7 Free Sources To Learn Ethical Hacking From Scratch
When you think of hacking, you probably think of someone illegally breaching an organization’s network to steal sensitive data or install ransomware. But not all types of hacking are criminal or even harmful. Ethical hacking uses many of the same tactics that criminal hackers use to break into systems and networks, but where regular hackers typically have ill intent, ethical hackers gain prior permission from organizations to hack their systems in order to flag network vulnerabilities and weaknesses, and to help them get ahead of malicious breaches. In other words, ethical hackers use their hacking skills for good.
Cybersecurity professionals with experience in ethical hacking have never been more important. As more and more organizations digitally store sensitive data and rely on servers and networks to power businesses and agencies, the threat of malicious cyberattacks grows. This is why there’s been a surge in demand for cybersecurity experts, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasting that the profession will grow by 31% over the next decade—much faster than many other industries.
Cybersecurity workers who are well versed in ethical hacking are skilled coders and cybersecurity analysts who can essentially think like professional hackers. By working with organizations to identify system vulnerabilities, they can help prevent server-side attacks and client-side attacks, close up undetectable backdoors, address SQL injection, and intercept a spy in the system, resulting in greater user privacy, the protection of sensitive data, and the security of the critical infrastructure.
What Is Ethical Hacking?
Ethical hackers, also known as “white-hat hackers,” are highly trained cybersecurity professionals hired by companies for the purpose of infiltrating their computer systems, networks, or applications. Where malicious hackers, also known as “black-hat hackers,” will breach an organization’s security in order to steal information or compromise systems, ethical hackers carefully document how they breached an organization’s armor and provide recommendations on remediation.
It’s worth noting that white-hat hackers, though contracted by organizations and given permission to compromise their systems, are not given carte blanche to hack as they please. Ethical hacks are always carefully planned with clear parameters about what systems and applications can be compromised, the scope of work, and when the breach will begin and end. Once the conditions have been agreed upon, ethical hackers will attempt to gain access to web applications, APIs, front-end/back-end servers, connected devices, remote computer systems, operating systems, virtual machines, and more.
One of the main ways legal hacking occurs is through penetration testing, in which the white-hat hacker will attempt to breach secure systems by exploiting a number of website vulnerabilities such as an unsecured internet connection/wi-fi network, a weak password, misconfigured firewalls, or loopholes in third-party applications. In addition to network hacking, security experts might also perform internal tests such as phishing attacks, which help identify vulnerabilities in employee behavior. Post exploitation, white-hat hackers typically help organizations put safeguards in place to prevent future attacks, whether it’s bolstering the security of systems or recommending employee training to raise cybersecurity awareness.
The benefits and practical side of penetration testing are manyfold: by getting ahead of data breaches, preparing an organization for the different types of hackers that might try to compromise their systems, securing remote computers, and encouraging targeted training of employees, organizations can potentially save millions of dollars in financial and reputational damage.
7 Free Resources To Learn Ethical Hacking From Scratch
Given the growing demand for security professionals with experience in ethical hacking, there has been a boom in paid online courses that cover everything from network basics to web application hacking, exploitation techniques, encryption methods such as WPA and WPA2, Linux basics, penetration testing tools such as Kali Linux, real systems, and reconnaissance tactics. Many paid courses also offer a certification exam where a candidate can become a certified ethical hacker
But for those who are looking to dip their toes into ethical hacking, brush up on their cybersecurity skills, or learn the latest best practices in penetration testing, there are many free resources that are just as comprehensive, relevant, and engaging as paid courses. Below are some of our free resource picks.
Guru99’s free ethical hacking tutorial offers a comprehensive introduction to the key concepts and components of ethical hacking. Its course spans social engineering hacks and prevention, hacking Linux OS, cracking the password of an application, and understanding worms and viruses. Perhaps the most valuable part of the course is the inclusion of useful hacking tools, which can be a huge time saver for newcomers who are still trying to get a lay of the land—the website groups together tools for IP address blocking, network scanning, malware removal, and free firewall software. A downside of this resource is although it is targeted at complete beginners, it doesn’t actually teach the skills required to successfully perform ethical hacking (E.g. programming languages, understanding the basics of Linux, SQL).
Coursera’s free Cryptography course runs for seven weeks and offers an introduction to the foundations of cryptography (which is the practice of securing information), with an eye toward practical applications. While the course only focuses on a narrow sliver of what it takes to become an ethical hacker, cryptography is a crucial component of cybersecurity because it allows organizations and individuals to encrypt sensitive data. Developing a strong understanding of modern cryptography is incredibly useful to anyone interested in hacking, and this course serves as a building block for both beginners and seasoned security professionals. At the end of the program, students also receive a course completion certification.
Although Edureka offers a paid course in cybersecurity, those looking to simply gain a comprehensive introduction to the concepts and methods of ethical hacking can benefit from its free ten-hour video tutorial. The video covers everything from Kali Linux to the fundamentals of networking, XSS, and DDOS, and while many of the concepts might be challenging for a complete newcomer to parse, it can be useful to those who already have a background in network security and administration and are looking to pivot into cybersecurity and ethical hacking.
Originally streamed in segments on Twitch, this 14+ hour penetration testing tutorial covers everything from an introduction to Linux and Python, to scanning tools and tactics, enumeration, token impersonation, and report writing. Those who follow along will be shown how to create their own Active Directory lab in Windows, make it vulnerable, hack it, then patch it, and have the benefit of watching the instructor code in real-time.
After signing up for a free account, Hack This Site is a treasure trove of hacking-related blog posts, articles, hacking challenges, tutorials, and discussions. The active community of hackers and hackers-in-training are encouraged to practice their skills by undertaking challenges, asking questions on the discussion boards, and sharing educational resources spanning topics such as telecommunications, wireless networks, hardware hacking, and gaming. While the site won’t teach a newcomer coding basics, the built-in community is active and engaged in answering questions and discussing the latest best practices.
Operated by HackerOne—a cybersecurity and bug bounty platform—Hacker101 is a free web security class for experienced programmers and those who already have a background in cybersecurity. With dozens of tutorials arranged in video playlists, Hacker101 covers penetration testing, web hacking (cookie tampering techniques, XML external entities, password storage, clickjacking, session fixation, etc.), and mobile hacking. It also runs its own 24/7 Capture The Flag game where hackers can find bugs and solve puzzles, which gives all participants the opportunity to find bugs in real-world simulated environments and put the practical techniques learned from the video tutorials to the test.
Another free resource for those who already have a foundational knowledge of cybersecurity and coding, Hackaday offers a “hack a day,” which means new tutorials are frequently uploaded to demonstrate powerful hacks for educational purposes. In addition to helping students understand hacking concepts through videos, it boasts a collaborative hardware development community where people are encouraged to share their work on Hackaday’s hosting site, openly exchange ideas and information, and buy and sell hardware from fellow makers.
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