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What Factors Affect an Ethical Hacker's Salary?

By Alex Newth
Updated May 17, 2024
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Ethical hackers, also known as penetration testers, are people who are paid to try to hack into a company's computer systems to determine the system's safety against such attacks from outside parties. Experience is a major factor in determining an ethical hacker’s salary because, for example, someone who has 10 years of experience will usually be paid more than someone with two years of experience. Education is a close second in determining an ethical hacker’s salary, because someone with a higher degree or certification will typically make more money. Many businesses hire ethical hackers, which also plays into the hacker’s salary, as does the type of tests the hacker is able to perform.

One of the largest factors in determining an ethical hacker’s salary is experience. In most cases, though other factors can offset this, a hacker who has a longer work history will likely make more money than someone with less experience. This is because ethical hackers with more experience will typically know better ways of testing a server’s vulnerability and may more readily be able to identify the telltale signs of a vulnerable system.

There are different ways an ethical hacker can become certified, and the amount of education and number of certifications a hacker has also plays into his salary. For example, an ethical hacker with a master’s degree in computer science will normally make more than someone with a bachelor’s degree in the same field. Aside from degrees, the number of certifications he has, along with how extensive the certification process is, also can affect an ethical hacker’s salary.

All types of industries and companies need ethical hackers to test a system’s effectiveness at warding off malicious attacks, and the industry also will affect the ethical hacker’s salary. For example, banks and government contractors will typically pay more than healthcare and consulting businesses, but it also comes down to the company itself. A company that has been prone to attacks may be willing to pay an ethical hacker more, simply because the company is desperate to keep its information safe.

An ethical hacker’s salary also can be affected by the extensiveness of his tests. Ethical hackers capable of performing more extensive vulnerability and penetration tests will usually be paid more, because they are better able to ensure the server can protected against many different malicious attacks. For example, if an ethical hacker is hired to test one section of a server’s vulnerability, and another hacker is hired to test several sections, the second hacker will typically be paid more.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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