The typical hacker has something of a bad reputation. They hack into websites with weak cybersecurity systems to steal and sell credit card numbers and private information.
But there are also "ethical" hackers as well, who hack into systems, with permission, to notify companies of places where their networks are vulnerable to attacks.
To meet the growing demand from companies in metro Atlanta, Kennesaw State University’s College of Continuing and Professional Education is launching its first Ethical Hacker Certification program Saturday.
Rebecca Mattox, the online advanced program technology manager at Kennesaw State University’s College of Continuing and Professional Education, said the school is just responding to growing demand for white-hat or "ethical hackers" to fight the “black-hat” criminal hackers.
"There’s almost a sort of romance when it comes to thinking about being an ethical hacker. You’re stopping the bad guys or preventing the bad guys from getting in, in the first place, by helping your company or personal business,” Mattox said. “Obviously, in this day and age, there are a lot of cybersecurity issues on a near day-to-day basis, and this is a role that not only pays very well, but there's actually a shortage of people who are able to get ahead of these ‘black-hat’ hackers," Mattox said.
There are just eight students signed up for the course so far, including Ken Danter, a network engineer at Emory University and a former technician in the Navy. He said it's easy to learn how to hack, but he wants to learn how to fight criminal hackers.
"I could be a drug dealer or I could work for a living,” Danter said. “Working for a living is a lot harder, and it's more of a morality question than anything."
But fortunately for Danter, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates certified ethical hackers make an average salary of $90,000 to $100,000.
IBM X-Force Red
Charles Henderson is the global head of IBM’s X-Force Red team, which conducts penetration testing for clients who have had data breaches as well as for IBM. IBM has one of its many cybersecurity offices in Atlanta.
“We have a lot of people with deep educational credentials or certifications, but what we really emphasize is the kind of individual who on their own really dedicates themselves to learning within the context of the community,” Henderson said. “We also have people who maybe have nontraditional learning, where they are self-taught and deeply involved in research. What we found is that the diversity enables us to problem solve in a more creative manner.”
Henderson said metro Atlanta’s workforce shortage is “not unique” to the area.
He said all kinds of companies are now desperate to fill "ethical hacker" positions. IBM hired a quarter of its 8,000 cybersecurity employees in just the last two years.
"The average home has a single computer in it. Your light bulb has a computer in it, and all that technology is connected, and increasingly, companies need to test that technology," Henderson said.
This October, IBM is sponsoring free tuition for women to attend a Hacker Halted Conference in Atlanta to address the workforce challenge. Henderson said only about 11 percent of people in the cybersecurity industry are women.
“The industry as a whole is not as diverse as it should be by a long shot,” Henderson said. “What that means is we are often looking at problems as only a segment of the population, and that doesn’t do security any favors.”
Kennesaw State University is an accredited training center. The 16-week course, taught by instructor Meenaxi Dave, costs $3,299.