What is a Penetration Tester?

A penetration tester simulates cyberattacks against their own computer system to see if there are any vulnerabilities hackers can exploit. Penetration testing is one of the best-paid careers in security, but what is it? Penetration testing, commonly referred to just as pen testing, involves performing a simulated cyberattack against one’s own computer system to see if there are any vulnerabilities that hackers could exploit. When performing pen testing in the context of web application security, it is generally used to create a safe and secure web application firewall.

When pen testing is performed, it can be conducted on any application system, including frontend servers, backend servers, APIs, and more. The goal of this type of testing is not only to pinpoint vulnerabilities but to create solutions that make the system more secure. When performed by an experienced pentester, the insights gained from the testing can be used to refine your network security and system policies. You can also use the information gathered in pen testing phases to create both temporary and permanent patches to vulnerabilities and exploits.

What is a Penetration Tester?

A penetration tester is a person who performs pen tests. These types of testers tend to have extremely advanced knowledge of systems and networks. They understand how various networks operate, including the servers, internet service providers, enterprise systems, and more.

Many enterprises and government agencies hire pen testers to test their systems. They understand the complexities of networks and their susceptibilities to data breaches and security issues. Since pen testers are some of the best hackers in the world yet they use their skill set for good reasons, they are often referred to as “ethical hackers.”

How Many Stages Are Involved in Pen Testing?

Pen testing usually consists of five stages:

  1. Planning and reconnaissance
  2. Scanning
  3. Gaining access
  4. Maintaining access
  5. Analysis and WAF configuration

How to Become a Penetration Tester?

One of the most baffling aspects of pen testing is that with technology advancing at such as fast pace, pen-testing methods and solutions are constantly changing too. Think of it as a race with the BAD hackers racing against the GOOD hackers. Both entities are hacking systems, trying to beat one another. The BAD hackers’ goal is to break into a system and steal as much data as possible before a patch or security solution is implemented to address the exploit. The GOOD hackers’ goal is to find the holes and exploits within the system and fix them.  Because new hacking and exploit patches are released every day, pen testers must stay up to date with the latest tactics.

A lot of penetration testers are self-taught. Hacking usually comes naturally to them due to their brain’s way of processing information. These testers may or may not go to college to earn a degree because their skill set and talent speak for themselves. On the other side of the fence is the path taken by those who have no prior hacking knowledge but want to pursue a career as a penetration tester. These people will often take pen testing courses to earn a cybersecurity degree or certificate of some kind that demonstrates their knowledge and skillset level to potential employers.

When choosing a college to become a penetration tester, make sure to choose one that has a good computer science program. You want to learn from the best of the best. Some of the more common classes taken by students to earn a degree that allows them to follow the career path of  penetration tester include:

  • Intro to cybersecurity
  • Security essentials (Bootcamp style)
  • Enterprise threat and vulnerability assessment
  • Network administration
  • Hacker tools
  • Hacker exploits
  • Incident handling

How Long Does it Take to Become a Penetration Tester?

A four-year degree is often mandated by employers in order to attain employment through them as a penetration tester. For advanced-level positions, you may need a master’s credential. Regardless of the degree, you earn, you must continue your penetration testing training and education on a regular basis, even if you are teaching yourself about the latest exploits and solutions. It is of the utmost importance to refine your writing and communication skills as well as a penetration tester. The findings you discover throughout the work that you perform will need to be communicated in an easy-to-understand-manner so that your supervisors and the company as a whole can understand what you discovered, how you discovered it, and most importantly, to help them see why you are making the suggestions you are making.

Once you’re comfortable with your skillset, you can begin applying for penetration tester positions. Penetration testers can find employment in any industry, with a large number of positions existing in the IT and government fields.