What Programming Languages Do We Need for Ethical Hacking? by Saurabh Hooda

Ethical hacking is the art of using hacking skills for helping individuals and organizations securing their systems and software. An ethical hacker needs to break into an application security layer to understand its flaws and limitations. As an application security layer is crafted using a programming language, it’s vital for ethical hackers to have expertise in a multitude of programming languages.

There are several programming languages used for designing security systems, ranging from the legendary C and C++ to the relatively newcomers Python and JavaScript. Of course, in addition to a proficiency in programming, ethical hackers also necessitate having a number of other skills, including knowledge of operating systems, networking, and much more.

Three aspects of ethical hacking requiring programming languages

Not all programming languages are required for ethical hacking. As a matter of fact, there are 3 important aspects of ethical hacking where a proficiency in programming is required. These are WAPT (Web Applications Penetration Testing), Exploit Writing, and Reverse Engineering.

Each of these demands to have a comprehensive understanding of a specific set of programming languages. Here is a brief summary of each of the triumvirate of ethical hacking:

  • WAPT – Web testing is the particular application of software testing aimed at web applications. WAPT simply means to test how secure a web application is by the means of penetration testing. Also known as pen testing, penetration testing is an authorized form of testing by which attempts are made to identify the vulnerabilities and strengths of an IT system under observation.
  • Exploit Writing – An exploit can be anything ranging from a software or series of commands to a piece of random data, which can take advantage of a bug or vulnerability in the system. It results in causing unusual behavior in the system. While there are a galore of ready-to-use exploits available, sometimes there might be a requirement for writing exploits from scratch.
  • Reverse Engineering – Also called back engineering, reverse engineering is simply gaining design and/or functional information from an end product. This extracted information is then either reproduced or used to produce a product based on it. One notable application of reverse engineering specifically in hacking is to reconstruct a malware to understand its workings. In some scenarios, reverse engineering is used to remove the copyright status.

Programming languages required for ethical hacking

So now that we know what exactly does programming languages are required in ethical hacking for, it’s time to discuss some of the most popular ones. Following list describes 9 programming languages that an ethical hacker must be acquainted with:

  1. C/C++

Primary Intent – Exploit Writing

Both C and C++ are two of the oldest programming languages. Unlike many of their peers, they have refused to die and are part of the modern programming scenario. These general purpose languages are widely used for software creation across multiple platforms, game development, medical technology applications, and much more.

Another important deployment of C/C++ besides general purpose programming is in ethical hacking. Specifically, both programming languages are used for exploit writing. Both C and its object-oriented counterpart, i.e. C++, is used for crafting a wide assortment of exploits. C can be used to accomplish DoS as well as DDoS attacks.

C++ Spyware code is a popular application that is used for spying. C++ can also be used to write keyloggers, which are used for extracting usernames and passwords. Furthermore, C++ virus code can be deployed to disable all hard disk operations.

On the other hand, C can be used to write a memory space eater virus. Firefox browser code is written in C++. Hence, it is possible to modify the code to perform a DoS attack, Web Request Forgery, Certificate Forgery, etc.

  1. HTML

Primary Intent – WAPT

HyperText Markup Language or HTML is one of the most beloved markup languages. Understanding the language allows any ethical hacker to have a better understanding of web response, action, structure, and logic. Primarily, it is used for WAPT in ethical hacking scenarios. This means that a good understanding of HTML is must when a website is to be tested for finding out vulnerabilities.

HTML can be used to extract the password if someone left their password in the password box. Furthermore, it can be solely used to create a scam or hack. Creating dummy login pages is easy with HTML. Though not preferred generally, HTML can also be used for phishing.

Compared to other programming languages, HTML is pretty straightforward to use. It offers an amazing combination of simplicity and power. As all websites rely on HTML, along with to JavaScript and PHP, it is important to have at least a basic understanding of this programming language to advance in ethical hacking.

  1. Java

Primary Intent – Exploit Writing

Popularizing the notion of WORA (Write Once, Run Anywhere), Java is a leading programming language. Other than its speedier execution and adequacy for cross-platform development, Java is simple to use. It is designed especially to have fewer implementation dependencies.

In addition to being used for creating software, Java can also be employed for creating backdoor exploits. Hence, it is a must learn programming language for any ethical hacker. It is possible to write viruses in Java.

High-level programming languages, such as Java, are more abstracted from the kernel from a programmer’s POV. Hence, it can be used to access memory addresses, network sockets, and manipulate buffers.

  1. JavaScript

Primary Intent – WAPT

Also used for ethical hacking, JavaScript is one of the most popular programming languages in the world. In addition to being simple and versatile, JavaScript is preferred because it greatly reduces the dependency on a website server. Furthermore, JS is very fast in execution.

Widely used for client-side programming, JavaScript is yet another important programming language for ethical hacking. Like HTML, JavaScript is mostly used for WAPT. A comprehensive understanding of JavaScript allows ethical hackers to quickly pick flaws in web applications. Therefore, it’s important to be adept in JS for advancing in ethical hacking.

