Cybersecurity vs. Ethical Hacking: How Do They Differ? | #hacking | #cybersecurity | #infosec | #comptia | #pentest | #hacker

Due to the increasing online threats and attacks, the cybersecurity and ethical hacking fields are becoming more popular and are often mistaken to mean the same thing. However, they are distinct in several ways, which we will explore.

Whether you are a business owner or an individual who uses the internet regularly for different purposes, you must understand these terms to protect yourself from malicious attacks. Before we start, let’s review the definitions of two important terms: cybersecurity and ethical hacking.


What Is Cybersecurity?

Cybersecurity is a broad subject that includes diverse network and information security mechanisms or techniques. These techniques include digital forensics, data security, cloud security, application security, and ethical hacking. Cybersecurity is also a defensive approach to ensuring the safety and quality of a cyber domain’s hardware and software components.

What Is Ethical Hacking?

Ethical hacking, a component of cybersecurity, is a proactive approach involving system testing to identify and address vulnerabilities before they pose a threat to the system and its users.

In other words, it deals with assessing a system to find its weak points and resolving them before malicious hackers exploit them to ruin the system’s framework.

Now, from the definitions above, it is easy to opine that ethical hacking and cybersecurity are the same because they have similar objectives—to protect systems and users from malicious attacks. However, they differ from several standpoints, which we’ll discuss in detail in this section.

1. Purpose

Cybersecurity primarily focuses on protecting internet-enabled systems and networks from unauthorized access, malfunction, violations, and theft (internal or external). It is also concerned with designing strategies to minimize security risks on a system before, during, or after any attack.

Ethical hacking aims to strengthen system security by identifying and resolving exploitable vulnerabilities, giving malicious hackers little or no leverage on the system. It also arms authentic users and organizations with necessary information about specific networks and systems.

Imagine a hostile cyberattack that could have been prevented but was not. The results of ethically hacking the system beforehand can give affected users or organizations first-hand information about the root cause of the attack. And that is the first step in resolving any security issue.

Although hacking is highly prohibited in today’s cyberspace due to its adverse impacts, organizations can utilize ethical hacking methodologies and tools to probe into systems to discover anomalies. Nonetheless, here are some legal and ethical implications to consider:

  • Authorization: Ethical hacking must only be conducted with the permission or consent of the authentic owner or user of the specific systems. As mentioned earlier, unauthorized hacking is highly prohibited and has legal consequences if done, irrespective of the hacker’s intentions.
  • Compliance with Relevant Laws and Regulations: Ethical hackers must adhere to stipulated laws and regulations (general and industry-specific) before, during, and after their activities. This includes data protection and privacy laws and intellectual property rights.
  • Potential Liability: Ethical hackers must understand that they’re likely to face legal liability if any damage (unintentional or premeditated) occurs during their operations. Hence, as an ethical hacker, you must be careful to minimize the risk of any mishap.

In addition, endeavor to sign detailed contracts to define your scope of work and liability before embarking on any project.

  • Confidentiality: Ethical hackers, in the course of their work, often access sensitive information during testing. Therefore, they have an ethical responsibility to handle such information confidentially and protect the privacy of individuals whose data they encounter.
  • Continuous Professional Development: Ethical hackers are responsible for improving their skills and knowledge to stay abreast of the latest security technologies, trends, and practices.

Cybersecurity, on the other hand, also has significant legal and ethical implications due to the severity of cyber threats on individuals, organizations, and society. The following are some important legal and ethical implications of cybersecurity:

  • Compliance with Industry Regulations: Organizations in various industries—health, finance, and education—must comply with specific industry standards to ensure maximum cybersecurity.
  • Use of Surveillance and Monitoring: Using surveillance and monitoring tools for cybersecurity raises ethical concerns about privacy and individual rights. Hence, it is essential to balance the need for security with users’ right to privacy.
  • Data Protection and Privacy Laws: To ensure cybersecurity, companies must comply with data protection and privacy laws, especially within their locale. These laws dictate how business owners collect, store, process, and protect customers’ data.
  • Cybersecurity Education: Going full-blown on cybersecurity ethically requires continuous education, training, and knowing current cybersecurity trends to stay on track with innovations and best practices in cyberspace.

