Understanding coding languages as a cybersecurity professional is essential so you can "speak" the language of those you're trying to defend an organization from. But, it can be hard to know which one you should learn when you're just starting out in the field. Even though hundreds of programming languages are used worldwide, only a few of them are used by cybersecurity professionals.
Understanding how different programming languages are used in cybersecurity will help you ascertain an attacker's methodology and mitigate any potential damage. Plus, you can use them to build tools that can defend an organization's systems and networks against cyberattacks. Below, we'll explore some of the most popular programming languages used in cybersecurity and their applications in the field.
While technically not a programming language, every developer needs to be comfortable with the command line. While discussing the languages used for cybersecurity in our forums, Carolyn Y., one of our Curriculum Developers, explains why it's so important:
"Every cybersecurity student must become comfortable with the command line whether that's in the form of Powershell in Windows or terminal in Mac/Linux. You should also learn bash (or shell) scripting. These are a must! These commands and scripts allow you to work under the hood of whatever OS you are working in."
As Carolyn explains, the command line allows you to interact with a device's operating system. Learn how in our introductory Command Line course.
Python is one of the top cybersecurity languages because it allows developers to automate certain tasks and detect and analyze malware. Carolyn, who we heard from earlier, explains:
"In general, Python is a powerful, readable language to use in security work because it can integrate many security tools like Wireshark and Metasploit, as Python libraries. Python scripts can help you automate and search through files and ports easily, especially during malware analysis."
You can also use Python to do penetration testing, which is when you try to infiltrate a client's cybersecurity defenses to see where its vulnerabilities lie.
With knowledge of Python, you can qualify to be a security operations center (SOC) specialist, creating tools designed to guard web applications against penetration by cybercriminals. To get started with the language, check out our Learn Python course.
C and C++
While Python is categorized as a high-level language, Carolyn tells us that C and C++ "are low-level languages that directly access RAM and system processes." For this reason, some hackers' most effective weapons are written in C/C++.
To defend against their attacks, cybersecurity professionals use these languages to see how malware is built, how it spreads, and what may happen if it successfully penetrates a network or device.
HTML stands for Hypertext Markup Language, and it's important to know because it's an essential building block for most websites. Some hackers write HTML that can be inserted into a web page's code and then used to execute an attack.
HTML is also used for content spoofing. In this kind of attack, the attacker uses HTML to create a fake website that looks real to visitors. The visitors may then be invited to enter personal or financial information that attackers use to steal money or execute identity theft. If you know HTML, you can spot signs of these attacks and prevent an organization from being victimized.
Structured Query Language (SQL) is a programming language used to build and interact with databases. Data has become increasingly prevalent over the years as more and more businesses implement it into their systems and processes. This makes databases a prime target for criminals. Carolyn explains how "SQL injection attacks exploit SQL code vulnerabilities to store or modify data."
With knowledge of SQL, you can recognize when an attacker has written scripts designed to steal sensitive company data from a database. They may also try to get access to personal identification information (PII), so they can use it in identity fraud or theft. With SQL, you can detect and prevent these attacks.
PHP is another popular tool for web development. It's estimated that over 80% of websites use PHP. Carolyn explains how the prevalence of PHP leaves the majority of the web vulnerable to DDoS (Denial of Service) attacks.
Knowing PHP can help you detect and stop attacks aimed at taking advantage of PHP-based applications. Also, as a cybersecurity analyst, you can use an application called RIPS to perform automated analyses to detect anomalies. You can also use PHP to manage how data gets shared between servers and users. In this way, you can create more secure data exchanges, preventing the data from getting into the wrong hands.
To be a cybersecurity professional, you don't need a background in all of the several hundred coding languages of the world. A solid foundation in a relative few is enough to empower you to defend organizations from cybercriminals. To get started, check out our introduction to cybersecurity course. After that, explore our catalog of courses and tutorials to start learning any of the languages listed above.