How to Become a Penetration Tester: Becoming a Pen Tester

career guide

Becoming a Pen Tester – Penetration testers are what are referred to as “ethical hackers,” or “good guys.” Penetration testers, also known as assurance validators, are employed by network infrastructure owners and web-based application providers to look for bugs that malicious hackers may use to collect sensitive data and intelligence.

Ethical hackers use their abilities and experience to conduct vulnerability tests (among other tasks) and are paid to perform the equivalent of digital break-ins.

They use a variety of tools and techniques, some of which they developed themselves, to simulate real cyberattacks, leaving no stone unturned in their quest to find flaws in security protocols for networks, systems, and web-based applications.

The aim of a penetration test, also known as a pen test, is to find all possible ways to break into a computer system and find security flaws BEFORE real hackers can get in. As a result, pen testers often work on highly confidential and time-sensitive projects, so trustworthiness and the ability to remain calm under pressure are essential qualities.

Penetration testers should have the imagination to think on their feet and be coordinated enough to monitor, log, and report on projects.

Six steps to Becoming a Pen Tester

    • Self-evaluation: Penetration testing is not enough for everyone. It necessitates exceptional problem-solving abilities, tenacious resolve, meticulous attention to detail, and a willingness to stay current on industry trends. To be effective, ethical hackers must have a high degree of each of these qualities. So, before determining if pen testing is the right profession for you, be frank with yourself.
    • Many employers used to be notorious for hiring real-world hackers and converting them from the “evil side” to work for the good guys. Graduate degrees, on the other hand, have become almost mandatory for penetration testers in recent years. Undergraduate degrees in cybersecurity’s various disciplines all provide viable entry points into the sector.
      A prospective pen tester may break into the cybersecurity industry in a variety of ways. Beginning in security management, network administration, network engineer, system administrator, or web-based application programming, with an emphasis on the security side of each discipline, would provide a strong foundation for pen research.
    • Technical certifications: On the resumes of assurance validators, employers like to see a variety of professional certifications, particularly for more senior positions. Penetration testing certifications are now commonly recognised by a number of organisations.
    • Practicing the trade: In every profession, being an expert in a specific area is a smart idea, but penetration testers have a variety of options for standing out. Pen testers would be known by peers if they are successful and recognised in cybersecurity disciplines such as bug bounty schemes, gathering open-source intelligence (OSINT), and designing proprietary attack programmes.
    • Keep up to date: As with most cybersecurity careers, staying up to date on what’s going on in the industry is important. Keeping skills and information current with all of the new programming and network security developments, ever-changing hacking methods and security protocols, widely exploited bugs, and everything else going on in the cybersecurity industry.

What does it mean to be a penetration tester?

The private investigators of the information security world are penetration testers/ethical hackers. The aim, as with many PI operations, is to discover threats before any possible invasive operators can put their plans into action.

One of the fundamental truths of human existence in general, and digital information systems in particular, is that unscrupulous actors will always try to exploit vulnerabilities. Pen testers look for potential vulnerabilities in wired and wireless network systems, as well as web-based applications, to investigate, uncover, and help fix.

A relentless arms race exists between ethical hackers’ proactive actions and the efforts of real-life hackers. Each side makes a concerted effort to advance their expertise, skills, and strategies beyond the other’s capabilities.

Pen testers use an aggressive defensive technique. The aim is to provide the best possible information security by targeting computer systems offensively in the same way that a real-life hacker would, thereby beating the hacker to the punch and assisting in the closure of the vulnerability. As a consequence, information security will be compromised, and networks will be targeted.

Penetration tester skills and experience

Employer expectations for new hires in the penetration testing industry, as in all cybersecurity disciplines, will differ significantly based on the specific roles of each role and the position’s level. Under the penetration testing umbrella, associate or junior pen testers, mid-level pen testers, and senior or lead pen testers clearly reflect sequentially progressing skill levels and responsibilities.

Some jobs also only require a demonstration of applicable skills and a sufficient degree of cybersecurity expertise and experience. Employers are increasingly looking for applicants who have a bachelor’s degree in information security or a similar computer science degree. A master’s degree is required for some more advanced positions.

Software development and coding, security monitoring, vulnerability evaluation, network engineer or administrator, and security administrator are all examples of job experience that may lead to a career in penetration testing.

Skill requirements likely to be encountered with employers include:

Basic machine languages awareness, such as:

    • Python
    • Powershell
    • Golang
    • Bash

Experience with network operating systems (Windows, Linux, and MacOS), networking protocols, firewalls, intrusion prevention and detection systems (IPS/IDS), virtual worlds, data protection, and mobile penetration testing of iOS and Android systems.

