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How to Be a White Hat Hacker

I’m going to give you a brief syllabus on how to become a white hat hacker. I’ll cover the skills you need, where to learn them, and best of all how to start your career.

By
Eric Escobar,
April 28, 2016
Episode #218

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The world is in need of white hat (aka "good") hackers. You may be thinking, “Tech Talker, you’re crazy it seems like every day there is something getting hacked!” Well, that’s precisely why we need more hackers on the good side. For the past three years, I’ve been working as a white hat hacker for a security company. We and the tech industry as a whole are desperately looking for more hackers to join our ranks.

Personality

Generally it takes a curious person to become a hacker. This is because you’re looking for a way to manipulate programs and find holes or misconfigurations. It’s like working on a puzzle and trying to find any way you can to fit a square peg into a round hole. Because of this, it’s important that you love challenges, learning, and doing lots and lots of research.

The most important thing to keep in mind is that there are very few hackers that actually fit the Hollywood definition of super villains that wear all black, and live in a basement covered in aluminum foil. I’ve met a wide swath of hackers who are just getting started in their 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s to people that mastered command before they were a teenager. Probably the best part about being a hacker is that the field is so wide that it is impossible to be an expert in every subject, let alone a handful of them.

What Skills Are Required?

The skills that are required to be a hacker are probably the part that makes people most nervous, mostly because they think it will take a lifetime to learn them. Honestly, with just a couple weeks’ worth of work, you can learn a substantial amount of basic computer hacking. Often, a vulnerability that a hacker finds on a system is not some super exotic new bug that they took months to craft. Typically a weak part of a network or a computer are any devices that are old and haven’t been patched!

Learn a Programming Language

If you’re looking for a curriculum, I recommend starting off by learning a programming language decently well. If you think about it, it makes sense that if you’re going to break into a vault, you should probably do your best to understand how that vault works.

I’ve talked a lot about how to get started coding, but I highly recommend taking a look at codeacademy.com and edx.org. They are two awesome places to get started learning about computers and how to code. If you’re looking for a great starting language I would pick python. It’s simple to learn, runs on pretty much everything you could imagine, and is used on websites, industrial platforms, IoT (internet of things), and is even used for some scientific work. Learning Python alone will help a ton, and Code Academy has some great hands-on tutorials.

Learn a Linux Operating System

Next, after you feel comfortable with programming, you’ll want to learn the Linux operating system. Now that may sound kind of crazy to anyone who knows anything about Unix based operating systems, but learning basic commands in linux will help you out a ton seeing as almost every smartphone, web server, and even Apple computers have very similar internals. If you want to learn more about it, I recommend getting a Raspberry Pi. It’s cheap at under $40 and it runs a Linux operating system, which can really help you get started.

Now I’m approaching this from ground zero. That is, you know how to use your computer but don’t know the first thing about hacking. Learning a programming language, and how a linux operating system works will give you a lot of important background information.

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