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Become a penetration tester: Tools and career insights

22nd May 2024

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Exploring the Role of Penetration Testers: Skills, Tools, and Career Paths

Penetration testers help organizations find and fix security issues in digital stuff. This includes data and computer networks. Some work full-time for a company. They help with the company's security or IT teams. Others work for companies that test security for clients. Businesses that need to protect secret information usually hire these specialists. Having a degree in computer science, IT, or cybersecurity can help. But, what you know might be more important than the degree.

What does a penetration tester do?

Penetration testers check for weak spots in security. They test both inside and outside systems. They do this work on location or from afar. In the morning, they plan and set up tools for their work. They might use open-source methods to gather info. This info helps them think and act like hackers, finding ways to beat security.

Main tasks and responsibilities

In the afternoon, Penetration testers put their plans into action. They run tests they made in the morning. They might test how workers handle fake scams to see if the security works. This lets them see what changes might make things more secure.

Daily activities of a penetration tester

Penetration testers spend their days finding security holes. They check for problems in networks and systems. They look at the results and then create ways to show the issues. This work helps make things safer.

Skills and qualifications for penetration testers

To be a good penetration tester, you need special skills. These include soft skills as well as technical know-how.

Essential soft skills

Penetration testers must constantly learn new things. Hackers are constantly developing their strategies. That's why testers must always be up to date. They also often work in teams.

Junior members support their senior colleagues. Penetration testers must be able to express themselves clearly. Their results should also be understandable for non-experts. Good writing skills are also important. Creating reports for management is one of their tasks.

Important technical skills

Extensive knowledge of security vulnerabilities and possible attacks is essential. Simple, automated solutions are not enough here. Testers who can program or script have an advantage. This saves time during analysis.
Knowledge of operating systems is mandatory. Penetration testers must be able to “sneak” into systems. A good understanding of networks is also essential. They should be familiar with TCP/IP, UDP and other protocols. This enables them to understand how hackers operate.

Penetration testers: Salaries and career prospects

Penetration testers earn different amounts of money depending on their experience and the industry. In December 2022, they earned an average of USD 90,000 per year. The salary can vary between 70,000 and 125,000 USD. Salaries tend to be higher in large cities and leading technology centers.

Salary range and influencing factors

Experience and education play a big role in the salary of penetration testers. As they gain more experience and skills, their earnings increase.

Forecast for job growth

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there will be strong growth in the cybersecurity field. Security analysts, which includes penetration testers, are expected to gain 35% more jobs by 2031. That is more than the average. Around 19,500 new jobs are expected to be created each year.

How to become a penetration tester

Taking a course or training program helps to kickstart your journey. It lets you learn in a more organized way, improving your skills steadily. For beginners in cybersecurity, the IBM Cybersecurity Analyst Professional Certificate is a great start. It covers penetration testing and more, all online, fitting around your schedule.

Required education and certifications

Certifications show recruiters you're ready for the cybersecurity field. Look into titles like Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) and CompTIA PenTest+. These and other certifications can boost your job prospects.

Entry-level jobs and experience building

Having experience often opens many doors for penetration testers. Joining bug bounty programs is a smart move. It helps you gain experience and improve your resume. Starting in roles like network or systems administrator can help you build essential IT skills.

History and development of penetration testing

In the 1960s, computer systems began to communicate with each other. This aroused the interest of security experts. They realized that this communication was easily vulnerable. It was important to develop protective measures for data. This is why more than 15,000 experts met at the Joint Computer Conference in 1967. They talked about network security, which was later called penetration testing.

The RAND Corporation first helped to systematize penetration testing. Advanced computer protection systems such as Multics emerged. Multics was very important in the industry from the 1960s to the 2000s. In the meantime, penetration testing has evolved. Today, penetration testers use state-of-the-art tools to find and close security gaps. Testing computer systems is an important service, especially for the technology industry. According to estimates, the cybersecurity industry is very valuable worldwide. In 2021, it was worth 217.9 billion US dollars.

Different types of penetration tests

Penetration tests are important for good risk management. Web applications, networks, clouds, mobile devices and IoT are tested.
The aim is to find hidden security vulnerabilities. Testers take a close look at all areas.

Web applications

Testers check the security measures of web applications. They look for vulnerabilities and attack patterns. For mobile apps, they test automatically and manually. This is how they find security gaps in the system.

Networks and cloud

Penetration tests for networks reveal security problems. Clouds are different today than they used to be. With clouds, users and providers share the security. Containers, such as Docker, have their own risks due to security vulnerabilities.

Mobile devices and IoT

IOT devices, i.e. the Internet of Things, pose special challenges when it comes to testing. They are often in use for long periods and in remote locations. Nevertheless, security tests must be carried out accurately. This applies not only to the device, but also to the servers behind it.

Popular penetration testing tools

There is no one perfect tool for penetration testing. Different targets require different tools. Some are good for port scans, others for WLAN attacks.

Penetration testing tools fall into five main categories. These include reconnaissance tools, which detect network endpoints and open ports, and vulnerability scanners, which find vulnerabilities. There are also proxy tools and exploitation tools for penetrating systems. Post-exploitation tools then help with system interaction and target achievement.

Well-known penetration testing tools include Kali Linux, Nmap, and Wireshark. John the Ripper, Burp Suite, Nessus and OWASP ZAP Proxy are also popular.


In our fast-changing digital world, penetration testers are key to keeping companies safe from cyber attacks. They find weak spots and make sure our digital systems are strong. This helps keep our private info safe, makes customers trust us more, and follows the rules. This work is really important.

The numbers show that a big cyber attack can hurt a company's money and reputation a lot. In the Asia-Pacific region, big companies could lose millions. A data breach can make employees and customers worried. It can even lower a company's value. Doing lots of penetration testing helps companies avoid these problems. They prove they take security seriously.

More and more companies will need skilled penetration testers in the future. This is because the field of cybersecurity is going to get bigger. If you want to work in this exciting area, you need to learn a lot and get certified. You can also start by joining bug bounty programs or finding entry-level jobs. Keeping up with new technologies in cybersecurity will help you have a successful and important career.

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