Organizations large and small have to face the complex and challenging task of protecting information systems and data against cyber attacks. It’s easy to see the potential damage these attacks can cause. Hackers gained access to the systems of 18,000 customers of the software company SolarWinds, including the U.S. Department of the Treasury and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. It was the most severe cyber attack on the U.S. government ever recorded and could change future approaches to stopping cyberattacks.
Penetration testing is one of the best defenses against cyberattacks. Penetration Testers or Ethical Hackers must keep up with the rapidly changing cyber landscape. They must be lifelong learners as new attacks and methods are constantly evolving. Anyone interested in a career as a cyber security professional should be aware of the salaries and work conditions of penetration testers.
The topics covered in this article are
Job Outlook and Salaries for Penetration Testers.
Certified penetration testers can work in virtually any industry and any size company. They can also take on freelance jobs through any number of online marketplaces. Multinational corporations are just as important as smaller franchises, health care organizations, government agencies, and sole proprietorships for penetration testing. Even government organizations hire ethical hackers to test their IT infrastructure.
PayScale reported that the median annual salary for penetration testers is $86,000 as of Jan 2022. The compensation can be affected by various factors, such as education, experience, job type, and location. Penetration testers with 10-20 years of experience can make more than $120,000 annually.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a promising job outlook for information security analysts in general. BLS projects that information security analysts will see 31% job growth between 2020-2030, which is significantly higher when compared to the average growth rate for all occupations. This optimistic projection is based on an ever-increasing amount of cyberattacks that can impact institutions such as banks, health care providers, and other institutions that store sensitive customer or patient data.
What do Penetration Testers do?
What exactly is penetration testing? And what do penetration testers do? Penetration testing is a significant tool in cyber security and is generally considered a vital, necessary part of an IT department. Board members and the upper management must be aware of the possibility of hackers gaining access to sensitive information. Hackers can access sensitive information such as Social Security numbers and credit card information.
You can implement security measures to prevent attempts to gain access, and software or hardware firewalls could be used to provide additional protection between sensitive databases (and the public). But organizations won’t be able to see their networks through real hackers’ eyes unless they can verify how secure their systems are.
While there are many techniques and tests that a penetration tester uses to defend against cyberattacks, they all focus on two main categories of possible cyberattacks.
- “inside” an organization. Penetration testing is a task that involves assessing the security of internal networks and inspecting code.
- “outside” an organization. Penetration testing is a task that aims to counter external threats. It involves tasks like assessing the security of external networks, social engineering engagements (for instance, penetration testers try to find ways for individuals to give up their private information), and red-team simulations (for testing that simulates attacks on multiple systems simultaneously).
According to the FBI, the following are the most prevalent cybercrimes:
- The FBI lists a compromise of email business as one of the cyber crimes that could cause financial damage.
- Ransomware attacks are when criminals block information systems and demand ransom from victims.
- Using Phishing or Spoofing, criminals can obtain sensitive information from individuals.
How to become a Penetration Tester?
A person can become a penetration tester via a variety of channels. These are the traditional steps.
1) Earn a degree
Information security professionals typically require a bachelor’s degree in a subject like computer science or another related field. A master’s degree might also be required depending on the employer. A master’s degree can be helpful in enhancing one’s skills and allowing them to move up the ladder.
2) Get Work Experience
It is essential to have previous IT-related experience. Experience in programming, database security, and network administration are all important.
3) Learn key technical skills and knowledge
Effective penetration testers require knowledge and skills in the following:
- Security vulnerabilities
- Operating systems
- Networking and protocols such as TCP/IP or Domain Name System (DNS), are important.
- Physical security
- Server equipment
- Enterprise storage systems
4) Develop soft skills and abilities
The best way to increase the effectiveness of penetration testers is by demonstrating:
- Strong oral communication skills
- Skill in simplifying complex concepts
- Leadership skills
Important Certifications to become a Penetration Tester
Penetration testers’ career advancement and salaries can be affected by certifications. There are many sources that offer certifications for penetration testers. Below are some widely recognized certifications. You can read about each of them in detail here.
- EC-Council Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH), a broad-ranging certification that covers different types of attack technology and security domains as well as hacking tools
- EC-Council Licensed Penetration Master (LPT) Master is for experts, which tests individuals’ ability to deal with real-life situations.
- IACRB Certified Penetration Tester, (CPT), focuses on specific penetration testing skills and knowledge in areas like web app vulnerabilities and network protocol attacks.
- IACRB Certified Expert Penetration Tester (CEPT), is for experts with high-level skills. It covers topics such as memory corruption and Windows shellcode.
- IACRB Certified Mobile App Penetration Tester (CMWAPT), focuses on mobile apps and mobile operating system.
- IACRB Certified Red Team Operations Professionals (CRTOP), focuses on large-scale and in-depth penetration testing
- CompTIA PenTest+ is a focus on the most recent test and assessment skills to help you with penetration testing
- GIAC Global Information Assurance Certification Penetration Tester (GPEN), focuses on best practices for penetration testing and legal issues related to penetration testing
- GIAC Exploit Researcher (GXPN), focuses on advanced penetration tests and the link between security flaws, business risks.
- Offensive Security Offensive Security Certified Professional, (OSCP), is a comprehensive, hands-on certification that was earned through real-world scenarios.
Strong cyber security is essential in today’s connected world. Everything, from smartphones to vehicles and watches to appliances and warehouse inventory equipment, is connected via a computer network. There is no better time to start for those who are keen on pursuing a career as a Penetration Tester.
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