Cybersecurity is a highly promising career choice today, with a growing demand for information security professionals. This industry offers many opportunities, especially in various specialized cybersecurity roles, including that of ethical hackers and pen testers, that organizations actively seek.
With the significance of pen testing gaining prominence, choosing this field or making a switch can be a rewarding career move.
What Is Penetration Testing?
Penetration testing is the process of evaluating the security of a network, a computer system (like a public-facing server), or an application by simulating potential attacks from hackers. Also known as pen testing, penetration testing helps identify vulnerabilities in target systems before attackers can exploit them.
More and more companies are adopting penetration testing as part of their cybersecurity arsenal. It is one of the best ways to protect sensitive data and other assets. When a vulnerability is exploited, it can lead to companies suffering financial loss and a damaged reputation.
Penetration testers help prevent those dire outcomes and keep company operations running smoothly. Moreover, since every new application, service, or system can potentially have unknown weaknesses, penetration testers quickly become highly valued information security workers.
What Does a Penetration Tester Do?
Have you ever wondered, “What does a penetration tester do?” Penetration testers attempt to “penetrate” systems by simulating real-world attacks through a multi-step process. While the details vary depending on the system or application being tested, most pen testing is the same at a high level.
They start by mapping out the scope of a penetration test. The goal could be to test a company’s public-facing systems, a specific subset of those systems, or even internal systems. A reconnaissance phase follows, in which the penetration tester collects publicly available information. For example, employee names and email addresses might provide clues to a company’s format for account usernames.
Next, various automated scanning tools identify known weaknesses in the target systems. The penetration tester will follow this up with manual attempts at gaining access. If a vulnerability is found, the tester will attempt to achieve a higher level of access. This is known as privilege escalation, which helps quantify the severity of a weakness. Vulnerabilities that allow full administrative access are the riskiest, as a hacker would have unlimited access to a company’s data.
After testing, the pen tester documents their findings and makes security recommendations. The process will repeat regularly or after systems are updated.
Why Penetration Testing Is One of the Best Career Moves for Cybersecurity Professionals
Penetration testing is one of the most in-demand security skills. If you’d like to go down the penetration tester career path, it’s a good time. This is especially true if you work in an entry-level cybersecurity position.
Pen testers will be required for the foreseeable future. Every day, companies of all sizes undergo digital transformation, designing their business processes around electronic systems. Many more companies are moving into the cloud. That means sensitive enterprise data will be hosted on public-facing systems. More than ever, penetration testing is needed to find vulnerabilities before internet attackers exploit them.
How and Why Different Job Roles Include Penetration Testing
Even if you are not looking for a career in penetration testing, it is still a valuable skill. Many types of cybersecurity jobs include penetration testing activities.
A network security analyst, for example, is primarily responsible for monitoring and analyzing network traffic. If they find suspicious activity in the logs, they might conduct penetration tests to assess the state of the network. This helps address previously unknown vulnerabilities before exploitation (QA Source, 2022).
IT workers in the application development space might also need pen testing skills. In particular, DevSecOps professionals need to test application security regularly. Application security testers focus on identifying vulnerabilities specific to web and mobile apps. Pen testing is also a normal part of their routines, and it is common for former application developers to move into a pen testing career, thanks to their knowledge of app vulnerabilities (Guard Rails, 2023).
Cybersecurity managers should be familiar with how to do penetration testing. Even though their primary function is to oversee security teams, penetration testing experience helps them lead effectively. Having pen testing experience shows the rest of the team that they understand real-world security issues and fixes.
How to Become a Penetration Tester
Several paths can lead to a career in penetration testing. Having a degree in information security or related disciplines is a great start. However, there are other ways into the role.
Networking knowledge and experience often lead to a pen-testing career. As previously mentioned, many cybersecurity roles include some form of penetration testing. IT managers commonly ask their top team members to take on the task, especially if they already work in a network or security role.
You could apply for a penetration testing job, even without specific experience. However, several training courses and certification tracks can be advantageous. Gaining experience in a class with practical labs will better prepare you for the penetration tester career path.
The Job Market for Penetration Testers
Part of the reason there are so many avenues to start a career in penetration testing is that the position is in demand. IT departments in nearly all industries are looking to add to their pen-testing staff (Cyberseek, 2022).
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the demand for information security analysts (including penetration testers) will grow 35% by 2031. (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2023). The typical penetration tester’s salary is very competitive, with the average compensation at $94,000. Most penetration tester’s salary range between $86,000 and $107,000 (Salary.com, 2023)
What is C|PENT and How Can It Play a Critical Role in Your Career
Finding the right certification course that equips you with real-world skills and knowledge is important. EC-Council’s Certified Penetration Testing Professional (C|PENT) course teaches you to take your skills to the next level.
The C|PENT program teaches you how to perform effective penetration testing at an enterprise level. Instead of focusing strictly on book learning and theoretical concepts, the C|PENT gives you real-world experience in a live practice range. You will learn all the latest penetration testing techniques for Internet of Things (IoT) devices, cloud apps, networks, firewalls, and others.
More advanced topics include bypassing a filtered network, penetrating operational technology (OT), accessing hidden networks with pivoting, evading defense mechanisms, and much more. EC-Council’s course includes dynamic ranges for practical, hands-on experience that translates into the real world of penetration testing. As technology and targets continue to evolve, so does the training on the C|PENT course.
If you are interested, review the course outline from the EC-Council to learn more about the program and C|PENT certification. An exciting career awaits you.
1. Cyberseek. (2022). Cybersecurity supply/demand heat map. https://www.cyberseek.org/heatmap.html
2. GuardRails. (2023). From penetration testing to appsec/devopssec: A guide to staying ahead of the curve. https://www.guardrails.io/blog/from-penetration-testing-to-appsec-devsecops-a-guide-to-staying-ahead-of-the-curve/
3. QA Source. (2022). Network penetration testing. https://blog.qasource.com/es/network-penetration-testing
4. Salary.com. (2023). Pen tester salary. https://www.salary.com/research/salary/recruiting/pen-tester-salary
5. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2023). Occupational outlook handbook: Information security analysts. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/information-security-analysts.htm
About the Author
Leaman Crews is a former newspaper reporter, publisher, and editor with over 25 years of professional writing experience. He is also a former IT director specializing in writing about tech in an enjoyable way.