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The Hacker - Tales of a Modern Superhero

By Bruce Harmon, Ph.D., CTU Doctoral Chair of Computer Science

CTU Computer Science Degree - The HackerHackers are generally thought of as devious criminals who crack into top-secret government files, or spread nasty computer viruses. The devious reputation of hackers is somewhat deserved – breaking into computer networks is illegal, after all. But there’s another type of hacker with a good reputation for doing this exact thing, albeit for less self-serving purposes.

Ethical Hacker?

Ethical hackers, also known as penetration testers, help protect computer systems from unauthorized hackers. Ethical hackers are hired by government agencies or private companies to test computer networks for security threats and vulnerabilities. Once the ethical hacker identifies a system’s weak points using the same tactics as illegal hackers do, the system owner can fix them.

Ethical hackers typically have experience in IT security, so they know what makes computer systems strong as well as weak. To become an ethical hacker, they also learn how to do things that would be illegal, if they were unauthorized to perform such tasks, including:

  • Identifying and scanning networks
  • Decoding wireless encryption
  • Attacking Web servers, websites and computer applications using methods like SQL injection, buffer overflow and more
  • Creating and using malware such as worms and viruses

The testing doesn’t stop at computers either. Ethical hackers even test people through “social engineering.” Social engineering involves manipulating people into giving confidential information that would allow an unauthorized hacker to gain an advantage. For example, an ethical hacker might send out a covert email to employees, asking them for their login information.

Want to Become a Certified Ethical Hacker?

Yes, you can actually obtain certification as an ethical hacker. The Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) certification is offered by the International Council of Electronic Commerce Consultants, or EC-Council. To obtain CEH certification, you’ll need at least two years of IT security experience. You can study for the test through EC-Council-approved courses and study materials.

If you’ve ever had your personal information hacked, you know how much of a relief it was to see your information back safe where it belonged, in your hands and not a hackers. You, too, can gain the skills to protect others from the pervasive threat.


CTU Faculty - Bruce HarmonBruce Harmon, Ph.D., is the University Doctoral Chair of Computer Science at Colorado Technical University. He earned a Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering with a minor in Computer Science from the University of Colorado and his M.S. in Aeronautical Engineering from Purdue University. He earned a B.S. in Aeronautical Engineering at the United States Air Force Academy. After 9 years in the Air Force, he worked in defense and later at top-tier commercial companies for 17 years both in research and executive leadership positions. Learn why he’s IN.


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Image credit: Flickr.com/people/somemixedstuff