unreasonably high bounties for finding a bug. Nor should you ever threaten a company if you find a vulnerability. Instead, work with the company to reach a payout which is fair and disclose the issue in a way that they can fix.
Once you gain a reputation as not only a good hacker but also someone who is professional and easy to work with, you’ll find plenty of job offers available.
Learn Hacking and Get Involved in Security Research
Being an ethical hacker means not only having an interesting job, but also doing something which will benefit many people. Making software, hardware, or websites more secure benefits everyone who uses them.
A variety of options are open to earn money for ethical hacking. And you can start it as a side gig to see if you enjoy it before going full-time. Better still, you don’t need any particular educational requirements to be an ethical hacker. You just need a keen eye for detail and a commitment to learning more about security issues.
To learn the basics, check these top hacker websites to teach you how to hack.