Hacking vs Ethical Hacking: 7 Critical Similarities & Differences

hacking vs ethical hacking

What is hacking vs ethical hacking?

I don’t know if you’ve heard, but “hacking” has become a very popular term among both technical and non techies these days. Ranging from serious data breaches to giant companies like Sony being taken down by some dude in a hoodie…

But when you talk about hacking, you can’t help but also mention ethical hacking. This even just adds into the confusion and noise, right? What is the difference between hacking and ethical hacking?

Well, in this article, we are going to do a hacking vs ethical hacking comparison where we’ll discuss not only the differences, but also the similarities between hacking and ethical hacking.

I’ll also finish this article by sharing 3 tips to keep yourself safe from hackers. So stay tuned!

From what we’ve heard hacking is a serious threat in this digital age. Or is it? Let’s find out.

Before we dive right into the ethical hacking vs hacking comparison though, let’s take a quick look into the 3 most common hacking techniques employed by hackers.

  • Brute force attack. This is where a hacker uses automated hacking tools to crack your password by trying different letter combinations.
  • Phishing is a common email scam where a hacker sends you a fake but legit looking email in a bid to trick you into divulging sensitive personal information.
  • Social engineering is where a hacker plays psychological tricks on you to try to get you to share sensitive information like your username and password.

I share a more detailed look into the various hacking techniques in my other article on the most common website hacking techniques to be aware of.


Now, that you know at least a few ways an attacker might come at you, let’s dive right in and find out the similarities and differences between a hacker and an ethical hacker.

We’ll compare hacking vs ethical hacking along the lines of their intentions, tools used, compensation among others.

1. Hacking vs Ethical Hacking: Definition

Hacking is the process of exploiting the security flaws, bugs or vulnerabilities in a network or software in order to steal the data, destroy the data or interrupt normal operations.

A person who performs hacking activities is called a hacker, a cracker, an attacker or a black hat hacker. Check out this article if you want to learn more about the different types of hackers.

Ethical hacking is the process of exploiting security flaws, vulnerabilities or bugs in a software or network in order to identify the security loopholes and fix them before a malicious hacker finds them. If you perform ethical hacking, you are called an ethical hacker.

2. Hacking vs Ethical Hacking: Intention

How does a hacker vs ethical hacker compare in terms of intention?

Just like we already saw in the definitions above, this is where a hacker differs greatly from an ethical hacker.

A hacker attacks a network, system or application with all the wrong reasons:

  • stealing sensitive identifiable user information
  • destroying, modifying or erasing a company’s database
  • bringing down a network by interrupting its normal operations

An ethical hacking would attack an organization network with all the right reasons:

  • to identify and remedy security vulnerabilities to secure the system
  • to assess an organization’s security measures and quality assurance
  • implementing data security regulatory compliance, like GDPR

So, in terms of ethical hacking vs hacking, an ethical hacker wants to protect you and keep you safe whereas a hacker wants to weaken, expose and take you down.

3. Hacking vs Ethical Hacking: Legality

Between hacking and ethical hacking, which one is illegal?

We’ll find out in a moment.

Hacking is where you break into a organization’s network or software without their knowledge or consent. It is completely illegal and you’ll get your *ss locked up if you are caught. Ethical hacking is sanctioned and authorized by the company, you are protected by a contract and it’s completely legal.

In fact, ethical hacking is one of the fastest growing and highest paying professions in IT today.

Why not get started learning ethical hacking online with these courses so that you can join the workforce and take advantage of this skill gap?

5. Hacking vs Ethical Hacking: Compensation

When comparing hacking vs ethical hacking compensation, let’s look at how they get their money.

First, a hacker or an attacker may operate as an individual, a group or a state sponsored cyber hacking team. Either way, a hacker seeks to profit by illegally acquiring sensitive information and selling it on the dark web or simply transferring the money directly from your bank account to theirs once they have your credit card info.

It’s dirty money.

An ethical hacker, while he may also work alone or as part of a security team, is an employee of an organization.

He is entitled to a salary and all the benefits, in exchange for his services in securing company user data, business operations and keeping the attacker in check. It’s clean money, completely cool 🙂

Note: First don’t beat me for using “he”, I know there are female ethical hackers too. Secondly, some ethical hackers work as independent penetration testers and so are not entitled to employee benefits.

4. Hacking vs Ethical Hacking: Tools

How about the tools they use… do hackers have tools with more super powers?

You might have thought so, because how can a lone attacker bring down a system that has a entire cyber security team keeping an eye on it? I’ll explain why that happens in a moment.

First of all let me surprise you by telling you that all hackers, be it black hat, white hat or gray hat or whatever hat have access to the same ethical hacking tools. It then quickly becomes less about the tools and more about the skills of the hacker. Remember that saying that a tool is only as good as the hands that wield it?

A hacker, also known as a malicious hacker or attacker, only seeks to exploit a single security vulnerability in a system in order to bring it down.

So he’s able to keep himself laser focused on a single vulnerability that he wants to exploit in every way possible.

