Cyber attacks and security incidents have become extremely common in recent decades. As a result, many high-tier enterprises and firms have been subject to severe hacking issues, resulting in serious financial damages. And how to fight against all these data breaches and security threats more efficiently, If not by developing up-to-date security strategies? Most prominent enterprises follow this path and integrate advanced cybersecurity solutions into their overall security infrastructure.
As such, the spending on cybersecurity is continually skyrocketing and reaching the scale of several trillion-dollar marks, bringing many career opportunities to people passionate about security features and technology research. Today’s cybersecurity job market is flooded by different job positions for all levels of specialists. And penetration testers are among the most demanded ones.
So if you also wonder how to become a penetration tester and what path to take, just check this article for detailed guidance.
The Role of a Penetration Tester
Pen testers source weaknesses and flaws in a company’s computer systems and security controls, such as data storage systems, websites, and other IT assets. Sometimes, penetration testing is confused with a vulnerability assessment. However, even though both have the same goal of identifying security vulnerabilities and issues, they are slightly different. While vulnerability testing and penetration testing are both essential, they have unique strategies and responses.
At a high level, penetration testers help their clients eliminate the public relations fallout and loss of consumer confidence that come to light after network security hacks. More importantly, they help companies implement bulletproof digital security measures to prevent malicious hackers’ attacks.
Penetration Tester Responsibilities
The complexity and size of pen testers’ tasks generally vary from one company to another. However, there are some foundational responsibilities that most organizations who want to hire a pentester list on their job requirements. Let’s have a quick look at them.
- Performing security assessments on network devices, cloud infrastructures, and applications;
- Designing and executing simulated social engineering attacks;
- Examining code for security risks and system vulnerabilities;
- Documenting security protocols and compliance problems;
- Developing proprietary attack programs;
- Making executive and technical reports;
- Sharing results of security improvements with executive leadership and information security analysts;
This is the basic list of responsibilities every pen tester should consider while applying for a job.
Penetration Tester Skills
Being a professional penetration tester requires both technical skills and creativity. Here, let’s see the key skills you need for successful job hunting.
Below are the most required and crucial soft skills of a pentester that will help you stand out among other potential candidates and give you a significant advantage during the interviews.
- Being a Team Player: The ability to adapt to a new workplace and work with other team members harmoniously is essential when starting a new job.
- Fast Learning Ability: The technology continually evolves, leading to the necessity to think of new hacker strategies and responses.
- Good Communication Skills: When working within a team, you will need to communicate your findings and testing results with other workers in information security. That’s why having an easy-to-follow manner of communication is necessary.
Your technological background, professional skills, and capabilities determine the pentesting job interview. Such details about the candidate’s experience and abilities expand the scope of his professional knowledge and foundation. Here are some of the core technical skills you need to become a penetration tester.
- Excellent working knowledge of coding;
- Understanding of Computer Science and programming languages;
- Deep understanding of common security vulnerabilities and system exploits;
- Working knowledge of network protocols;
- Advanced command of all operating systems and hacking tools.
The required skills and technical knowledge can vary depending on the hiring company and job specifics.
How to Become a Penetration Tester?
Suppose you have a great passion for computer security systems, technologies, and ethical hacking and a desire to advance your career in the cybersecurity field. So what steps and paths do you need to take to close the distance between your future job and current uncertainty and become a penetration tester? Let’s find the answer together.
1: Develop Penetration Testing Skills and Capabilities
First and foremost, penetration testers need a solid knowledge base in technologies and networks and a deep understanding of security systems. The core skills you need to develop and sharpen before applying for a penetration testing job include:
- Programming languages
- Application and network security
- Threat modeling
- Security assessment advanced tools
- Cloud architecture
- Remote access technologies
- Technical writing and documentation
# 2: Enroll in a Course or a Training Program
Training programs, boot camps, and online courses are the best alternative for a Bachelor’s degree. You can enroll in specialized training and start developing the skills and abilities you’ll need as a pen tester. With these special programs and courses, you can learn all essentials in a more structured environment while managing multiple tasks simultaneously.
Cyber security novices can consider the IBM Cybersecurity Analyst Professional Certificate option, which includes a unit on penetration testing and incident response.
#3: Become a Licensed Penetration Tester
Professional certifications demonstrate to hiring managers and recruiters that you have all the technical skills required to succeed in a pentesting job. There are various certificates with different directions in cybersecurity. Whether you want to deepen your knowledge in ethical hacking, penetration testing, or network security, you have quality options for all of them. Here are some most popular certificates you can consider:
- Certified Penetration Tester (CPT)
- Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH)
- GIAC Penetration Tester (GPEN)
- Offensive Security Certified Professional (OSCP)
Earning any of these penetration testing certifications requires an exam. As long as you pass it, you will have a winning card on your hands, helping to land your first penetration tester job from specialized cybersecurity job boards.
#4: Practice in Real and Simulated Environments
When trying to hire penetration testers for their company, most employers pay a lot of attention to candidates’ previous experience and professional background. Luckily, there are efficient ways to gain experience performing penetration tests outside the workplace. For example, many penetration testing courses and programs include practical testing in simulated environments.
The next way to gain real-world experience is to participate in bug bounty programs. It’s when companies provide cash bonuses to white hat ethical hackers, security researchers, or independent pen testers who report security flaws in their code. Bug bounty programs are perfect for testing your hacking skills and networking with other experienced security professionals.
#5 Land Your First IT Position
Most penetration testers start their career path from a more entry-level position before advancing into penetration testing. You can consider applying for job positions as network or security administrator, information security analyst, security consultant, network engineer, etc…
Penetration Tester Salary
Your average annual salary will depend on many factors, including your education, location, professional background, and certifications. The average salary of a penetration tester begins from $100.000, according to major labor statistics.
If you choose the most direct way leading to the cybersecurity industry and get a degree, it will take you from four to six years, depending on whether you choose a Bachelor’s degree or a Master’s degree. However, if you prefer certifications and special programs more, you don’t need to wait four years to start your first cybersecurity role.
If you are interested in performing a penetration test, have a passion for Computer Science and computer networks, and are eager to learn hard and constantly improve your skills, then yes, you certainly can.
Although most companies and organizations require a cybersecurity degree for penetration testing jobs, entering the field without higher education is also possible. Certifications, boot camps, and online courses are all good alternatives to a university degree. After getting the basic skills and knowledge, you can already try to practice them in real-world projects and gain experience.
Regarding demand and salary, penetration testers are among the top cybersecurity professionals. So, not only does pentesting provide you with a workplace with interesting and unique security projects, but it also gives you a broad room to advance and develop as a professional. Moreover, the salary range you start with regularly will grow depending on your skills and learning ability.