All you need to know about becoming a pen tester

Cybersecurity is a huge field, you can find many career options as a security professional. Every role in this field has its importance. Similarly, pentesters or penetration testers are also key members of the cybersecurity team.

Keep reading to know more about the role of a pentester.

Who is a Penetration Tester?

Whenever you learn about network or infrastructural security, you will hear the term pentester. Pentester is a contraction for penetration tester. The responsibility of a penetration tester is to locate the vulnerabilities in a security system.

Normally, they don’t work permanently in an organization. Companies hire them externally to perform security audits on their network. If a vulnerability is located, they inform the organization.

A pentester looks for these flaws to get into the system of an organization. It helps the company to know the strengths and weaknesses of their security system. Moreover, companies hire them to maintain protection against external threats.

Working of a Penetration Tester

The job of a pentester is different from all the cyber experts. They will not build, design, or implement any new security techniques. Instead, they will try to break into the system, by using some hacking tools.

A pentester uses the same tools used by hackers to help the company prepare for the possible external attacks. Most pentesters use Kali Linux to test the system.

This job does sound interesting, but it can get boring at times. For instance, most penetration testers do not enjoy the process of writing reports.

Responsibilities of a Penetration Tester

The major responsibility of a pentester is to test the system in order to find flaws. Every pentester has its own methods of finding bugs and errors. They are not limited to use specific methods for this testing. As hackers will use their own methods to get unauthorized access to the system.

Still there are some basic steps which are used by every pentester. After successfully completing the basic steps, the procedure gets more complex and detailed. At the end, they need to write a report to their client.

Think Like a Hacker

Initially, they will look for defects in the system both internally and externally. A pentester will press, pok and prod just like a hacker. So, they can find holes in the security system.

While attempting to gain external access, they will look for flaws like weak passwords or any visible data. A pentester will set up a beachhead to ensure hackers don’t get the access if they try to break it from inside. If they managed to get the access, they will exploit it.

Perform Application Assessment

Pentesters are also responsible for performing web application assessments. It involves finding defects in installed softwares, which can be

  • SQL
  • Broken access control
  • XML external entities

There can be other assessments including

  • Testing WIFI systems
  • Try to gain an unauthorized access
  • Try to get sensitive information from employees, that is phishing.
  • Convince people to click on a certain link either by using mail or simple msg.

Writing a Report

After completing all the tests, it is time to write reports. A detailed report is written about all the tests and their results. It is submitted to the client or company’s management team.

The best part is you can do it remotely. You may have to visit the company’s office once or twice. After testing, write a complete report to your client.

The time required to complete the assignment depends on how perfect a system is built. If you can find the bugs in just half an hour, your work will be done. But it can take more time if the system has better security.

Vulnerabilities Found by Pentesters

There can be many vulnerabilities in the system. These defects include:

  1. SQL injection
  2. Missing authorization
  3. Missing data encryption
  4. Stack overflows
  5. Untrusted inputs
  6. OS command injection
  7. Missing authentication

Usually, pentesters can test only a few of them according to the given limits by the company. They cannot go beyond these limits but if there are no limits they can use any technique to break into their system. They can perform social engineering tasks or use a wifi sniffer.

Most of the time pentesters work within a certain limit. Like they can only try to gain access to the admin portal or break into the data center. On normal tasks, they can only use regular website penetration tools. They are not allowed to use their social engineering skills. But if the limits are lifted, they can do whatever it takes to break in the system.

Importance of a Penetration Tester

Penetration testing will increase the effectiveness of a company’s security system. It will make the system stronger when it is tested according to the real world scenario.

Automated testing can identify few threats, but it cannot prepare the system for upcoming future threats. So, it is good to apply penetration testing to prepare the system for all the possible attacks.

A pentester is like a doctor. The way a doctor can detect even a smallest or dangerous hidden disease by running proper tests, similarly a pentester runs tests on security and looks for vulnerabilities.

Companies always look for experienced pentesters. They want someone who can identify shortcomings of their systems as the average cost of a breach is near or above 3.86 million dollars. That’s why every company has become more cautious about risks. It is better to pay a thousand dollars to a pentester instead of losing data worth a million.

Pentesters can also help IT managers to convince their bosses or higher managers to approve the security budget as paying for security is still considered a supplementary feature.

Let’s suppose a developer has found a threat on the company’s website and reports to his manager. The manager is aware that the company is moving on a tight budget so it will not be easy to get any budget for security. That’s where the need of a pentester arises. As a pentester, you will locate the bug and give a report to the manager who has proof that the company’s data is at threat. He can now easily get the required budget to secure the company.

