What is Ethical Hacking?

Ethical hacking definition

Ethical hacking is the practice of testing a computer system, a network or an application to find security vulnerabilities that could be exploited by criminal hackers.

Ethical hackers use the same tools and techniques as criminal hackers, but they do so with permission from the owner of the system being tested.

The goal of ethical hacking is to help organisations improve their security posture by finding and fixing vulnerabilities before they can be exploited.

Why is ethical hacking important?

  • Cyber security defence: Ethical hackers play a vital role in identifying and closing security gaps before criminal hackers can exploit them, thereby bolstering an organisation’s defences.
  • Compliance: Many industries and organisations are required to meet regulatory compliance standards that mandate regular security testing, making ethical hacking a crucial element of compliance efforts.
  • Risk reduction: Ethical hacking helps organisations proactively reduce the risk of data breaches, financial losses, reputational damage and legal liabilities associated with cyber attacks.
  • Continual improvement: By regularly conducting ethical hacking assessments, organisations can continually improve their security measures and stay ahead of evolving cyber threats.

Ethical hacking methodologies:

  • Reconnaissance: Gathering information about the target system, including identifying potential vulnerabilities.
  • Scanning: Using various tools to actively scan and identify weaknesses in the target system or network.
  • Gaining access: Attempting to exploit identified vulnerabilities to gain access to the system.
  • Maintaining access: If successful, ethical hackers may maintain access to the system to assess the extent of potential damage.
  • Covering tracks: Ensuring that their activities are not detectable by system administrators.

What is the difference between penetration testing and ethical hacking?

Both penetration testing and ethical hacking are used to test the security of a system. Ethical hacking is a more general term that can refer to any type of security testing, while penetration testing specifically refers to attempts to gain unauthorised access to a system. Both types of testing can be used to find vulnerabilities and assess the effectiveness of security measures.

Is ethical hacking legal?

Yes. An ethical hacker is trusted to penetrate an organisation’s networks and computer systems. They have the same knowledge and tools as a criminal hacker, but their work is conducted lawfully.

Are ethical hackers in demand?

There is a growing demand for ethical hackers, as organisations become more aware of the need to protect their data from cyber attacks. Certification in ethical hacking can help you stand out from the crowd and demonstrate your commitment to best practice in the field. Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) is the most popular certification for ethical hackers.

Is ethical hacking a good career?

Ethical hacking can be a good career for people who are interested in computer security and enjoy finding loopholes in computer systems. Ethical hackers can work for organisations that need to secure their computer systems, or they can work as independent consultants.

Professionals in this field can pursue roles such as:

  • Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH): Individuals who have obtained the CEH certification are qualified to perform ethical hacking tasks and are in high demand by organisations seeking to secure their systems.
  • Penetration tester: Specialises in identifying vulnerabilities and weaknesses in systems, networks and applications.
  • Security analyst: Monitors and assesses security measures, responding to security incidents and implementing necessary safeguards.
  • Security consultant: Advises organisations on security best practices and helps develop robust security strategies.


The EC-Council (International Council of E-Commerce Consultants) is a member-based organisation that certifies e-business and information security skills.

It developed the Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) programme and many other certification schemes in more than 87 countries globally.

IT Governance is an EC-Council ATC (Accredited Training Centre), providing the best instructor-led exam preparation experience possible for the CEH qualification.

Certified Ethical Hacker qualification

Launched in 2003 by the EC-Council, the CEH qualification is globally recognised as the ethical hacking certification of choice for those looking to develop a senior career as an ethical hacker or a penetration tester.

The ethical hacking qualification’s purposes are to:

  1. Establish and govern minimum standards for qualifying professional information security specialists in ethical hacking measures;
  2. Inform the public that credentialed individuals meet or exceed the minimum requirements; and
  3. Reinforce ethical hacking as a unique and self-regulating profession.

How to become a Certified Ethical Hacker

To learn ethical hacking and achieve the CEH qualification:

  • Attend our industry-leading courses, which are the most comprehensive packages in the world, with Elite 12 and battle labs (unique to IT Governance); and
  • Gain all the knowledge and skills needed to pass the CEH v12 and CEH v12 Practical exams to attain CEH Master status.

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