The 14 Best Books for Ethical Hacking

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It does not matter if you want to be a bug bounty hunter, or get employed as a penetration tester, in order to increase your ethical hacking skills, you must constantly learn. One of the knowledge sources, are the books. So, today we are going to review best books for ethical hacking.

I have read most of the books from the list. Being a cybersecurity professional myself, I can rate how useful these books are. Without a doubt there is no golden book that will teach you everything. Each of them provides value in different ways.

Reading technical books is great. It will broaden your mind and teach you things you couldn’t think of before. This is especially important in ethical hacking – the more different hacking methods you know, the more likely you will be able to find new vulnerabilities.

But what is more important is the practice. That’s why in each of the book reviews I’ve recommended vulnerable application to train and apply book concepts on. For example, to understand the web application vulnerabilities, you might to practice on DVWA.

So, today we are going to talk about the best books for ethical hacking. I am sure that anyone, from a complete beginner to a seasoned professional will find value in these books.

In a Rush? Check the 5 Top Picks

The Web Application Hacker’s Handbook: Finding and Exploiting Security FlawsBeginner to intermediateCheck the Book on Amazon
RTFM: Red Team Field ManualIntermediate to advancedCheck the Book on Amazon
The Hacker Playbook 3: Practical Guide To Penetration TestingIntermediateCheck the Book on Amazon
Hacking: The Art of ExploitationIntermediateCheck the Book on Amazon
Penetration Testing: A Hands-On Introduction to HackingBeginnerCheck the Book on Amazon

Publishers of the Ethical Hacking Books

When it comes to the penetration testing and hacking books, there are a few big publishers:

  • Wiley
  • Packt
  • ‎McGraw Hill (All-In-One type of books)
  • ‎No Starch Press

There are also some independent writers who had managed to write a book and release it from their own pocket. The books could be found on Amazon. However, the books vary in quality as nowadays it is very easy to create an e-book and put it for sale as a digital product.

But the real knowledge lies in various blogs, like the itself. As the industry is growing at a fast pace, for the newest information you have to refer various sources. And the write-ups of the security researchers that managed to find zero-days are pure gems. It teaches you the latest vulnerabilities and vulnerability searching methodologies.

Books do become obsolete and the knowledge might be a little bit outdated. Especially if the books were released 3, 5, or even more years ago. Although if a book is well written, it holds value for many years. After all, the cybersecurity basics and the goals of the criminals does not change that drastically..

Best Ethical Hacking Books

These are some of the best books for cybersecurity professionals and penetration testers.

Hacking for Dummies

Difficulty: beginner

This book is great for: anyone who wants to gain basics of the hacking. Even non technical people will benefit from the book.

Hacking for Dummies is a book of the For Dummies series. Written by the Kevin Beaver, CISSP with 27 years of experience in the IT security, the book covers the main concepts of hacking pretty well.

Book topics includes:

  • Security testing – why is it needed, how do you start, what tools to use, how to identify the security flaws, and how to evaluate the results
  • Hacking mindset – what is it and how you can gain one
  • Social engineering, physical security
  • Network hacking, operating systems hacking, applications hacking
  • Prioritizing vulnerabilities, patching them, increasing the security psoture

On the April 8 of 2022, 7th edition of the book was released. As this is the updated version of the book, it covers new topics, such as Windows 11 security issues.

If you are a complete beginner in hacking, this is really the book to go. It does not require a comprehensive IT background, explains the things in an easily understandable way, and guides you in your further learning.

Hacking: The Art of Exploitation

Difficulty: intermediate (not a “for dummies” type of book)

This book is great for: developers that wants to improve their security knowledge; novice hackers

Even though this books was written in the 2008, it is still relevant nowadays. Hacking: The Art of Exploitation is book that goes deep with the hacking concepts. And that’s why this book is praised – instead of being another book about high level attacks, such as SQL injection, XSS, or RCE, the book is goes into explaining programming concepts (over 100 book pages are dedicated for this topic. C programming language is used for the examples), code exploitation (ex. buffer overflow with code snippets that shows what is going on under the hood), networking, cryptography, shell scripts, and countermeasures against attacks.

