How To Become A Penetration Tester: A Complete Guide
Updated 27 January 2023
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Cybersecurity is a valuable skill, as most companies understand the importance of protecting their IT infrastructure. Penetration testers are cybersecurity experts who protect companies' networks and other digital assets. When you understand this role and the skills it requires, you can begin a rewarding career as a penetration tester. In this article, we discuss how to become a penetration tester and answer some frequently asked questions about this profession.
Related: Top In-Demand Skills To Develop for Career Advancement
How To Become A Penetration Tester?
To pursue your interest in becoming an ethical hacker, you can follow these five steps:
1. Complete your school education
Some employers decide to hire you purely based on your knowledge and relevant experience. Although, most companies expect you to have a bachelor's degree or master's degree in computer science, information technology (IT), cybersecurity or a related field. This means that you are required to finish class 12 (or equivalent PUC or Pre-University Course) and then join a university.
If your school lets you choose your subject groups, make sure that your subject list includes computer science and maths. This way, you can then enroll in a relevant university degree like a BE later.
Related: What Is Software Engineering? Complete Guide
2. Earn a relevant bachelor's degree
Most companies that look into educational qualifications expect to see a four-year bachelor's degree as a minimum. You can choose to join an AICTE (All India Council for Technical Education) approved institute, one of the Indian Institutes of Information Technology (IITs), the National Institutes of Technology (NITs) or a college affiliated to a reputed university. Most of these require you to complete an engineering entrance examination to qualify for admission.
You can start working towards a relevant bachelor's degree even while you are still in school. Aim to score well in your required courses, and sign up for electives to further your understanding of the industry. You can enroll in a programming or computer security course.
3. Start working towards your pen-testing role
Initially, try to gain work experience within the software industry. You can apply for an entry-level job in IT, taking on roles in network security and information assurance. Examples of such positions include network administrator, system administrator, network engineer and security administrator. Try to take responsibility for IT security projects whenever you see an opportunity.
If possible, ask a senior colleague to mentor you. A good mentor shows you how to become a penetration tester with the right skills and helps you work to your strengths. For example, you may have strong leadership skills. Your mentor might suggest working towards an IT security manager role. Once you have around four years of experience in an entry-level role, you can look for promotions into an InfoSec position.
Related: Cyber Security Interview Questions and Answers
4. Get the right certification
Having a relevant certification may help you get a job in information security. Most candidates have a bachelor's degree, but relevant certification shows that you are specifically trained for the job. Many well-known organisations offer certification courses in penetration testing, ethical hacking and security analysis.
5. Start building a professional network
Connecting with established InfoSec professionals and joining peer groups helps you find people who can connect you with the right companies, people, teams and job offers.
You can gain valuable knowledge from people in the industry, find people to mentor you and attend job-relevant conferences, webinars and workshops. You may also find freelance projects and internships that you can later add to your resume and impress a hiring manager. Having a broad professional network also keeps you up to date on trends, news and developments in the discipline of pen-testing.
What Is A Penetration Tester?
A penetration tester is a cybersecurity professional who helps organisations identify threats to the security and safety of their IT networks. Since most industries depend heavily on their IT infrastructure, penetration testers are essential to the Information Technology (IT) or Information Security (InfoSec) team.
Related: How Much Do Ethical Hackers Make? (Job Duties And Roles)
Penetration testers are also known as ethical hackers, information security analysts, or simply pen-testers or pentesters. They are seen as crucial assets within companies that deal with sensitive proprietary or personal data. Pentesters are often employed in one of these three ways:
As freelancers who work with business clients on a contractual basis
As part of a company that provides specialised pen testing services for enterprise clients
As part of the in-house team within an organisation, working to protect its data
Related: Cyber Security Skills (With Examples And Tips to Improve)
The Responsibilities Of A Pentester
On a typical day in this role, you might work on one or more of these tasks:
Develop penetration tests. You create experiments and design simulations that test and evaluate security measures already in place.
Observe and report findings. Once you run these tests and simulations, you create reports that show your findings. When you do, you may be required to explain complicated InfoSec issues in plain terms that people outside of IT can understand.
Offer plans and solutions. After you evaluate a network, you might work with people in management positions to fix breaches and remove vulnerabilities in the company's networks and other IT infrastructure.
Stay ahead of hackers. Security hackers look for ways into exposed systems, and so you may work on making sure they do not breach into the networks you protect.
Skills For A Penetration Tester
Penetration testers use a range of hard skills or technical abilities to do their job well. Here are a few examples of those skills:
Coding and scripting: When working on individual assessments, a tester with coding and scripting knowledge tends to be faster.
Understanding of vulnerabilities: Most testers quickly solve threats using an automated approach. Testers who can handle vulnerabilities when a basic automated process is unavailable are truly valuable to organisations.
Familiarity with networking protocols: An in-depth knowledge of networking and networking protocols like TCP/IP, UDP, ARP, DNS and DHCP helps you understand how hackers operate.
Knowledge of system administration practices: As a penetration tester, you are required to know how servers and networks work together. This way, you can be more effective at locating threats and spots where breaches could occur.
Security tools: You may use plenty of security tools as part of your work as a penetration tester. The more familiar you are with the various tools, the more appealing your resume is to a hiring manager or human resources professional.
Operating system knowledge: To breach and hack a network to conduct an assessment, make yourself familiar with its associated operating systems.
Aside from your technical abilities, work on the following crucial soft skills:
Working with teams: Penetration testers work as part of teams, which means you may report to a senior pentester when you start out.
Vocal, non-confrontational communication: Often, you may be required to explain findings to people unfamiliar with technicalities. Being able to explain vulnerabilities and solutions efficiently and patiently makes you an efficient InfoSec expert.
Written communication: Having strong writing skills can help you write reports of your findings to management.
Related: Information Security Analyst Resume Skills (With Tips)
How Long Does It Take To Become A Penetration Tester?
If you choose to pursue an engineering degree, such as a BE in computer science or IT, you typically require to spend four or five years to earn your bachelor's degree. After this, you may work anywhere from one to four years to gain work experience. At this time, you may also enroll in certification courses. Considering all this, it may take you anywhere between five and eight years to become a penetration tester.
Related: Penetration Testing Interview Questions And Sample Answers
Which Industries Hire Penetration Testers?
Companies in the financial services, healthcare and IT sectors tend to hire InfoSec teams. To a certain extent, government institutions may also require information security experts to help them protect classified personal data. Here are some examples of sectors that often hire pen-testers.
Financial services: You can look for opportunities within banking, credit card companies, brokerage firms and payment processors. These organisations tend to pay well, as they are under constant threat due to the sensitive nature of their data.
Healthcare and government: You may observe similar patterns among organisations in these two sectors, but budgets may be limited within government-run institutions.
IT services: IT and IT services companies contribute largely to the country's economy. Many of these companies have job openings in cybersecurity.
Related: Guide: How To Become A Mobile Application Tester (With Steps)
Penetration testers can continue to advance through a few other roles in their career. Here are the possible areas of career growth beyond this position:
IT security architect: You are the person in charge of protecting a company's IT infrastructure from security threats like hackers. You can usually switch to a role like this once you have five to 10 years of experience.
IT security managers: You take charge of a team of IT security architects. This is an overseer role, where you take charge of day-to-day implementation and maintenance and analysis of information security protocols.
Director of cybersecurity: This role uses your technical and HR management skills. You can qualify for this job once you have built years of experience as an IT security manager.
Related: How Much Does Cyber Security Make? (With Skills And Types)
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