Penetration Tester Job Description
Penetration testers, also known as “ethical hackers,” are highly skilled security specialists that spend their days attempting to breach computer and network security systems. These testers work in the information technology (IT) field to ensure that those without authorization cannot access an organization’s data. They do this by trying to hack into networks to identify potential vulnerabilities in the system. These professionals typically work regular business hours. However, they are sometimes required to work longer hours or nights and weekends, depending on need and security threats. These in-demand professionals can work for a company, a consulting firm, or their own consulting business on a freelance basis.
Penetration Tester Duties and Responsibilities
Specific duties for penetration testers vary based on their employer. However, there are several core tasks common to all penetration testers, such as:
Conduct Tests on Networks and Applications
Penetration testers perform security tests on networks, web-based applications, and computer systems. They design these tests and tools to try to break into security-protected applications and networks to probe for vulnerabilities. These testers keep up with the latest methods for ethical hacking and testing and are always evaluating new penetration testing tools.
Physical Security Assessments
These testers conduct physical assessments of servers, systems, and network device security. They look for ways to exploit vulnerabilities and design solutions to security issues like temperature, humidity, vandalism, and natural disasters.
Conduct Security Audits
Penetration testers use testing methods to pinpoint ways that attackers could exploit weaknesses in security systems. One way they do this is by conducting network and system security audits, which evaluate how well an organization’s system conforms to a set of established criteria.
Analyze Security Policies
Organizations enforce security policies that identify procedures and rules for accessing and using their IT resources. Penetration testers analyze these policies for effectiveness, make suggestions on security policy improvements, and work to enhance methodology material.
Write Security Assessment Reports
After conducting thorough research and testing, penetration testers document their findings, write security reports, and discuss solutions with IT teams and management. They also provide feedback and verification after security fixes are issued.
Penetration Tester Skills and Qualifications
People who love to push limits and solve technologically challenging problems make good penetration testers. Employers look for candidates who are experts in information technology, have experience hacking, and possess the following skills:
- Advanced computer skills – extensive computer skills and an understanding of networking are the most important fundamental skills penetration testers possess. They are experienced with cryptography, reverse engineering, web applications, databases, and wireless technologies
- Computer and information security – penetration testers use their exceptional computer skills to attempt to hack into systems. They keep up to date on security software packages and are always learning new security protocols and computer technologies that could be exploited
- Scripting and programming – a variety of computer programming and scripting skills are important for penetration testers because some employers require knowledge of a specific programming language or operating system
- Report writing – penetration testers utilize strong written and oral communication skills to write reports on their assessments to communicate potential weaknesses to the IT team and management
- Problem-solving skills – to protect networks and data from potential serious risks, penetration testers use problem-solving skills to determine the most effective way to correct issues that arise
- Data analytics – penetration testers can review data and analyze the processes needed to correct security issues
Tools of the Trade
Penetration testers work with computer systems and web applications and are comfortable using the following software and programs:
- Security assessment tools (such as Aircrack-ng, Burp Suite, SQLmap)
- Security frameworks (such as NIST, SOX, HIPPA)
- Operating systems (such as Linux, Unix, Windows)
Penetration Tester Education and Training
It’s possible to get an entry-level job as a penetration tester with the right set of technical skills, but many employers look to hire penetration testers with a bachelor’s degree in information technology, information security, or computer science, as well as a few years of relevant work experience. Depending on the system the employer uses, candidates need training or experience in operating systems, such as Linus and Unix, as well as a host of programming languages and security software. Training and certification courses in network security and the latest hacking techniques can help a candidate get their foot in the door.
Penetration Tester Outlook and Salary
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), information security analysts, including penetration testers, make an annual median salary of $95,510. The lowest 10 percent of these analysts earn $55,560, while the highest 10 percent earn over $153,090. Employment for information security analysts is expected to grow 28 percent by 2026, which is much faster than average. Demand for qualified penetration testers will be very high because of the need to create new solutions to prevent hackers from accessing sensitive information and causing computer network problems.
If you’re an aspiring ethical hacker and a career in the growing field of penetration testing sounds exciting to you, you’re in luck! We’ve searched the internet for some useful resources to help you learn more about this innovative career:
“So You Want to Be a Penetration Tester” – this Dark Reading article covers everything there is to know about getting into the field of penetration testing. It offers insight from industry professionals about how they got started and what it takes to get your foot in the door
“5 Things You Need to Know Before Becoming a Penetration Tester” – this article from Pentester University explores the training and certifications that will make you a desirable job candidate in this field
How to Start a Career in the New Information Technology: Is IT Right for You? – people considering a career in information technology have a lot to gain from this book, which covers how to get started in the industry without a computer science degree
Redteam: Association of Penetration Testers – find career support and expand your network with this LinkedIn group of professional penetration testers
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