The Best Programming Languages to Learn for Cybersecurity

Jason Robert C.Jason Robert C. | 7 minute read | September 13, 2018
Programming languages for cybersecurity

Not all cybersecurity professionals have — or need — coding skills. But without some knowledge of at least one language, you may find your path forward somewhat limited. Want to position yourself for long-term success in the field? Determine the best programming language for cybersecurity — your particular corner of the quickly expanding cybersecurity world — and get familiar with the basics.

Think about it this way: Code is to an application as a gear is to an automobile. The gear turns and makes the vehicle work. Likewise, code allows an application to function properly. What would happen if a crooked mechanic loosened a gear? The automobile would break down. Code can be maliciously modified as well, allowing a hacker to put their bad intentions into action.

Knowing a programming language helps you defend against hacking techniques used with the language (and looks great on your cybersecurity resume). That’s why coding is a sought-after skill in the industry. If you know cybersecurity programming languages, you’re already a step ahead.

The Best Programming Languages for Cybersecurity

To start a career in cybersecurity, the best programming languages to know are:

  • JavaScript
  • HTML*
  • Python
  • C
  • C++
  • Assembly
  • PHP

Related: Best Programming Languages for AI


Why it’s important: JavaScript is the most popular and widespread programming language.

It’s one of the best cybersecurity programming languages you can learn. If you want to steal cookies, manipulate event handlers, and perform cross-site scripting, JavaScript is for you. ReactJS, jQuery, NodeJS — do these sound familiar? JavaScript is everywhere. That also means that, due to the language’s widespread usage, programs and applications using it are popular targets.

With JavaScript, a website owner can run any code whenever a visitor comes to a website. This can improve the functionality of the website. On the other hand, it could produce a malicious functionality unbeknownst to the visitor. If a hacker takes control of a website, they could program it to run malicious code.

Javascript web engineer in the cybersecurity space is the perfect job for someone with knowledge of this programming language, clearly. As a Javascript web engineer, you will be expected to foster the development processes for API functions. You may also design websites and user interfaces while ensuring they are secure. This means mitigating possible cross-site scripting attempts in web forms as well as minimizing other technical risks.

best programming language for cybersecurity: JavaScript


Why it’s important: It’s technically a markup language, but HTML is used by virtually all websites.

It’s simple: if most websites use HTML, a cybersecurity professional should understand it. This language is one of the most basic and easiest to learn. Have you ever heard the phrase “you have to learn to walk before you can run”? HTML is like learning to walk.

Like JavaScript, HTML code can be injected into web pages as a cross-site scripting attack. Content spoofing — defacing a website or providing other false information to a user — is another form of attack using HTML. With content spoofing, a hacker supplies code via parameter value to a web application. This code is then viewed by the end user or website visitor. A false web page may also contain a login area. With a spoofed web page, hackers can collect usernames and passwords.

Knowing HTML can help you get a job as a front-end developer. Part of your responsibilities would be to implement mitigating factors against cross-site scripting and content spoofing as you develop websites and other applications.

best programming language for cybersecurity: HTML


Why it’s important: Python will allow you to automate tasks and conduct malware analysis.  Furthermore, a vast third-party library of scripts is readily available.

You may have heard the term “script kiddie.” It’s a derogatory term for hackers who only use third-party scripts and cannot create their own. Python isn’t the only programming language used by script kiddies; a number of popular hacking tools — such as AutoSploit — are written in Python.

Exploiting remote hosts is a common tactic of hackers and AutoSploit was created to — no surprise here — automate that. As Sean Gallagher of Ars Technica notes, “Python script uses command line interfaces and text files to extract data from the Shodan database, which is a search engine that taps into scan data on millions of Internet-connected systems. AutoSploit then runs shell commands to execute the Metasploit penetration testing framework.”

SOC support specialist is one of the jobs available if you know Python. In this role, you would build tools and scripts to defend against cyberattacks. You would also use logs, artifacts, and data to investigate the root causes of problems.

best programming language for cybersecurity: Python


Why it’s important: C is great for reverse-engineering and finding vulnerabilities.