Here are a few reasons why a company decides to hire pentesters:

  • A pentester can highlight the effect of an attack.
  • You can find defects of a security system.
  • Locates unknown shortcomings.
  • You can also train a security team to detect threats.
  • You can help to protect sensitive data.
  • If the flaws are known before the actual attack, the company can fix them.

Different Types of Penetration Testing

Pen testing has three main types, including

  • Black box penetration testing
  • White box penetration testing
  • Grey box penetration testing

Let’s explore all of them

Black Box Penetration Testing

This testing is similar to an unknown activity because in this scenario the tester is given little to no information about the organization. The tester tries to get into the organization without knowing any internal information about the company.

In this case, the tester only knows the name of the organization and its IP address. Initially you will search for the basic elements, before preparing the attack. In black box testing, there are multiple ways to attack. You can use multiple methods to break into the system as it will prepare the company for real malicious attacks.

A company may not inform its cybersecurity team about the test as they are using black box testing to see the ability of their team to detect and prevent coming attacks.

White Box Penetration Testing

White box penetration testing is more like a security analysis. In this testing, the testers do not sneak into a system as you have all the required information. When you have necessary information, it is not difficult to get into a system.

However, the working of white pentesters is limited. You can try to get administrative access, architecture documents or internal data.

This pentesting is used to detect the defects or vulnerabilities of a system, which are not found during normal tests.

Grey Box Penetration Testing

In this testing, the information given to the tester is limited. For instance, you may be given login credentials. This type of testing is usually conducted when a company wants to know the possible damage caused by a potential hacker. These tests are a simulation of internal breaches or threats.

As in the real world, a person may leak or provide internal information to hackers. Grey box testing is ideal for dealing with such situations. It is good to be prepared for each and every worst possible situation.

How to Become a Penetration Tester?

Penetration tester might seem an interesting job to you but unfortunately, it’s not an entry level job. You will become a penetration tester after gaining experience in another technical field.. Like network engineer, SOC analyst, or software engineer.

After getting years of experience you will know how to detect bugs in a system. So, the first step to become a penetration tester is to get an entry level technical job.

You can follow the given guidelines to get your first penetration testing job

Get a Job in Tech Field

It is not easy to get a penetration testing job without previous experience. If you are interested in this role, start by applying to entry level jobs. Once you have relevant experience, it will be easier for you to detect the vulnerabilities.

Working in an entry level job will help you learn the working of networks, databases, and scripting. This fundamental knowledge is useful in detecting bugs and vulnerabilities.

Remember, if you want to progress as a penetration tester you cannot ignore the basics.

Learn the Tools of Kali Linux

Kali Linux is one of the best tools for penetration testing. It is developed by and for pentesters. It comes with more than 600 penetration tools, which are the latest and most effective. You can use all of these enumerations and tools to start learning these four tools:

  • SQLmap: One of the most common techniques of hacking is SQL injection. Hackers can get username and passwords, they may even destroy databases. You can use SQLmap to detect and remove SQL inject flaws.
  • Burp suite: Using web applications we can continuously send and receive requests. These requests can also contain sensitive information like account details. You can use Burp suite to find and issue them.
  • Nmap: Nmap is widely used by white hat hackers. It is used to scan the network to find open ports. A penetration tester can use open ports for many tasks.
  • Hydra: Hydra is the fastest logging cracker as it supports many protocols. It will give you the list of usernames passwords against the login page. It can either GUI, CLI, or HTTP.

However, you shouldn’t limit yourself to the basics of these tools. Learn each and every concept and use them.

Gain Experience as a Pen Tester

After gaining a couple of years experience in technical fields, and learning Kali Linux you are ready for the next step. It’s time to gain experience as a pen tester. However, hacking directly is illegal. You need to find a perfect environment to practice your new skills. You can go with the following to get the experience:

Penetration Testing Bootcamps

It is better to practice under the eye of an expert. As, it is the best way to know your strengths and weaknesses. You can join different bootcamps to start working. One of the best bootcamps is offered by QuickStart.

Laboratories

There are many labs working in the training field of pentesters. You will find tasks similar to real world problems. These tasks range from beginner to advanced level. You can join labs like Hack the Box to test your skills.

Test your Skills

Once you have practiced your skills, implement them. Use different tools of Kali Linux on your own network, be it your work or home. But, don’t test on anything that isn’t owned by you.

Get a Pentesting Certificate

Certificates are the best way to prove your skills. If you have relevant certificates, you get a competitive advantage over others.

CompTIA Network+

This certificate can prove to be your entry point in the world of cybersecurity. It is necessary for a penetration tester to have good knowledge of networks. This certificate will help you know all about networks and how to find vulnerabilities in the network. So, you should go for this certification, if you want strong networking skills.

