How To Become a Penetration Tester

Penetration tester working on the network

Cybersecurity is an enormous field, with many possible jobs to pursue. No matter what your skillset or personality type is, there are various positions that you can find a career in. Every job is important in building a more secure network that can avoid being broken into by malicious actors. Can hackers help in preventing others from illegally getting into your network though?

What Does a Penetration Tester Do?

Penetration testing is defined as hacking into a system to figure out where the weak spots are in the system. This act can be done for ethical reasons though since some companies hire professionals to do vulnerability testing. Once the flaws are discovered coders and others can start to repair the issues in the system. Over the years more security companies have been created to help curb growing concerns with online security.

White Hat, Grey Hat and Black Hat

"White hat" is a slang term meaning people who hack a system to find all the problems that need fixing. These individuals can be highly valued since they test networks before hackers can attempt to break into them. Businesses can save on cost as well as their public image when taking the time to improve their network security.

"Black hats" are the opposite since they are trying to be malicious with their hacking. These actors are the ones you usually hear about on the news after a major cybercrime is carried out. Due to the harmful nature of their actions, they can affect the lives of thousands if security errors are not fixed.

"Grey hats" are the people in between the two categories. Their actions can potentially be good, but their actions tend to be viewed as morally questionable. It is important to be ethical and follow laws to avoid being viewed as a black hat or grey hat.

Education Needed

four-year degree in cybersecurity or programming could be quite beneficial for your career. A Bachelor's degree in Information Technology with an Emphasis in Cybersecurity will teach you the basics of the internet and cybersecurity. These basics are needed in many IT related jobs including penetration testing. If you don’t know foundational information, you will have trouble finding issues to warn your client about. 

You also want to know the various laws around cybercrime too. Since you will be handling somebody else’s network, make sure you know the rules and get the necessary documentation before doing anything. It is usually best to find work for a cybersecurity company that specializes in vulnerability assessments.

Skills Needed

To be an effective hacker you will need to know a wide range of programs. Programming languages can be useful when trying to get into websites or applications. Since most programs are written in Python, JavaScript, C++ or another program, you need to be able to understand the coding language. 

Another useful tool to know is Linux, an operating system like Windows and Mac OS. Since Linux is open source, you can get access for free and start learning how to do complex tasks. Many companies use this operating system on the back end to handle various aspects of the business-like security.

Besides tools, you will need to know how a hacker thinks. Troubleshooting skills are beneficial because you can work through steps to get to your intended goal. Whether you’re a security analyst or a penetration tester, having a logical process to fixing problems can affect your work and daily life for the better.

Certifications and Their Significance

Industry certifications are standards of knowledge in the given field. Many employers tend to require certifications for different positions to make sure candidates are the right fit for the job. Therefore, it is worth your time to do research on which ones would benefit you. Your resume will look nicer having a list of all your knowledge and accomplishments. While certifications are not included with your degree, they are still worth pursuing.

CompTIA’s PenTest+ certification can give you a good start in your penetration testing career. It includes a multiple choice section and a performance-based test to fully measure your skills. They recommend you have three to four years of experience in security or another certification like Security+ but there aren’t any prerequistes.1

The Certified Ethical Hacker certification is another important certification to consider. Test takers will be measured on ethics of hacking, security complex and learn to fully test and secure a company’s system. To take the test, you must have two years of IT security experience and attend official training sessions or be approved by an application process.2

A Certified Red Team Operations Professional (CRTOP) is valuable if you want to join a large team. A red team is a group of vulnerability testers that go deeper into security then any one person could. According to InfoSec, the test is fifty questions long and can take two hours to complete.3 If you believe you work better in a team, then consider looking into this certification.

A Certified Mobile and Web App Penetration Tester (CMWAPT) certification is good for showing you can perform vulnerability testing on different platforms. Covering Android, Apple iOS and web applications, the CMWAPT is a great way to expand your penetration testing skills past regular networks.4

Grand Canyon University offers several technology degree programs within the College of Science, Engineering and Technology, providing you ample opportunities to find success and prosper in your field of study. Click on Request Info at the top of this screen to learn more.


Retrieved from:

1 CompTIA, CompTIA PenTest+ in August 2021

2 InfoSec, Top 10 Penetration Testing Certifications for Security Professionals [Updated 2020] in August 2021 

3 InfoSec, Red Team Operations Training Boot Camp in August 2021 

4 InfoSec, Certified Mobile and Web App Penetration Tester (CMWAPT) in August 2021

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.

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