C has been around since the 1970s. The programming language is still popular due to how easy it is to learn. Programmers are able to write low-level code with C. Security-conscious programmers will ensure their code lacks vulnerabilities. Hackers, on the other hand, will use C to find vulnerabilities.

Lint is the original code analyzer for C. It was released in 1978 and, since then, a number of variants have been created. Lint can find bugs, programming errors, and other types of flaws. It would, therefore, benefit C programmers to use a program like Lint. If they don’t scan their code for vulnerabilities, hackers will.

Knowing C will help you get a job as a cybersecurity defense analyst or cybersecurity analyst. Threat mitigation, emerging threat research, vulnerability assessments — these are some of the job functions you’ll perform as a cybersecurity defense analyst. In addition, you may conduct investigations and forensics functions to get acquainted with what to look for after an attack happens. (Learn more about becoming a security analyst.)

best programming language for cybersecurity: C


Why it’s important: C++ is an enhanced version of C.

C++, like C, is decades old. The programming language first appeared in 1985. And while C++ is derived from C, the language is unique. For example, C++ supports classes and objects while C doesn’t. C++ is faster and has better overall performance than C.

Flawfinder is a security tool aimed at finding vulnerabilities in C and C++ code. Running the scan generates a report that lists vulnerabilities by the level of severity. Paul Krill at InfoWorld writes, “It uses a built-in database of language function with known risks, such as buffer overflow problems, format string issues, race conditions, and poor random-number acquisition.”

Because C and C++ are related, many companies prefer job applicants to have a working knowledge of both languages. The job posting for C++ developer below is one example. As a C++ developer, you’ll build desktop and mobile applications. While coding, you’ll attempt to identify and mitigate the instances of any bugs or vulnerabilities.

best programming language for cybersecurity: C++


Why it’s important: You’ll be able to dissect and understand how malware works.

Malware is what cybersecurity professionals defend against; therefore, it would be beneficial for them to know how malware works. Adam Kujawa of Malwarebytes writes, “Learning Assembly is easy if you already know a higher-level language, imagine what the operating system needs to do in order for a single function call to execute, this is what you will see in Assembly.”

Hackers also use the coding language to create malware. Slammer is an Assembly-based worm that wreaked havoc in 2003. It slowed down internet traffic by causing a denial of service on a large number of hosts. Microsoft’s SQL Server had a buffer overflow bug which the program exploited. It wasn’t a zero-day attack. A patch had been released many months prior; however, a large number of organizations hadn’t applied the patch yet, allowing the bug to spread.

Cybersecurity engineer is one job you can get with knowledge of Assembly. As part of your duties, you’ll reverse-engineer how malware works in order to defend against it. You’ll use this knowledge to plan and implement mitigation techniques against any possible malware attack. (To learn more about finding vulnerabilities and fighting malware, read Security Audits and Penetration Testing: What They Are and Why They’re Important.)

best programming language for cybersecurity: Assembly


Why it’s important: PHP is commonly used to code websites.

The importance of this cannot be overstated. If you want a job where your duties involve protecting websites, you’ll want to learn PHP. Can you think of a company that doesn’t have a website?

RIPS is a popular tool that conducts automated security analysis for PHP applications. It analyzes the data flow from input parameters to sensitive operations in an application. If you’re a PHP developer working on security issues, you might use RIPS.

As a security-focused PHP developer, you’ll be writing server-side web application logic. You’ll also manage back-end services and the exchange of data between a server and its users. Finally, you’ll use your knowledge of PHP to mitigate any exploits that might be found in your code. (PHP developer is often an entry-level position. If you haven’t interviewed before, make sure you read 25 Cybersecurity Job Interview Questions next.)

best programming language for cybersecurity: PHP

Cybersecurity is a vast field offering diverse job opportunities: security analysts, ethical hackers, forensic investigators. Each job requires a different set of skills. But the one factor that can give you a serious edge no matter what your cybersecurity role is coding knowledge.

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Jason Robert C.

About Jason Robert C.

Jason is a Navy veteran, black belt, and writer who holds multiple cybersecurity certifications. Follow him at @writingbyjason.