Cybersecurity utilizes the following tools and techniques:

  • Network security monitoring tools
  • Encryption tools
  • Web vulnerability scanning tools
  • Penetration testing tools
  • Antivirus software
  • Network intrusion detection
  • Packet sniffers
  • Firewall tools
  • Access control

Conversely, ethical hacking uses:

  • Phishing
  • Network sniffing
  • Social engineering testing
  • SQL injection
  • Session hijacking testing
  • Enumeration
  • Cryptography analysis
  • Vulnerability scanning tools

4. Career Opportunities

Person sitting beside racks of servers

With the growing number of cybercrimes and attacks, the need for cybersecurity professionals and ethical hackers is increasing significantly across different industries. This has led to the creation of diverse career opportunities in both fields. So, if you want to secure a job in cybersecurity, here are some career opportunities you can explore:

  • Security Auditor: Security auditors assess an organization’s security policies and procedures to ensure compliance with general and industry standards and regulations. They also conduct security assessments and provide recommendations for improvement.
  • Security Engineer and Architect: They ensure the adequate development, implementation, and maintenance of security systems. That involves providing the necessary security measures and techniques where and when required.
  • Cybersecurity Consultant: A cybersecurity consultant is an independent cybersecurity professional who works majorly as a freelancer and can be hired by several companies for external cybersecurity auditing needs. They provide unbiased security recommendations and strategies and can deliver their services remotely.
  • Computer Forensics Investigator: Virtually every cybersecurity attack involves criminal activities. So, the role of a forensic investigator is to examine the affected system, provide measures to recover lost data, and compile credible evidence for legal purposes.
  • Cybersecurity Software Developer: These professionals are responsible for developing security software solutions to ensure the security and integrity of computer systems, networks, users, and applications. You can work as a freelancer or full-time employee and must be proficient in specific programming languages.

On the other hand, if you want to make a career in ethical hacking, here are a few options to consider:

  • Penetration Tester: They are responsible for simulating cyberattacks on computer systems and networks to identify vulnerabilities and provide recommendations for strengthening security. They work closely with cybersecurity engineers to ensure adequate system security.
  • Incident Responder: An incident reporter handles security incidents and breaches, including analyzing and containing the impact of a simulated or actual attack, conducting forensic investigations, and developing strategies to prevent future incidents.
  • Cryptographer: Cryptographers focus on creating and breaking codes and ciphers. They develop cryptographic algorithms and protocols to secure data and communication channels.
  • Cybersecurity Researcher: Cybersecurity researchers explore and identify new security theories and exploitation techniques and contribute to developing security solutions and best practices.
  • Cybersecurity Analyst: A cybersecurity analyst conducts vulnerability tests, risk analyses, and security evaluations to ensure adequate system and network management.

5. Training and Certifications

Man standing infront of people in a lecture hall

Cybersecurity and ethical hacking are complex fields requiring several training and certifications to gain proficiency and authority. Fortunately, you can get the necessary training and earn a degree from an accredited institution (in-person or virtual).

Additionally, you can attend boot camps and workshops, read books, or binge-watch YouTube videos about cybersecurity or any related field. Furthermore, earning relevant certifications plays a crucial role in the employment ecosystem. If you’re considering going into ethical hacking, here are some popular certificates to get:

Likewise, if you want to become a cybersecurity expert, here are some professional in-demand certifications to consider besides online cybersecurity courses:

6. Salary

According to ZipRecruiter, the average annual salary for an ethical hacker is around $135,000. Similarly, a cybersecurity professional earns up to $97,000 annually, as per ZipRecruiter. Notwithstanding, your ideal salary depends on your skill set, experience, responsibilities, and the location of your employer. So, don’t be limited by these average salaries, as there’s room for more.

Cybersecurity vs. Ethical Hacking: A Common Ground

Despite the differences, cybersecurity professionals and ethical hackers work hand-in-hand to protect systems from compromise. For example, while ethical hackers detect exploitable loopholes, cybersecurity experts proffer security measures to address the detected and potential issues.

In other words, their objectives serve as a common ground for them to function collectively. They also share common terms, terminologies, job roles, and skills and can work in any industry of choice, including the military, as cyber soldiers.


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