What is a Penetration Tester?
Penetration testers (or pentesters), also known as ethical hackers, are cybersecurity professionals who focus on finding security gaps from an attacker’s perspective. How do they do it? If you guessed ‘similar to hackers, but with a twist’, you’re right. But fear them not, ethical hackers can be crucial to keep your organization secure.
Are you considering a career as a pentester? Or are you an employer who wants to know if this is the cyber pro you need to hire? Keep reading to find out.
Put simply, pentesters work as consultants or vulnerability assessors, focusing on hacking digital services, mainly networks, applications and systems. This type of hacking is allowed by companies and operated within the law. Trust is paramount here since testers will try to get access to sensitive information, much like a criminal would.
Pentesters perform a series of cyber-attacks simulating real-life adversaries. While hacking, they document the methodologies used and what weaknesses were found. The resulting report will be discussed with the client in order to improve security and close existing gaps. They can also advise defense teams with this purpose in mind.
A broad skill set is a must for penetration testers, including knowledge of operating systems, programming/coding to create scripts, hacking procedures and tools such as Kali Linux, as well as familiarity with security practices and protocols. Outstanding communication and writing skills are also needed because penetration testers have to document and present their findings.
An academic background is convenient to have, but not mandatory. What gives the most credibility are certifications such as OSCP, OSWP, OSCE, OSEE, OSWE and CEH.
Like many other cybersecurity pros, Penetration Testers can earn a rewarding salary ($84,605/ year on average) and have flexible options: some work directly for a company, others offer their services as freelancers, and some have their own consulting businesses.
Do you need a pentester?
If you’re managing a large corporation, you probably need pentesting services from time to time, to assure that your security protocols and defenses are up to date and can stand, avoid or prevent a targeted offense. Pentesting can take a few days or weeks. Tests are usually performed by more than one person, in what is called Red Teaming. In this work frame, each pentester targets a specific area (e.g DDoS attacks, social engineering), which allows for better management of time and resources.
When hiring penetration testers, consider factors such as the size of your company, your budget and your needs. Make sure you choose a reputed and qualified professional. Remember that trust is key when hiring any employee.
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This is a straightforward guide made to help employers and cybersecurity professionals to find each other, providing them with current standard terminology and descriptions. It is by no means exhaustive.
While there is some discussion in cybersecurity about job titles and functions, we use the terms in their broadest sense, focusing on what can be put in a job description to make it more accurate and easy to understand.
Consultant – Red & Blue Teaming