What you should study to become a hacker in South Africa

IT skills are becoming a rare commodity in South Africa, and graduates with qualifications in the ICT field are becoming extremely sought-after.

One of the most interesting and important technical fields in the IT industry is cybersecurity.

Rudi Dicks, the Director of Cybersecurity at Checkmark and an accomplished ethical hacker, said that if students are passionate about entering the cybersecurity field, there is a wide selection of options available to them.

Dicks is a qualified penetration tester, meaning he employs the same set of skills as hackers do, but directs his energies towards alerting companies to potential security flaws and implementing security solutions to protect against targeted and wide-scale attacks.

MyBroadband spoke to Dicks about what students in South Africa should study if they were interested in becoming “white hat” hackers.

IT degree

“If you have every avenue available to you, a degree in the IT or related field will be the first choice for most employers,” Dicks said.

“Until recently cyber security was mostly an option for honours students, but we are starting to see four year information (or cyber) security degrees pop up at many universities worldwide.”

He said that students would likely also learn some business, language, and soft skills during their degree. From there, students can move on the technical certifications.

Dicks said that while a degree would be helpful, it is nowhere near necessary to become a white hat hacker.

“If you don’t have the opportunity to go to university, you’ll be happy to hear that many of the best white hats in the world didn’t get any tertiary education – with some even serving jail time for computer-related crimes before being released and starting thriving consulting businesses,” he said.

“Who better than a reformed criminal to catch the next attacker?”

He added that there are many technical certifications which will hopefully land students their first job, and with a bit of experience they would be in an excellent position to be head-hunted in a field that is desperately in need of talented resources.

Skill-building

When it comes to skills and motivations, Dicks said that a keen interest in cybersecurity was the most important quality.

“By far the most important thing I look for is a passion for the field,” he said. “Starting with a love of all things computers, from building them to troubleshooting to networking and coding.”

“White hats need to be able to talk to, understand, and communicate with specialists in many different sectors of IT, so the more well-rounded your knowledge, the better you will perform.”

He said that inevitably you will find your niche and spend more time specialising in one component of security, but the more you understand about how things interconnect, the more you will thrive.

“In my experience, the best people in this field love doing research and understanding how different technologies work, even after a long day at the office,” Dicks said.

“You also need to be good at dealing with failure,” he said.

“Pentesting has an enormous amount of failure and disappointment along the way, with the vast majority of things you try not working.”

“But when you get that one exploit to work, all the pain is forgotten and you are ready for the next one. Perseverance is key.”

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What you should study to become a hacker in South Africa