How to Become a Penetration Tester: A Comprehensive Guide
by Abdul Ahad
Penetration testers, often referred to as assurance validators, are employed by network system owners and suppliers of web-based applications to search for flaws that malicious hackers might be able to exploit to collect sensitive information.
By using their skills and experience, ethical hackers execute vulnerability evaluations (among other jobs) for pay, effectively carrying out digital break-ins. They use a variety of tools and techniques, some of which are their own inventions, to simulate genuine cyberattacks and are at pains to find any gaps in the security protocols for networks, systems, and web-based applications.
The purpose of a penetration test, or pen test for short, is to explore every avenue by which a computer system might be breached in order to identify security holes BEFORE actual hackers can do so. Because of this, pen testers frequently work on highly private and time-sensitive projects, therefore having integrity and remaining calm under pressure are crucial abilities. Penetration testing also requires the ability to think quickly and to be organized enough to keep track of, record, and report on initiatives.
- Analysis of oneself: Not everyone should use penetration testing. It calls for great problem-solving abilities, tenacity, attention to detail, and a drive to continuously educate oneself on the most recent developments in the industry. Each of these attributes must be present in abundance in order for ethical hackers to succeed. So, before considering whether a career in pen testing is appropriate, conduct an honest self-evaluation.
- Education: Real-world hackers were once frequently hired by businesses in an effort to sway them away from the “evil side” and into working for the good guys. But recently, having a college degree has almost become a requirement for penetration testers. All of the main cybersecurity fields’ undergraduate programs offer good entrance points into the area.
- Career options: There are various ways for a prospective pen tester to enter the cybersecurity field. Pen testing will have a solid basis if you start out in security administration, network administration, network engineering, system administration, or web-based application programming, always keeping the security aspect of each discipline in mind.
- Professional credentials: For more senior positions, employers especially like to see that assurance validators have a variety of professional qualifications on their résumé. Many organizations currently provide generally accepted credentials for jobs in penetration testing.
- Developing your craft: In any career, becoming an authority in a certain topic is a good idea, but penetration testers can separate out from the crowd in a variety of ways. Pen testers will become known among their peers by participating and being respected in cybersecurity-related activities including bug bounty programs, gathering open-source information (OSINT), and creating proprietary attack programs.
- Keep up: As with the majority of cybersecurity career routes, it’s important to stay up to date on developments in the field. Keeping one’s skills and knowledge up to date with all of the most recent developments in programming and network security, constantly evolving hacking methodologies and security standards, widely used exploits, and everything else occurring in the cybersecurity sector.
What is a penetration tester?
The private investigators of the information security world are penetration testers and ethical hackers. The goal is to identify dangers before any possible invasive operators have a chance to carry out their intentions, as is the case with many PI operations.
One of the fundamental facts of human nature in general, and of digital information systems in particular, is that dishonest individuals will constantly try to take advantage of openings to exploit vulnerabilities. Pen testers look into potential vulnerabilities in wired and wireless network systems, as well as in web-based applications, and they help to find them and fix them.
A perpetual arms race exists between the proactive activities of ethical hackers and the initiatives of real-life hackers. Each side makes constant efforts to surpass the other side’s capabilities in terms of knowledge, skills, and techniques. Pen testers employ an offensive defense tactic. By offensively assaulting computer systems in the same way that a real-world hacker would, the aim is to provide the highest level of information security while also helping to close the weakness. As a result, systems will be attacked and information will need to be protected.
Penetration tester skills and experience
According to the specific duties of each position and the degree of the role, employer expectations for new hires will vary greatly in the penetration testing area, as they will in all cybersecurity disciplines. In the realm of penetration testing, associate or junior pen testers, mid-level pen testers, and senior or lead pen testers plainly indicate successively increasing expertise levels and responsibilities.
Some jobs still merely call for the display of pertinent abilities and a suitable level of cybersecurity expertise. However, businesses are increasingly looking for applicants having a bachelor’s degree in computer science or a related field, such as information security. A master’s degree is necessary for some more prestigious occupations. Work experience in software development and coding, security testing, vulnerability assessment, network engineering or administration, and security administration frequently leads to careers in penetration testing.
The following are examples of skill requirements that employers are likely to see:
knowledge of particular programming languages, including:
knowledge of mobile penetration testing of iOS and Android systems, network operating systems, Windows, Linux, and MacOS, communications protocols, firewalls, IPS/IDS systems, virtual environments, and data encryption.
understanding of popular application security and pen testing technologies, including:
- Web Inspect
- Network Mapper (NMAP)
- Nessus, and others
Employers frequently look for professional credentials from organizations like the EC-Council, OSCP (Offensive Security Certified Professional), SANS Technology Institute, IEEE (Institute for Electrical and Electronic Engineers), and GIAC (Global Information Assurance Certification). Employers look for candidates with a variety of soft skills and experience, such as strong communication skills, the ability to work independently and creatively, participation in bug bounty programs and open source projects, and familiarity with the OWASP Top 10 Vulnerabilities.