These are main things you will learn after thoroughly reading the book:

  • Basic C programming, assembly language (definitely a necessary thing to understand before continuing with the modern programming languages), shell scripting
  • Arbitrary code execution by exploiting buffer overflow and format strings vulnerabilities
  • How everything works on the low level – by using the debugger to inspect processor registers and system memory
  • Evade typical security measures and IDS (intrusion detection systems)
  • Use port-binding or connect-back shellcode for gaining access to the remote server, and hide your tracks by altering server logs
  • Scan ports, sniff network traffic by redirecting it to your machine, and hijack TCP connections
  • Crack WiFi traffic with specialized attacks
  • .. and many other things

While this is not a book that will make you a professional penetration tester overnight, the material explained in the book is a must for a deeper understanding of the art of hacking. This is one of the books you should start with as it teaches you the hacker mindset (but don’t expect to magically get this mindset only from one book).

The Basics of Hacking and Penetration Testing

Difficulty: beginner

This book is great for: for those who want to get the basics of ethical hacking

This is another great book for hackers that are just starting. If you are an advanced penetration tester, you might not benefit much from the book. But for those who do not have the basics, this is the perfect starting point.

You might find the following topics in the book:

  • Penetration testing introduction (Kali Linux, creating hacking lab, phases of the penetration test)
  • Reconnaissance (main tools and methods of recon)
  • Scanning (different types of port scans with Nmap)
  • Exploitation (Medusa, Metasploit, password cracking, Wireshark, and more)
  • Social engineering
  • Web based exploitation (spidering, intercepting, scanning, attacking)
  • Post exploitation and maintaining access (backdoors, rootkits, Meterpreter, Netcat)
  • Delivering penetration testing results (writing a report)

While published in the 2013, the book is still relevant today as it nails the basics pretty well. Tools covered in the book are still actively maintained nowadays. And other topics, such as social engineering, are evergreen as it exploits the same aspects of the human psychology just in different ways.

The Web Application Hacker’s Handbook: Finding and Exploiting Security Flaws

Difficulty: beginner-intermediate

This book is great for: beginners (to learn web vulnerabilities), penetration testers (great reference guides during pen testing), developers

Calling this book The Bible of web application penetration testing would be brave, but it’s close to that. The book covers majority of the topics of web application security testing. This book is written by the people behind Burp Suite – one of the most popular tools for web app security testing.

The 912 pages of this book cover the following topics:

  • Web Application security
  • Core Defense Mechanisms
  • Web Application Technologies
  • Mapping the Application
  • Bypassing Client-Side Controls
  • Attacking Authentication
  • Attacking Session Management
  • Attacking Access Controls
  • Attacking Data Stores
  • Attacking Back-End Components
  • Attacking Application Logic
  • Attacking Users: Cross-Site Scripting
  • Attacking Users: Other Techniques
  • Automating Customized Attacks
  • Exploiting Information Disclosure
  • Attacking Native Compiled Applications
  • Attacking Application Architecture
  • Attacking the Application Server
  • Finding Vulnerabilities in Source Code
  • A Web Application Hacker’s Toolkit
  • A Web Application Hacker’s Methodology

The second edition of the book was released in 2011. However, even though over 10 years had passed, the same vulnerabilities are often found in the modern software. This is a comprehensive guide of the web vulnerabilities that can be used as a reference guide. If you are a penetration tester, this is a book you must have on your shelve

Linux Basics for Hackers: Getting Started with Networking, Scripting, and Security in Kali

Difficulty: beginner

This book is great for: people who want to get the basics of Linux

Linux is something that every aspiring hacker has to known. Not only many popular cybersecurity tools are written for Linux operating systems, Linux is often used as an operating system for hosting business applications. So, you will face Linux often if you are going to be a penetration tester. Knowing the main concepts of the operating system will help you to understand more advanced ethical hacking topics.