JavaScript can be used for accomplishing as well as preventing broken authentication, injection threats, and security misconfigurations. Additionally, JS can be used to add premium cookies, which can be used for carrying out penetration testing of a website or web application.

  1. Assembly Language

Primary Intent – Reverse Engineering

Also known as asm, Assembly Language is a low-level, complicated programming language. There is a very strong correspondence amongst the program’s statements and the architecture’s machine code instructions in an assembly language. Hence, each assembly language is specific to a computer architecture and the operating system.

Anyone adept in assembly language can easily instruct a hardware or software operation. Though not a popular option for general purpose programming, assembly language is widely used in ethical hacking. It specifically corresponds to the reverse engineering aspect of hacking. Software reverse engineering of native binaries depends, at most times, on the underlying assembly code.

An adept understanding of assembly code allows an ethical hacker to comprehend the generated blocks of code. She is also able to understand how the operating system deals with user requirements and the machine running it. Furthermore, skilled assembly language programmers are able to explain and demonstrate how a high-level language can be written in assembly code, which further opens doors in the realm of ethical hacking.

  1. Perl

Primary Intent – WAPT

Practical Extraction and Reporting Language is one of the various backronyms used for defining Perl. It is a high-level, general-purpose, interpreted, dynamic programming language. Perl is one of the widely used programming languages. It is also used in ethical hacking. Having a preexisting knowledge of C or UNIX Shell is helpful in advancing learning in Perl.

Due to the fact that Perl is widely used for designing active web pages as well as for system administrations, it is a worth learning programming language for ethical hacking. Perl is often labelled as the duct-tape of the Internet. Like it is used for hiding the vulnerabilities, it can also be used to expose the same. No matter whether an ethical hacker is able to write in Perl, she must be able to understand it nonetheless.

Typically, Perl is employed by system administrators and network programmers to carry out network routing operations. Therefore, it can be used to seek, find, and reach out to other network sources once a successful hack is made into a server. It is also possible to augment existing scripts using Perl to send multiple copies of information to distinct locations.

  1. PHP

Primary Intent – WAPT

Being one of the most popular programming languages, PHP enjoys a great deal of popularity among the programming community. However, the programming language is also a top priority in learning and advancing in ethical hacking. Unlike JS, PHP is a server-side scripting language.

Meant for accomplishing web applications and penetration testing requirements in hacking, PHP is recommended to every person in pursuit of ethical hacking. Built-in web development activities and being open source are some of the desirable qualities of PHP. Like HTML and JS, PHP can be used for hacking from the client side of a web-based application.

As PHP is a server-side scripting language, its understanding is beneficial to post successful hacking into a web server. PHP is used for accomplishing a number of operations thereafter, including storing data in a database and talking to other connected servers.

  1. Python


Primary Intent – Exploit Writing

Python is widely used as a general-purpose programming language. In fact, it secures a top position on the list of most popular programming languages in the present times. Advantages of using Python includes simple syntax, faster execution, and shorter code. Moreover, it has a simple structure that reads almost like a reduced version of English.

In the world of ethical hacking, Python is among the mandatory to learn programming languages. This is so because it is widely used for exploit writing. Further, the popular high-level programming language is also used in network programming.

As Python has an inbuilt framework that can be used to describe real-world projects, it is easier to write exploits using the programming language. The high-level, general-purpose programming language can be used for writing a wide variety of exploits, ranging from backdoors and credential harvesters to keyloggers.

  1. Ruby

Primary Intent – Exploit Writing

Designed and developed during the mid-1990s, Ruby is a dynamic, interpreted, reflective, object-oriented, general-purpose programming language. Advantages of using Ruby include support for MVC architecture, easy code maintenance, and faster prototype creation.

Making hacks is easy with Ruby as it is easy to learn and have a non-complex form of syntax. Moreover, having adequacy in Ruby is also beneficial for penetration testing. The programming language can be used to code efficient pen testing tools.

Ruby is yet another programming language that is used for exploit writing. It is used for meterpreter scripting. In fact, the original Metasploit Framework written in Perl was completely rewritten in Ruby.

On the Last Note!

That were 9 programming languages used in ethical hacking. You need to have at least a beginner level proficiency in most of them, with an intermediate to advanced understanding of the most popular ones.

However, before you begin with ethical hacking understand that with great power, comes great responsibility! You need to avoid being a conniving troublemaker and instead be one that counteracts the same. Nonetheless, you are free to use hacking for learning purposes.

So, what are you waiting for? Start learning ethical hacking today!

About the Author:

Saurabh has worked globally for telecom and finance giants in various capacities. After working for a decade in Infosys and Sapient, he started his first startup, Lenro, to solve a hyperlocal book-sharing problem. He is interested in the product, marketing, and analytics. His latest venture Hackr.io recommends the best online programming courses for every programming language. All the tutorials are submitted and voted by the programming community.

November 20, 2018

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