What do penetration testers do?
In general, pen testers evaluate security, do threat modelling, and ethically attack systems, networks, and web-based applications. Specific tasks that are part of assurance validation include any or all of the following:
- Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) should be gathered and examined to discover information releases.
- To test a company’s defenses, offer subject matter expertise with a focus on offensive security testing operations.
- Conduct assessments using both automated tools and manual methods on a wide range of technologies and implementations.
- Create approaches, tools, and scripts to improve testing procedures.
- aid in the sizing of potential engagements, guiding engagements through the planning, execution, and remediation stages.
- Perform physical penetration tests and social engineering activities.
- Examine both wired and wireless networks for security flaws.
- To uncover findings and create a holistic analytical view of the system within the environment in which it functions, examine assessment results.
- Find the underlying reason for both technical and non-technical discoveries.
- Release an assessment report that details the results and suggests potential defenses.
- Keep track of and share findings that come up repeatedly in different examinations.
- After the assessments are finished, provide the techniques used, the results, and the analysis.
- Give ISOs technical assistance in addressing assessment results.
- Offer technical assistance in network exploitation and evasion methods to help with thorough incident handling and forensic examination of infected computers.
Penetration tester job description
Depending on the employer and level of seniority, the scope of penetration/ethical hacking jobs varies greatly. The ultimate dream job for all ethical hackers can be determined by looking at the stated responsibilities for senior-level roles. You can get an idea from the job description below.
- Lead network and application penetration tests with a system and enterprise emphasis to find security risks and vulnerabilities.
- Test a variety of technologies, such as wireless and mobile deployments, network infrastructure, wireless applications, and security measures.
- Perform technical testing by hand in addition to automated tool validation. Plan, carry out, document, and supervise technical debriefings on testing procedures and results.
- Work closely with a Purple Team to test the exploits required to construct detections while conducting clandestine Red Team Cyber operations to replicate adversary methods.
- Effectively inform all parties involved, including technical employees and executive leadership, of findings and corrective measures.
Certification in OSCP, GPEN, or GXPN is desirable.
Organizations handling state secrets, such as military suppliers and national security agencies, have an exponentially greater requirement for information security. A significant US military equipment firm published this actual job description for a senior pen test position.
- performs penetration testing and vulnerability analyses on operating system, network, and other application infrastructures, as well as web and other applications.
- Informs key stakeholders, including senior leadership, of the executive summary and conclusions.
- Know how to craft original exploit code, get around AV, and imitate adversary threats.
- identifies all vulnerabilities and security measures in order to evaluate the security of the customer’s system as it is right now.
- provides assistance to clients in doing security vulnerability analysis and mitigation.
- investigates and keeps up-to-date knowledge of tools, tactics, countermeasures, and trends in data concealing, network security, and encryption.
- By enhancing capabilities and reporting, assist incident response teams.
- By developing and imparting the newest ethical hacking and vulnerability analysis skills, you can mentor junior and mid-level staff members.
Outlook for penetration testers
For the foreseeable future, there will be a significant and quickly expanding demand for information security personnel. In fact, there is a severe lack of infosec specialists across all fields, and this lack is projected to last for some time. These systems are increasingly directly targeted and more vulnerable as networks, applications, and information needs become progressively more complex and essential to commercial and governmental operations. Pen testers are at the cutting edge of technical proficiency, playing the part of potential attackers the closest. Top pen testers are now highly valued among infosec professionals, and there are no signs that this perception will change in any manner in the near future.
How much do penetration testers make?
According to Payscale.com, the salary range for penetration testers in 2019 is between $55,000 and $133,000 per year, with an average salary of $82,500. The average annual addition from bonuses, commissions, and profit-sharing is around $17,000.
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What qualifications do you need to be a penetration tester?
Students continue on to degree programs in computer science, computer engineering, IT, or cybersecurity. The prerequisites for entry-level penetration testing involve both education and experience. Nowadays, a bachelor’s degree is considered to be the bare minimum of education.
Then, candidates engage in entry-level IT employment in system or network administration or security to develop their penetration testing skills. Professionals can also acquire certificates from their industry. Emerging professionals often have the skills and expertise necessary to secure penetration testing jobs after 1-4 years of employment.
How long does it take to become penetration tester?
A bachelor’s degree is typically required to work as a penetration tester. That usually takes four years at universities. At WGU, however, a large number of students complete their coursework more swiftly and graduate earlier. Additionally, it’s typical for potential penetration testers to have a strong background in operating systems and cybersecurity as well as work experience. Certifications are also recommended.
Is IT worth becoming a penetration tester?
For those with strong computer, IT, and problem-solving abilities, penetration testing might be a fantastic career choice. From 2020 through 2030, the BLS predicts penetration testers, among other information security experts, would expand at a rate that is significantly faster than normal.
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