But the book provides more than the Linux basics. It covers many interesting Linux security topics that will come in handy working as an ethical hacker. Some of the topics are:

  • Covering tracks by changing network information and clearing logs
  • Scanning network connections
  • Using TOR, proxy, VPS, encryption
  • Writing your own bash scripts
  • Abusing common services (MySQL, Apache, OpenSSH)

This can be considered as one of the best Kali Linux books. While talking about Kali, it teaches your about the Linux in general, as Kali Linux is based on Debian.

If you not only want to learn the Linux basics, but also to hack on Linux, this is a book to go. It covers some Kali Linux tools, such as aircrack-ng.

While the book is not the longest one (it has 247 pages), you will definitely find value. Even if you are an experienced Linux user.

Social Engineering: The Science of Human Hacking

Difficulty: beginner

This book is great for: everyone (in order to know how not to fall victim)

This book not a hands-on technical guide. However, it talks about very important hacking subject – social engineering. Human is the weakest link. It is easier to trick a person into revealing his or her password, instead of spending resources and time cracking the password.

And when it comes to the corporate networks, the consequences of one employee opening malicious email, can be disastrous. That’s why the social engineering is something every ethical hacker should know.

Some of the companies are even hiring hackers to execute phishing campaigns in order to raise employees awareness. And more than that – sometimes you even have to use social engineering to get into the building. After such exercise, it can be evaluated how many employees became the victims of organized campaign.

The book Social Engineering: The Science of Human Hacking will teach you:

  • The most common social engineering tricks
  • Techniques that are not effective
  • Some of the infamous cases of the social engineering that made it to the headlines
  • Skills needed to be a social engineer
  • Counter measures against social engineering

This is one of the best books of social engineering.

Advanced Penetration Testing: Hacking the World’s Most Secure Networks

Difficulty: intermediate

This book is great for: penetration testers

If you’ve mastered the basics of penetration testing, this is a book if you want to level up your skills. It talks about social engineering, command and control centers, privilege escalation, network infiltration. Basically it guides you through the main steps how the red teamers operate.

In the book, you are being introduced with ransomware gangs and how the gangs are operating, infiltrating the networks, and achieving their objectives. The book is pretty informative, as it contains code snippets of scripts used for the attacks.

The book contains examples of how the cyber kill chain steps are being implemented in the wild. From discovering the attack vectors, to creating custom code in order to achieve your goals.

It also has many different stories by the author from the security assessments he had personally participated. This makes the book a perfect source of a specific security knowledge, as it contains unique examples.

RTFM: Red Team Field Manual

Difficulty: intermediate-advanced

This book is great for: red teamers and penetration testers

RTFM is heavily focused on the red teamers, but this is also a great book for penetration testers. Even though it has only 96 pages, it provides great value.

RFTM is a big cheat sheet with various commands beneficial during the red team engagement. It contains information on many topics:

  • Unix
  • Windows
  • Networking
  • Web
  • Databases
  • Programming
  • Wireless

Not only the guide shows simple commands handy during the red teaming engagement, it explains how to use penetration testing tools, and also provides useful information (ex. the most common ports, broadcast addresses).

What is important to understand about the book, is that it is a reference book. This is not another tutorial that shows how to install Linux, or run Kali Linux tools.

The Hacker Playbook 3: Practical Guide To Penetration Testing

Difficulty: intermediate

This book is great for: penetration testers

Another great book for hacking web applications and networks. It contains everything you need to become a good ethical hacker:

  • Using the most common tools (Cobalt Strike, Metasploit, PowerShell, and many other)
  • Performing reconnaissance
  • Web application vulnerabilities
  • Compromising the networks
  • Social engineering and technical part of performing a social engineering attack
  • Physical attacks (not that type of attacks you thought. Network attacks)
  • Various tricks of cracking, exploiting systems, disabling logging, etc.

The Web Application Hacker’s Handbook is very comprehensive guide that will introduce you with the main techniques and tools of hacking. If you are a beginner, you might want to choose a less advanced book, however if you are dedicated enough, you will learn a lot. However, you might not understand everything the book says, but you can always re-read it after you’ve gained more experience.