Knowledge of common pen test and application security tools, such as:

    • Kali
    • Metasploit
    • Burpsuite
    • Wireshark
    • Web Inspect
    • Network Mapper (NMAP)
    • Nessus, and others

Technical certifications from the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers), OSCP (Offensive Security Certified Professional), SANS Technology Institute, GIAC (Global Information Assurance Certification), and EC-Council are among the most common among employers.

Employers are looking for people with outstanding communication skills, who are self-driven, inventive, and resourceful, who have contributed to open source projects and bug bounty initiatives, and who are familiar with the OWASP Top 10 vulnerabilities.

What do penetration testers do?

Pen testers work on networks, devices, and web-based software to conduct threat modelling, security assessments, and ethical hacking. Assurance validation, in particular, entails any or more of the following tasks:

    • To find information disclosures, gather and review Open Source Intelligence (OSINT).
      Provide subject matter experience in offensive protection research activities, working to test an organization’s defensive mechanisms.
    • Conduct evaluations on a broad range of systems and applications using both automated and manual methods.
    • To improve research procedures, create scripts, tools, and methodologies.
    • Assist with the scoping of potential engagements, as well as leading engagements from the beginning to the end.
    • Exercises in social engineering and physical penetration testing should be carried out.
    • Examine both wired and wireless networks for security flaws.
    • Examine evaluation results to classify observations and create a comprehensive analytic view of the system in relation to its surroundings.
    • Determine the source of both technical and non-technical issues.
    • Publish an Assessment Report that details the conclusions and suggests possible solutions.
      Keep track of results that appear in various tests and communicate them.
    • Communicate the approaches used, conclusions, and analytic after the tests are completed.
    • Provide technical assistance to ISOs in resolving evaluation issues.
    • To aid in systematic incident handling and forensic analysis of compromised networks, provide technical assistance in network manipulation and evasion techniques.

Job Description for a Penetration Tester

The scope of penetration/ethical hacking jobs varies greatly depending on the employer and seniority level. Looking at the specified roles for senior-level positions will help ethical hackers figure out what they want to do in the future. This real-life work description will give you some inspiration.

    • To define security threats and vulnerabilities, lead business and system-focused network and device penetration assessments.
    • Test a broad range of technologies, such as web apps, security controls, network infrastructure, cellular, and mobile deployments.
    • Beyond the use of automated method validation, perform hands-on technical research.
    • Plan, carry out, report on, and lead technical debriefings on research activities and results.
    • Conduct covert Red Team Cyber operations to imitate enemy techniques and collaborate with a Purple Team to monitor vulnerabilities for detections.
    • Stakeholders, including professional personnel and executive leadership, should be informed of the results and remediation strategies.
    • Certification in OSCP, GPEN, or GXPN is preferred.

In organisations dealing with state secrets, such as military vendors and national security organisations, information security becomes exponentially more important. A major US military equipment manufacturer posted this real-life job description for a senior-level pen test role.

    • Performs penetration checks and vulnerability assessments on web and other applications, as well as network and operating system infrastructures.
    • Executive overview and conclusions are presented to stakeholders, including Sr. the ability to lead
    • Understand how to write your own exploit code, how to get around antivirus software, and how to imitate adversarial risks.
    • Determines the current state of a customer’s device protection by finding all vulnerabilities and security controls.
    • Customers may use this tool to conduct security vulnerability analysis and mitigation.
    • Researches and retains proficiency in computer network vulnerabilities, data hiding, and network protection and encryption tools, strategies, countermeasures, and patterns.
    • Support incident management teams by improving their capabilities and reporting on them.
    • Mentor junior and mid-level employees by developing and teaching the most up-to-date ethical hacking and vulnerability analysis techniques.

Outlook for penetration testers

For the near future, information security practitioners will be in strong and increasingly rising demand. In reality, there is a severe shortage of information security professionals across all disciplines, which is expected to continue for the near future. These systems become more directly focused and vulnerable as networks, software, and information needs become more complex and essential to business and state operations. Pen testers are at the cutting edge of technological competence, playing the part of would-be attackers the most closely. Top pen testers are now highly valued by information security professionals, and there are no signs that this view will change in the near future.

How much do penetration testers make?

Penetration testers earn between $55,000 and $133,000 a year, according to, with an average annual salary of $82,500. Bonuses, commissions, and profit-sharing total around $17,000 a year on average.

Mark Funk
Mark Funk is an experienced information security specialist who works with enterprises to mature and improve their enterprise security programs. Previously, he worked as a security news reporter.