An ethical hacker on the other hand, has to seal off all possible vulnerabilities that exist in a software or network. So he has to keep an eye on several loopholes and back doors that are exploitable. See where this is going? An attacker can outsmart a team, not because he’s any smarter but because of his single eye focus on one vulnerability while the team tries to keep tabs on everything.

Both an ethical hacker and a hacker have access to the same tools though.

6. Hacking vs Ethical Hacking: Training

So where do these hackers or ethical hackers come from, really? When comparing hacking vs ethical hacking training, I’d say this is where there is a great similarity or rather convergence.

Let me explain.

Even though I have been practicing as an ethical hacker for the last 5 years, I was a black hat hacker before. In fact most of the other ethical hackers I have interacted with started as malicious hackers, attackers or black hat hackers for that matter.

It’s because most people get into this profession out of curiosity, so you start by teaching yourself through online courses, setting up your own hacking lab at home and getting your hands dirty.

Once you have some great hands-on experience, you take some certifications like the Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) and get a white hat hacking job. I have even explained the entire process of how to become an ethical hacker in my ultimate guide to becoming a pentester.

Alternatively, some professionals enter into cyber security by taking a bachelor’s degree in computer science, information security, cyber security or any other related subject. Again, what I’m saying is that both a malicious hacker and an ethical hacker have access to the same training, same learning materials and resources.

Heck, they might have as well been classmates.

Most black hat hackers finally turn into white hat hackers by taking certifications and getting ethical hacking jobs with reputable and respectable organizations.

That is, if that happens before they get a lawsuit on their neck… because you can’t hack your way out of that? One other side, a good number of ethical hackers finally go rogue, become black hat and begin doing damage… especially after being fired or disgruntled.

7. Hacking vs Ethical Hacking: Professional Development

Finally, let’s compare a hacker vs ethical hacker in terms of professional development.

When looking at the professional development of a hacker vs ethical hacker, we’ll look at the possibility to advance or specialize.

And it might not be what you think… A hacker is a hacker is a hacker… that’s all you got.

Well, you might become more dangerous or lethal and be called a sophisticated hacker, but what is that really… still a hacker right? Now this is where ethical hacking beats hacking hands down in term of advantages. In fact I have written an entire separate article explaining the 9 most exciting ethical hacking advantages if you wanna check that out.

But for the sake of this article we’ll limit ethical hacking vs hacking in terms of professional development.

As opposed to hacking, ethical hacking is a very high demand profession with very high salaries… rivaling those of software engineers. Apart from that, ethical hacking is a great entry point to acquiring specialized skills and proving your worth to an organization.

So after getting your first entry level job and joining the workforce, you set yourself up for more advanced cyber security responsibilities in an organization.

You could take more specialized roles like:

  • senior penetration tester
  • network administrator
  • information security specialist
  • cyber security consultant etc.

It’s just about adding a few more certifications, a BS or an MS under your belt and your are good to do.

All while enjoying your job, having the whole tech team and developers look up to you for guidance and counsel. Technically, being very useful without always having to look over your shoulders. Personally, I’m really done with black hat hacking!

There you have it, a hacker vs ethical hacker comparison along the lines of intention, legality, professional development etc.

Just like I said earlier, let me finish this ethical hacking vs hacking comparison by giving you 3 tips for staying safe from hackers.

  • Always use two-factor authentication whenever it’s available to protect your sensitive accounts in case a hacker cracks your password.
  • If you server is running third party software or plugins, always download and install the latest security patches to seal off known software vulnerabilities.
  • Don’t download and install software from questionable websites because they might be infected by some malware that might compromise your system.

Social Engineering Courses
Network Pentesting Checklist 


The internet can be a good and bad thing… depending on how you look at it.

While it has made life really easy and convenient, it has also brought with it a lot of security threats to sensitive user data. That’s why internet companies are rushing to put together ethical hacking teams to help mitigate these risks.

This means that it has opened up a new profession altogether for creative security enthusiasts to earn a living securing company information and maintaining the integrity of their systems.

Are you interested in joining the workforce and putting your problem solving skills into solving information security problems? Then start by learning ethical hacking today through these online ethical hacking courses. Through these courses, you’ll be able to acquire both the hard and soft skills you need to break into the cyber security industry.

By learning from experienced ethical hackers, you’ll not only enjoy the tutorials but also get insights into how a hacker thinks.

I hope this hacking vs ethical hacking comparison has helped you understand the similarities between ethical hacking and hacking. Are there other hacker vs ethical hacker similarities and differences that I omitted in this list?

Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

Lerma Gray

Lerma is our expert in online education with over a decade of experience. Specializing in e-learning and e-courses. She has reviewed several online training courses and enjoys reviewing e-learning platforms for individuals and organizations.

Related Post

Helping you Learn...
Online Courseing is a comprehensive platform dedicated to providing insightful and unbiased reviews of various online courses offered by platforms like Udemy, Coursera, and others. Our goal is to assist learners in making informed decisions about their educational pursuits.
linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram