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What is an ethical hacker and how to become one

Updated: Jul 1, 2023

In popular culture, hackers are mainly represented as misunderstood and intriguing characters who can do wonders just by furiously pounding at their computer keyboards, while hacking itself is most often associated with daring and sophisticated cyber-attacks and other sinister and covert activities.

It's hard to imagine nowadays that hacking can be a force for good. However, although the term "hacker" has often been used to refer to computer criminals, since its inception in the 1960s it has simply meant intelligent, curious and creative computer engineers and programmers who explored technology and used their deep understanding of it to experiment and solve challenging problems. It goes without saying that such people can be invaluable to institutions and organizations, especially when it comes to protecting and securing IT infrastructure. That's where ethical or white hat hackers come in.

For example, in the UK, such professionals are employed by the National Cyber Security Centre. This government agency protects the country's online sphere, supporting the most vital organisations, the wider public sector, businesses and the general public.

Ethical hackers mimic malicious attackers to find and resolve security vulnerabilities, minimise harm after cyber incidents, help with recovery, and set traps for cyber criminals and scammers.

Abertay University, a public university in Scotland, was the first university in the world to offer a degree in Ethical Hacking in 2006. It was also the only university in Scotland and one of just eight in the country to be awarded Academic Centre of Excellence in Cyber Security Education by the National Cyber Security Centre.

The university is also proud of its huge Ethical Hacking society, which hosts the Securi-Tay conference, the largest student-run security conference in Europe.

What do you study to become an ethical hacker?

Abertay University's course centers on deliberately breaking computer systems and building cybersecurity defences based on these real-life scenarios. Such hands-on approach helps students better understand how hacking and cyber attacks work, and what techniques can be applied to prevent and stop illegal hacks quickly and professionally. Course curriculum includes computer networking, digital forensics, and programming.

For example, students build simulations for real businesses which fell victim to cyber attacks, replicating their IT infrastructure to demonstrate where they could be vulnerable to attack, or design new multi-factor authentication methods for apps and websites (multi-factor authentication is a multi-step account login process that requires users to enter more information than just a password and adds an extra layer of security).

What are the entry requirements?

The course requires ABBB A Level grades in subjects like Computer Science, Maths, Human Biology, Biology, Chemistry, Engineering Science, Geography, Physics.

Other UK Universities to study Ethical Hacking/Cyber Security

Lancaster University

University of Southampton

University of South Wales

University of Surrey

University of the West of England

University of Warwick

Coventry University

Want to learn about what it's like to study in the UK and how to get into the best universities in the country? LEO International Online School offers a diverse and intensive two–year A-Level programme designed to prepare students for university entry in the United Kingdom. Learn more about this programme and our other courses here, and don't hesitate to contact us at

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