When you have a difficult question, it’s always best to turn to a subject matter expert for answers. In our blog series, Ask An Expert, National University faculty take turns answering challenging questions in their areas of expertise.
In this post, we put the focus on ethical hacking. We spoke with Alan Watkins, Core Adjunct Professor in Cybersecurity & Information Assurance at National University, about the role of the ethical hacker and the employment opportunities in this exciting field.
If you are interested in pursuing a cybersecurity career, ethical hacking offers an opportunity to work in a rapidly evolving area of IT where you will join dedicated professionals who keep us all safe from the ever-present and growing threat of cybercriminal activities. So what exactly is an ethical hacker, and where do ethical hackers work?
Who Needs Hackers? We All Do
The word “hacker” conjures up all sorts of negative imagery, often linked to criminality and the darker side of the web. But not all hackers work in seedy, darkened rooms, seeking to exploit the vulnerabilities of the computer networks and systems that corporations, governments, and individuals use every day. Ethical hackers are the good guys, charged with keeping us safe, and they work for some of the biggest and brightest (not to mention law-abiding) organizations in the world.
According to Professor Alan Watkins, who continues to work in the cybersecurity industry as a consultant while teaching in National University’s bachelor degree in cybersecurity online program, there is very good reason why ethical hackers, or “penetration testers” as he prefers to call them, are becoming a more common presence in the workplace.
“Criminal hacking is a business,” says Watkins. “In fact, it’s more than that. It’s a ten-hundred billion dollar business annually in the criminal cyberworld.”
As this illicit business continues to threaten the economic security of companies, organizations, and governments, the job of defending our networks, systems, and digital assets becomes more “business critical.”
A Growing Threat
According to Watkins, cybercriminals have a diverse agenda, ranging from wanton mischief-making to theft and extortion and even active terrorism and cyber warfare. Regardless of their motivation, the criminal hacker is a persistent and virulent threat.
“Cybercriminals are always one-step-ahead of cybersecurity experts,” says Watkins. “As the tools to attack networks and systems become more readily available on the dark web, the threat widens to include less sophisticated criminal gangs who can launch cyberattacks by simply renting, leasing or buying illicit software and following the instructions that come with the package.”
As cybercriminals continue to apply more pressure on the networks and systems they attack, the demand for skilled IT security professionals to fight back and devise robust defensive strategies is on the increase.
Watkins believes that there is already a dramatic shortfall of qualified people to fill these roles and estimates there could be as many as 2.5 million unfilled positions in the cybersecurity industry in the next 12 months. As demand far outstrips supply, this increases the earning potential of cybersecurity professionals with the right skill set and qualifications. In this “seller’s market” salaries are often in excess of $100,000.
Where Do Ethical Hackers Work?
You will find ethical hackers employed across a wide range of industries and government agencies, from big technology and internet companies to law enforcement agencies — and even in the military where Cyber Command plays an increasingly important role in the defense of the nation.
At any given time, a quick search on the professional social network LinkedIn reveals the names of many instantly recognizable brands recruiting ethical hackers. You’ll find names like Bank of America, Boeing, Citi, Deloitte, IBM, Lenovo, Verizon, and Walmart all looking for these highly-skilled professionals.
There is also a significant opportunity for ethical hackers to offer their services on a freelance basis, providing consultative services to small and medium-sized businesses or bounty hunting for security vulnerabilities, something a growing number of companies actively promote to the ethical hacking community.
Taking Your First Steps towards a Career in Ethical Hacking
The National University bachelor degree in cybersecurity online and on-campus program provides students with the skills they need to launch and advance their career as an ethical hacker.
As well as developing the technical skills and strategies required to defend systems and networks against cyberattack (often using the same tools used by criminal hackers), students also work on their communication skills. These skills are especially important for helping students to become more effective security resources in any type of organization.
“Translating the risk cybercriminals present into ‘business reality’ so that everyone understands the threat, is often the first step to securing an organization’s systems,” says Watkins.
To take your first step into the world of ethical hacking and to explore the skills you need to begin a career in the cybersecurity field, please visit our program page to request more information.
ABOUT OUR EXPERT
Following his retirement after a 36-year career working for the City of San Diego, 12-years in law enforcement and 24-years in IT and security, Allan Watkins continues to work in the field of IT security as an independent information security consultant. Watkins also teaches as an Adjunct Professor at National University where he delivers cybersecurity and information assurance classes as part of the online degree programs. Watkins holds BS and MSBA degrees in Management and Business Administration from San Diego State University, as well as a certificate in criminal justice.