Career Spotlight: Penetration Tester
Penetration testing is one of the most crucial elements of cybersecurity today, and the job outlook definitely reflects its importance. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that penetration tester employment is expected to grow at a rate of over 30 percent in the next decade as nearly every major industry needs to take proactive steps to make sure their valuable data and systems are secure.
Penetration testers work as part of a company’s in-house cybersecurity team, for cybersecurity firms, or as independent consultants. Depending on the location, they can expect to earn an average of $100,000 per year.
What is penetration testing?
Penetration testing, commonly shortened to “pen testing,” is the process of simulating cyberattacks to identify weak spots in an organization’s technology infrastructure and then proposing solutions to strengthen them. Penetration testing helps organizations fine-tune their procedures and is an important way for companies that handle sensitive health or financial data to stay compliant with regulations.
What is a penetration tester and what does a penetration tester do?
Penetration testers work as ethical hackers who to break into an organization’s information systems before the real hackers have a chance to.
By strategically “putting on the hat” of a bot, a DDOS attacker, or a phishing scammer, penetration testers can save a company millions of dollars in lost revenue.
There are many different tests that can be used depending on what type of damage a hacker might be trying to do, how they’re trying to do it, and where they’re coming from. For example, if you wanted to test for an internal threat, you might use a “white box” test, which gives the tester all the confidential company knowledge an employee might have. “Black box” testing gives the tester no outside knowledge and can be used to simulate an attack coming from outside the company.
While there are various techniques for testing, pen testers basically follow the same basic steps. This is how Imperva, a comprehensive digital security company, defines each stage:
- 1. Planning and reconnaissance
• The first step is to define the goals of a test, the systems to be addressed, and the testing methods to be used. Then, the tester gathers information to better understand how the targeted system works.
- 2. Scanning
• The next step is to understand how the target will respond to a variety of different attacks.
- 3. Gaining Access
• This stage uses successful attacks to uncover a target’s vulnerabilities. Testers then try and exploit these security holes to understand the damage they can cause.
- 4. Maintaining Access
• The goal of this stage is to see how long a vulnerability can be exploited without discovery. The idea is to imitate advanced, persistent threats that often remain in a system for months.
- 5. Analysis
• The results of the penetration test are then compiled into a report detailing what specific systems were breached, what data was accessed, and the length of time the pen tester was able to remain undetected.
What do you need to be a penetration tester?
Becoming a penetration tester starts with a solid background in IT, and professionals need to be fully experienced in a range of technologies and systems to succeed. In other words, you need to know how the house is built before you try to break in!
Technology advances quickly, and so do a hacker’s sophisticated tricks. Penetration testers need to be nimble, creative thinkers with excellent organizational ability to stay one step ahead. Pursuing advanced education and earning industry-recognized certifications are ways you can gain the technical and soft skills employers are looking for.
How to become a penetration tester?
What degree is needed for penetration testing?
Because pen testing isn’t necessarily an entry-level position, if you have the right amount of progressive experience, an advanced degree might not be required.
For those IT professionals looking to switch their careers sooner and build their specialized knowledge, Excelsior offers both a bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity and a master’s degree in cybersecurity to provide you with a focused foundation of skills you need to move up in the field.
What about penetration testing certification?
Validate your skills and show employers you’re serious about your career by earning one of these top certifications for penetration testers.
If you already hold some of these or other IT credentials, Excelsior accepts many top IT certifications, training, and exams for degree credit to help you reach your career goals faster!
What is the career path for a penetration tester?
As a penetration tester, your career path is up to you! Pen testers are needed in nearly every industry, and employers recognize that people with pen tester on their resume have already gained a foothold in key IT and cybersecurity disciplines, such as systems, coding, and networks, putting them in high demand. Experienced penetration testers can move into positions as information security managers, cybersecurity consultants, or even executive roles, including chief technology officer.
Over time, penetration testing has gone from being a manual to an increasingly automated process. As technology evolves quickly and so do threats, companies are now relying more on machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) to keep pace. To grow in your career as a pen tester, you should make it a goal to keep your skills updated to ensure you stay in demand.
It will pay off in your career to keep your education and certifications current in all areas of IT. Excelsior offers a variety of IT training and certification courses for people any career level, ranging from those just starting their career to industry veterans.
Speak with an Excelsior admissions counselor about the right education path for the next step in your penetration tester career.