Penetration Testing: A Hands-On Introduction to Hacking

Difficulty: beginner

This book is great for: penetration testers, developers

Another great book about hacking that covers basics needed to be a good penetration tester. As the name of the book indicates, this is a hands-on book focusing in providing relevant examples instead of theoretical situations.

With the book there comes a lab where you can practice the things explained in the book. However, as the book is released in 2014, the labs are a little bit outdated. But as there are platforms, such as TryHackMe, or Hackthebox, you can easily find where to practice.

If you are a beginner in the penetration testing but you have IT background, this book will give you a comprehensive view of the penetration testing field.

The book is separated into five different parts:

  • Part I talks about basics of penetration testing (Kali Linux, virtual labs, programming, using Metasploit)
  • Part II covers assessments essentials (information gathering, finding vulnerabilities, capturing traffic)
  • Part III talks about different attacks (password attacks, client side attacks, social engineering, web application, wireless), antivirus bypasses, post exploitation activities
  • Part IV explains about buffer overflow vulnerabilities in Linux, and Windows, exception handler overwrites, fuzzing, porting exploits, and Metasploit modules
  • Part V focuses on mobile hacking (and using the Smartphone Pentest Framework)

The hands on approach of the book makes it a great choice if you want to get practical skills. It also covers mobile hacking, which is rarely talked about in other books.

Real-World Bug Hunting: A Field Guide to Web Hacking

Difficulty: intermediate

This book is great for: penetration testers

The book is perfect for the beginners of penetration testing. Even if you do not have an IT background, you will understand the things explained in the book. Although having the general IT knowledge won’t hurt.

Real-World Bug Hunting talks about the classic vulnerabilities:

  • Open Redirect
  • HTTP Parameter Pollution
  • Cross-Site Request Forgery
  • HTML Injection and Content Spoofing
  • Carriage Return Line Feed Injection
  • Cross-Site Scripting
  • Template Injection
  • SQL Injection
  • Server-Side Request Forgery
  • XML External Entity
  • Remote Code Execution
  • Memory Vulnerabilities
  • Subdomain Takeover
  • Race Conditions
  • Insecure Direct Object References
  • OAuth Vulnerabilities
  • Application Logic and Configuration Vulnerabilities

It also covers bug bounty basics (including how you can find the bug bounties). The book also teaches writing vulnerability reports, and provides a list of tools used by the hackers on a daily basis.

This book stands out from the other ones of the same genre. With each of the explained vulnerability, there are actual examples based on the HackerOne vulnerability reports. Not only you learn the basics, but you get an example of how the vulnerabilities look in the wild.

All in all, this is one of the best hacking books covering main web application vulnerabilities. Specific examples allows you to understand how you can find the given vulnerability in real targets.

Ethical Hacking: A Hands-on Introduction to Breaking In

Difficulty: beginner-intermediate

This book is great for: penetration testers

This is one of the newest books of the list, but it it is not inferior to its competitors. As the book was published in the 2021, it has the most up-to-date examples. The book is well written, informative, and covers most of the basics of the ethical hacking.

The books talks about intermediate level penetration testing topics. So, understanding the subjects fully requires some technical background. If you are coming from other IT position, this book will be a great entry point to the ethical hacking. If you are a complete newbie, this might be a little bit over your head. But with enough dedication you will be able to crack the topics.

The book is divided into five big parts:

  • Part I: Network Fundamentals
  • Part II: Cryptography
  • Part III: Social Engineering
  • Part IV: Exploitation
  • Part V: Controlling the Network

Ethical Hacking: A Hands-on Introduction to Breaking In contains many practical tasks, such as:

  • Capturing the traffic and analyzing in the Wireshark. This is a task you will often face when performing internal network penetration tests.
  • Using Mimikatz to capture passwords in corporate Windows networks
  • Scanning devices with dedicated tools
  • Cracking passwords
  • Installing Linux rootkits
  • Exploiting corss-site scripting (XSS) vulnerabilities

The way how the book is written makes it one of the best books for penetration testers who are just starting out.

Gray Hat Hacking: The Ethical Hacker’s Handbook

Difficulty: beginner-intermediate

This book is great for: those who want to start the penetration testing career

If you are determined to become good at penetration testing, this is one of the books that you could use to start your journey.

