Many beginners who want to learn hacking or pursue a career in hacking usually ask me what skills or requirements they need to have to get started.
They are also very inquisitive to know things like; whether they need a college degree to succeed, what programming languages they need to learn, the kind of computer to use, how long it will take before they become pro hackers, etc.
All of these are what I am going to cover or address in this post while linking to very useful resources for your further study.
So let’s kick off with the core technical skills you require as beginner hackers to excel at hacking.
As an absolute beginner to hacking, before you even begin to hack anything, you have to at least have a working knowledge of the basic concepts in the following 5 core areas.
- General computing
- Computer networking
- Coding or Scripting
You do not only want to have knowledge of these technical skills but also some hands-on or practical experience. Reading and watching video tutorials can only take you so far. Practicing what you have learned is what will keep the learning.
Now, this may look like a lot—and it actually is—especially if you have never tried your hands at any of these areas before. But don’t get intimidated! With the right resources to guide you and dedication to learning on your part, you can learn all of these and be proficient.
1. General computing
You need basic computer science knowledge if you already don’t. Below is a list of things you should know beyond just being able to surf the internet. It’s not an exhaustive list though, but it’s a starting point.
2. Computer networking
You need to understand the core of computer networking. Because if you don’t things like DNS, ARP, SMB, LLMNR, will not make sense to you.
You have to get to the core of networking and learn how data packets travel from point to point in a network and how routers forward these packets across connected devices.
The table below gives a breakdown of what you are expected to learn and the resources to help you achieve that.
You need more than the basics of creating an office doc or presentation on your Windows computer.
You should be comfortable using the command line in Windows, familiar with such things as UAC and DLLs, editing the Windows registry, setting up virtual machines and servers, etc.
Below is a list of skill sets you should have under your belt as well as the resources to help you learn them.
As a hacker, it’s extremely critical you develop Linux skills. You would probably be spending most of your days working in one Linux system or the other because almost all tools we hackers use are developed for the Linux platform.
In teaching yourself Linux, you will need to learn to install everything from scratch, learn the mighty Linux command line, work with Linux servers and virtual machines, etc.
The table below will give you a head start on what you need to get your Linux learning off the ground.
5. Coding and scripting
Do you need to be a programmer or coder before you can become a hacker? Well, the answer is yes and no!
You mustn’t be a coding ninja to become a hacker. But knowing the basics of programming so that you’re able to, at least, read code will definitely add more breadth to your hacking skill set.
And if you are one who is proficient at coding or programming, then you will be better equipped with the abilities to provide solutions to systemic problems.
It becomes more interesting because the information security industry is a family of sharers. Elite coders look after non-coders (and fellow coders alike) by providing their solutions. Tools, software, scripts, and code snippets are open-sourced and distributed freely for the benefit of the entire community—all to improve the state of cybersecurity.
Programming basics is important for a hacker. Being able to read, understand or know what the code of other hackers is doing will enable you recognize a solution to a problem you would have written code yourself to solve or if you had the abilities to program.
Below is a table of resources to help beginner hackers and coding newbies brush up on the basics of programming.
College Degree Requirement
Do you need a degree in computer science to become a hacker? The answer is no! You do not need an academic degree to get into cybersecurity.
Getting formal education is absolutely important for you to be a learned individual in general. But don’t let the fact that you need to get a computer-oriented degree before you can pursue a professional career in ethical hacking stop you.
Almost everyone I know in the information or cybersecurity industry never undertook a degree in information technology. In fact, I know two pros who transitioned into cyber security from previously being musicians.
A lot of cybersecurity folks have Engineering backgrounds. My self, for example, I studied Electrical Engineering but I learnt cybersecurity purely through self-education and determination.
So a college degree is not a requirement for a white hat hacker. But if you just want to get a bachelor’s degree, get one in computer science, information technology or an advanced diploma in network security.
In the information security industry, certifications are some of the most important things you can possibly get. They are more valuable than a college degree in cybersecurity.
Certifications are important from the perspective of actually getting a job and making a living. It’s a filter employers will most likely pass you through—as a measure of excellence and commitment to quality—before you get hired.
Now you know certifications are a necessity, but you shouldn’t make them your priority focus. Your certs will be worthless as dung if after getting hired you cannot demonstrate to your employer your hacking prowess.
You should consider certs more like a document to validate your skills and show a prospective employer that you’re properly trained and qualified for the job.
You don’t want to be the average joe who has a list of certs without having enough practical training to go with it. Making you only able to talk the talk without being able to walk the walk as well.
Some of the certs to aim for early on in your cybersecurity career are:
- Security+ (CompTIA)
- CEH (EC-Council)
CompTIA Security+: This is the first security certification IT professionals should earn. It establishes the core knowledge required of any cybersecurity role and provides a springboard to intermediate-level cybersecurity jobs. According to cybersecurity ventures.
Hacking Laptop Requirement
What specs do I need on a laptop to be used for hacking? The answer is it depends on your budget!
If you can afford a powerful and robust laptop to do your hacking, by all means, go for it.
But it’s also fine if what you can afford is a lower-end class of laptop. Only be aware that it may not be able to effectively handle virtualizing a small local lab and some interesting hacker activities like password cracking.
In my experience, I found that any laptop with decent specs can do the job. And if there is something the laptop cannot do, then you know it time to upgrade either the entire laptop or parts of it.
Below is a list of important specs to watch out for when you’re in the market for a hacking laptop.
- RAM: You may get away with 4GB of RAM. But the minimum for a decent hacking laptop is 8GB of RAM. For the best experience, aim for 16GB or 32GB.
- Storage: An SSD drive is preferred over an HDD drive. But don’t sweat it if you can’t get an SSD. Then for storage capacity, 250GB HDD/SSD and above will suffice. Hacking doesn’t really require much storage capacity, but 500GB HDD looks like a good number to have.
- Processor: Anytime I will recommend the Intel Core CPUs. The Intel Core i3 is great but the minimum for a decent hacking laptop is their Intel Core i5 processor. But for the best performance, get the Intel Core i7. The CPU generation matters too. The newer the generation, say 8th generation, the better.
- Graphics card: Integrated graphics card are good but a dedicated GPU of 2GB will make a more powerful password cracking machine (if you are going to be doing that). And depending on how intensive your cracking operations will be, you may be needing a 4GB GPU at minimum.
In closing, I want to emphatically note that there is no straight path to a career in computer & information security. Everyone you will meet has kind of a slanted view of what getting into information security is, based upon their own perspective or roles in the industry.
So listen to what people say but don’t swallow everything. Keep what makes sense and disregard what doesn’t. Because the information security space changes fast and you don’t want to get into any kind of religious adherence to anything at all. But never forget that a solid mastery of the basics will make you exceptional.
That’s some solid advice there eh? Then go on and win!
Resources to check for more:
- Your 5 Years Plan into InfoSec podcast (part 1 & 2) by Black Hills Information Security.
- The Five Pillars of an Information/Cyber Security Professional.