Certified Ethical Hacker Practical

The CEH practical certificate is designed to test your skills in a virtual environment. The time period is shorter than OSCP, but still it has its worth in the field.

CompTIA Security+

This is an entry level certification that will help you get your first penetration testing job. But, as mentioned earlier you are not going to get this position easily. Your first step is to get an entry level technical job.

Following certificates are good to start with, you can also choose any one of them:

  1. Certified Mobile and Web Application Penetration Tester
  2. Certified Red Team Operations Professional
  3. CompTIA PenTest+
  4. Offensive Security Certified Professional
  5. IACRB Certified Penetration Tester

Penetration Testing Job Requirements

In the field of cybersecurity, your skills are the key to your first job. But some of the employers are looking for candidates with bachelor’s degrees in relevant fields. It can be either in IT, CS, or security. A certificate in this field will also put a positive impact on your employer.

After formal education, the employers are looking for following skills in an ideal candidate:

  • Good computing skills
  • Advanced networking skills
  • Information security
  • Problem solving skills
  • Data analytics

Furthermore, you should also have a good grip on softwares or languages. Some of the great in demand softwares includes.

  • Programming languages like C, SQL or Ruby
  • Security assessment tools namely SQLmap or Burp Suite
  • Security frameworks say NIST or SOX
  • Operating Systems, all of them Windows, Linux, Unix and Mac

How to Find Penetration Testing Jobs?

Build your security skills, you should have a proper knowledge about security and networks. The next step is to create a strong social media profile on Linkedin or Twitter. Start applying for different jobs of penetration testing. 

As mentioned earlier, a pentester may not get a permanent job. You can even work remotely, try to find penetration testing freelancing jobs.

Furthermore, you can sign long-term penetration testing contracts with different companies. It will help you gain good passive income. The average salary of a penetration tester in the US is around $84,000.

Important Interview Questions for Penetration Testing

If you are going to give an interview for the position of pentesting, do your best and prepare for it. Based on our research, we have outlined some specific questions that will help you during the interview.

What is the benefit of penetration testing?

No, matter how good a company’s security system is, there will be some vulnerabilities. But they are not easy to detect. Pentesting will help the company to prepare for the coming attacks by detecting the loopholes and defects of the system.

It becomes easier to face future attacks if the defects are detected earlier.

What do you know about vulnerability?

A software which is not completely secure is labelled as vulnerable and vulnerability is the state of software which is at risk. This software should go under penetration testing to detect and remove defects.

What is your experience as a penetration tester?

Here you should discuss your previous tasks as a pen tester. Give your employer each and every detail of the type of software you have used, penetration techniques, complexity of the task, how much time you took to solve it, and much more.

What is intrusion detection?

The process of finding external threats on a software is called intrusion detection. If any illegal activity is detected, it must be reported and necessary action should be taken.

What are the causes of vulnerabilities?

A software becomes vulnerable due to many reasons, even wrong programming will make it vulnerable. Lack of proper encryption, adequate intrusion detection, and appropriate surveillance systems can make the software vulnerable.

We can use these techniques of pentesting to detect these vulnerabilities and make the system secure.

You may also face the following questions in your interview:

  • Describe information security.
  • What is the difference between symmetric and asymmetric encryption?
  • What is the state of data protection before and after penetration testing?
  • What do you know about SSL/TLS?
  • What are the best tools for penetration testing?
  • How much time will take to complete a penetration test?
  • What’s the difference between penetration test and security test?

Conclusion

Cybersecurity is a huge field having many career opportunities in this field. There are some entry level jobs, but most of them are for experienced people. Penetration testing is considered a non-entry level job. You must have at least a couple of years of experience in the technical field.

This job will build your fundamentals about networks, programming languages, and operating systems (Windows, Linux and Mac). Also, learn some specific penetration testing tools like SQLmap from Kali Linux.

Remember if you want to be  successful in this field, do not stop practicing.

FAQs

How much time does a pentester take?

The time required for a particular penetration test depends on its type. Normally the time for a single penetration test can be between 1 week and 3 weeks.

What is the disadvantage of penetration tests?

Penetration tests will secure your network by locating defects. The biggest disadvantage is that companies can lose sensitive data which encourage hackers to get into their system. They should authenticate the white hat hackers before hiring.

Is it difficult to learn penetration testing?

If you are trying to learn penetration testing directly, it will be difficult for you. The best way is to start with an entry level cybersecurity job and learn about networks. Keep learning penetration testing tools and upgrade your skills.     

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