As the modern world becomes increasingly digitized, cybersecurity becomes more important for organizations and individuals. If you have a smartphone or use email, your personal and sensitive information might be vulnerable to cyberattacks. Similarly, if you’ve been to a hospital or clinic recently, your protected health information (PHI) might also be vulnerable since most hospitals today digitize medical records and information.
These aren’t the only instances where individuals or organizations are vulnerable to cybercrime. For example, research shows that 75 percent of consumers make online purchases at least once a month. While e-commerce retailers and vendors go to great lengths to protect data and ensure secure transactions, the reality is their databases are often subject to cyberattacks, which can damage both consumers and the company in question.
Thus, cybersecurity becomes extremely important in a rapidly digitizing world to protect companies and individuals from theft and loss of sensitive data, personal information, intellectual property, etc. Generally, nefarious actors target organizations and individuals through various kinds of cyberattacks, with phishing and ransomware attacks being the most common.
The FBI’s Internet Crime Report highlighted that the public reported 800,944 cybercrime complaints in 2022, with phishing attacks accounting for nearly 300,497 complaints. These statistics highlight a growing need for improved cybersecurity, especially as technological developments also mean that the nature of cyberattacks has become more complex. This growing cybersecurity need has resulted in many organizations hiring penetration testers to help them improve their cybersecurity.
- 1 What is a Penetration Tester?
- 2 Is Being an In-House Penetration Tester the Only Option?
- 3 What are the Tasks and Responsibilities of a Penetration Tester?
- 4 How to Become a Penetration Tester
- 5 Why Opt for a Career as a Penetration Tester?
- 6 Conclusion
What is a Penetration Tester?
If you’re unfamiliar with the cybersecurity industry, you might not be aware of penetration testers. Penetration testers help organizations by performing simulated cyberattacks on their existing computer systems and networks. These simulated cyberattacks are authorized tests that allow companies to identify vulnerabilities within their systems before nefarious actors with malicious intent can exploit them.
Therefore, penetration testers play a proactive role in helping organizations develop their cybersecurity protocols. Companies often obtain feedback from penetration testers to implement robust cybersecurity measures within their budgets to reduce vulnerabilities.
Is Being an In-House Penetration Tester the Only Option?
While many large organizations often hire in-house penetration testers, many penetration testers also work for cybersecurity firms or as freelancers. Larger corporations with specialized cybersecurity divisions often hire in-house penetration testers because it allows them to get more familiar with the organization’s security protocols. As a result, in-house penetration testers often have greater input in introducing new security features to shore up their company’s cybersecurity defenses.
On the flip side, penetration testers working for cybersecurity firms have greater flexibility in the type of tests designed and performed because these firms have various clients in different industries. For instance, if you’re working as a penetration tester for a cybersecurity firm, you might have to design and perform tests for an e-commerce retailer and a medical organization. Therefore, you’ll be working with a diverse set of clients.
Furthermore, some penetration testers also prefer freelancing because it gives them greater flexibility and control. However, it also means spending more time finding clients, particularly during the early stages of your freelancing career.
What are the Tasks and Responsibilities of a Penetration Tester?
A penetration tester’s day-to-day responsibilities may vary based on whether they’re working as a freelancer, in-house penetration tester, or an employee at a cybersecurity firm. However, some tasks and responsibilities generally include:
- Test a company’s existing network devices, applications, and cloud infrastructure.
- Design and orchestrate simulated cyber and social engineering attacks on a company’s active systems.
- Examine the code for any potential vulnerabilities.
- Create technical and executive reports based on their findings.
- Provide feedback based on their findings to technical teams and executive leadership.
- Facilitate security improvements by performing additional tests.
- Create methodologies for penetration testing.
- Identify and document security and compliance problems within the company’s security network.
How to Become a Penetration Tester
Becoming a penetration tester requires having a specific set of skills. In addition, the job requires constantly learning new things to keep yourself updated on the latest cybersecurity trends. While there are numerous avenues you can pursue to become a penetration tester, the most common way is as follows:
Focus on the Ideal Educational Path
Selecting the right educational path can make you a more appealing candidate for most penetration testing jobs. Companies generally prefer individuals with an undergraduate or graduate degree in fields such as Computer Science. Many top-ranking universities today also offer specialized cybersecurity degrees, especially for Master’s programs.
In addition to focusing on these educational fields, consider obtaining a cybersecurity certificate. Doing so can make you a more appealing candidate for such positions.
Develop Your Penetration Testing Skills by Practicing
While having a cybersecurity certificate or a Computer Science degree is helpful, organizations also value experience. Moreover, they want to see if you can apply theoretical knowledge practically.
Consider obtaining experience outside the workplace by practicing in real and simulated testing environments. One way to do so is by participating in bug bounty programs. These programs require finding potential security vulnerabilities in a company’s code. In return, companies offer cash bonuses. Platforms like Bugcrowd and HackerOne are particularly popular.
Start in an Entry Level IT Position
Most penetration testers didn’t start out in their current roles. Instead, they began their careers in entry-level IT positions, such as a systems administrator or a software developer. They honed their IT skills and knowledge over the years before becoming penetration testers.
Why Opt for a Career as a Penetration Tester?
A career as a penetration tester is quite desirable for several reasons. The Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that the median pay for Information Security Analysts was approximately $102,600 per year in 2021. This figure equates to just under $50 per hour. However, more importantly, Information Security positions, such as penetration testers, are highly demanded as companies continue to invest more in cybersecurity.
The US Bureau of Labor Statistics also mentions that the job outlook for such positions is extremely promising, growing at a 35 percent rate between 2021 and 2031, considerably faster than the average for other jobs. Therefore, a career as a penetration tester is something to consider if you’re interested in IT and cybersecurity.