Penetration Tester


What is penetration testing?

Penetration testing is the authorised attempted hacking of a business in order to detect vulnerabilities in the system and put in place new protections to secure them. Also known as ethical hacking, penetration testing uses known hacking strategies on the cyber defences of a business to ensure that they are able to fend off attacks.

Some companies will recruit pen testers under the labels of ‘red team’ and ‘blue team’, where the red team attempts to break into the network while blue team members work in real time to block them.

What is the role of a penetration tester?

Penetration testers conduct tests by using the methods of criminal hackers against their company’s system and identifying weaknesses. The role also involves producing reports of the attempted hack and delivering them to key stakeholders in order to create comprehensive defence strategies.

Pen testers will also be required to find solutions to the weaknesses they identify and recommend them to the development team to be implemented.

What is the average penetration testing salary? identifies the average UK salary for a penetration tester as £38,000 and the average starting salary as £26,000.

What kind of responsibilities do penetration testers have?

Penetration testers diagnose issues, make the business aware of them and suggest solutions. Some common responsibilities of pen testers include:

  • Organised hacking

Either independently or as part of a team, you will need to arrange and perform regular network penetration testing to identify weaknesses such as insecure connections, network issues, human errors and inadequate security practices.

  • Delivering reports

Once you have undertaken the test and gathered your findings, you will need to report these findings to senior members of staff such as your security officer, other team managers and their departments.

  • Suggesting improvements

Based on the weaknesses you identify, you will need to suggest improvements to the network, hardware and software being used. You may also need to discuss with other team members or members of staff on how to improve security standards by implementing new strategies or raising awareness.

  • Tracking trends

The methods of criminal hackers are constantly changing as they attempt to overcome the latest security systems. Part of your role will be to monitor these developments and then put new penetration testing methodologies into practice to see how your own company’s security measures stand up against the latest threats.

  • Social engineering

Another element of penetration testing methodology is social engineering. This involved attempting to gain entry to the system through employee manipulation, most commonly in the form of phishing. Phishing is one of the most significant threats to businesses and in your role, you may be required to stage phishing scams to encourage healthy cyber security practices in your colleagues.

You may also be expected to undertake physical security assessments of the business according to the company requirements.

What is physical penetration testing?

Physical penetration testing is the staged attempt to physically access the business without authorisation. Attempting to enter the building without a pass and tailgating through secure gates are examples of ways pen testers evaluate existing physical security protocols for weaknesses to avoid their exploitation by bad actors in the future.

This shows how the role is not purely about network penetration testing but can also be an all-encompassing security role.

What qualifications do you need to be a penetration tester?

Penetration testers typically have a degree in computer science, mathematics or computer engineering but, given the nature of the role, successful penetration testers may only need practical experience of hacking methodologies in order to secure a job. Knowledge of coding is also a must in this role, as well as social engineering capabilities.

Official certifications include the Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH), available through the EC-Council, which is a week-long course followed by a six-hour exam and is generally the baseline expected by businesses recruiting a penetration tester.

Other desirable qualifications include the CREST certification, GIAC Certified Incident Handler (GCIH) and the SAVSA Chartered Practitioner.

What are the requirements to become a Certified Ethical Hacker?

The CEH qualification expects applicants to have a knowledge of TCP/IP, Windows and Linux and have a working knowledge of visualisation platforms. Candidates must attend the official training before attempting the exam unless they have two years demonstrable experience in the Information Security domain.

Why do companies need penetration testing?

Investing in penetration testing is becoming increasingly common for modern businesses as the threat of cybercrime grows each year. Businesses are responsible for the protection of their data and the data of their customers so ensuring they have robust data protection frameworks in place is vital to the continued operation of their business.

Regular penetration testing ensures that the security practices of a business are continually protected against new threats and that all measures in place are effective and being followed by staff. Ethical hacking will only become more prevalent as businesses work to keep their data safe in order to retain their customers’ trust.


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