The book goes a little bit deeper than the usual “for dummies” type of book. The sixth edition, released in March 9, 2022, has 704 pages and covers many different relevant ethical hacking topics. Including:

  • Basics of C, Assembly, and Python programming
  • Different types of fuzzing (the book also has lab exercises where you can learn to use fuzzing tools)
  • Reverse engineering methods
  • Software-defined radio hacking
  • Penetration testing essentials (how you can become a pentester, pentester taxonomy, training, degrees, practicing, etc.)
  • Red teaming operations (tactics, scoping, communicating, attack frameworks, …)
  • Purple teaming
  • Bug bounty programs (history, different types of disclosures, bug bounty programs, incident response)
  • Exploiting systems (capturing password hashes, getting shells)
  • Basic and advanced Linux and Windows exploitation
  • Web application vulnerabilities and exploitation
  • Malware analysis
  • Ransomware, ATM malware
  • IoT hacking

The book talks about gray hat techniques that could be successfully used during the daily tasks of a penetration tester. As you might see from the previously stated topics, it covers a variety of ethical hacking subjects. There are plenty of books which, even though are about ethical hacking, focuses on the web application vulnerabilities.

But this one touches topics that are relevant nowadays, such as ransomware, or IoT hacking. It is true that most of the penetration testing job requires to perform tests for web applications. But that does not mean that vulnerabilities exists only in web apps. It has been proven many times, that everything from the IoT devices, to SCADA systems could be hacked. And if you want to become a good penetration tester, you must have basics of different types of devices and systems security. After all, you don’t know what you will have to work with in the future.

The Ghidra Book: The Definitive Guide

Difficulty: intermediate-advanced

This book is great for: penetration testers that wants to improve their skills

While the book is not for the beginners, this is one of the best books for hacking, that every cybersecurity specialist must read. Especially if you want to become good at reverse engineering.

Ghidra is a software reverse engineering suite of tools used by many different reverse engineers. Developed by NSA research directorate, the tool is de facto standard of the reverse engineering. What’s best about the tool, is that it is open source. Currently it has over 33.7k stars on GitHub.

Talking about the Ghidra Book, it covers main topics needed to become good at using the tool. After reading the book, you will be able to:

  • Perform disassembly
  • Use the Ghidra’s decompiler
  • Analyze obfuscated binaries
  • Extend Ghidra and build new Ghidra analyzers and loaders
  • Add support for new processors and instructions sets
  • Script tasks of Ghidra to automate workflows
  • Build your own reverse engineering environment

Even thought it talks about advanced topics, if you are completely new in the reverse engineering, this book is a great guide for you. Not only it describes the main features of the Ghidra tool, it goes into the technical details of the actual reverse engineering of the software. And this is not a “read and forget” type of book – you can use it as a reference guide.

Hacking Book Bundles From Humble Bundle

Once in a while announces book bundles. During the discount, you can get books that are entirely focused on the cybersecurity topics. Usually there are more than 10 books in the bundle. And the books comes in different formats (EPUB, PDF, MOBI).

For example, this one.

Humble bundle deal of hacking books

The money paid for the money goes to the charity. So, not only you get a great deal for a cheap price, the money paid serves good purpose.

Unfortunately, after the deal is over, you are not able to buy it. But keep checking the Humblebundle, and you will be able to find great deals. This is definitely not the first one, and probably not the last Humble Bundle offer of great books for cybersecurity professionals.

Further Learning

After you’ve got the basics of hacking, it is very important to practice your skills. And this can be done in many different ways:

  • Practice on TryHackMe. This is a platform with gamified lessons. There are plenty of free and premium rooms, where you can try hacking different things.
  • Watch cybersecurity tutorials and walkthroughs. There are many great teachers out there: John Hammond, NahamSec (streams on Twitch each sunday), STÖK, David Bombal, and many more. These are the people that create high quality content that is free and available for anyone.

Use this list of best books for hacking as a guide where to go next.

Just keep practicing and don’t stop learning!

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