In this installation of our penetration testing series, we’re going to be talking specifically about what a pen tester is and what they do, among other things. 

To put it simply, a penetration tester is someone who is hired to perform security testing on a network in order to identify and potentially exploit any vulnerabilities that may be present. 

In this article we will cover exactly what they do and how you yourself could even become one if that is what you’re interested in doing.

What Is Penetration Testing?

Penetration testing is a form of hacking in an ethical way that is sometimes referred to as pen testing among people within the industry. It is the process of attacking a network or system with the goal of discovering any potential vulnerabilities that may be exploitable by a real-world hacker so they can be rectified before that happens.

There are a plethora of different types of penetration testing that can be performed, some of which are covered in our different types of penetration articles written previously. For a brief summary, these are a few of the types that can be performed:

  • An external penetration test 
  • An internal penetration test
  • Application-based penetration testing
  • Network-based penetration testing
  • Social engineering
  • Physical penetration test

An organisation can utilise one or more of these services depending on their individual requirements. For example, a business who has in-house servers as well as staff but doesn’t have any applications may only require the majority of the services and not the application based penetration testing. 

The above types of penetration testing are usually outlined in a scope and given a time period as to how long penetration testing can be performed. 

What Is Penetration Testing Used For?

Penetration testing is used to identify flaws within a given network or system, it is a safe and controlled cyber-attack which exploits, documents and rectifies any vulnerabilities that are discovered.

Pen testing tries to infiltrate any number of application systems in an attempt to detect vulnerabilities such as unsanitized inputs that are subject to code-injector attacks, e.g. Application Protocol (APIs), frontend/backend servers.

Reporting of the finding are then given to the organisation so that they can alter their settings and patch the detected vulnerabilities (if not already done)

What Does A Penetration Tester Do?

What does a penetration tester do? Well, penetration testers will perform tests on systems within a network in a controlled and authorised environment, with the sole purpose of exposing any weaknesses that may be found in their security which could potentially lead to exploitation by cyber criminals. 

Some of the specialities required by a penetration tester are as follows:

  • networks and infrastructures
  • Windows, Linux and Mac operating systems
  • embedded computer systems
  • web/mobile applications

It’s possible that the penetration tester will work as part of an in-house team for a much larger cyber security company, however there are instances where penetration testers work on a freelance basis which could be much more cost-effective for a business. 

There are also instances where a pen tester will work for a security consultancy firm or organisation that specialises in risk management, where they will work with clients testing their vulnerabilities.

What Are The Types Of Penetration Testing?

There are multiple different types of penetration testing and methods of performing them. Organisations are able to use these different types to audie the security of their entire IT infrastructure. 

The approaches to pen testing listed below are able to be performed against an array of different areas. The type of test that will be performed will be outlined before the testing begins.

Network testing

Internet networks are important and almost a necessity for businesses to operate, so it’s imperative that companies perform these types of tests to ensure everything is safe and secure, even more so if the network hosts sensitive information. The pen tester will look deeper into the network to try and find weaknesses, such as the following:

  • Config of firewalls
  • Bypassing firewalls
  • Servers
  • Switches
  • Routers
  • Printers
  • Computers on the network

Additionally, the network pen test needs to examine the data that travels from an origin point to the designated destination. These data units, call packages, can include:

There are other tests that can be performed, however we believe network testing is one of the more important aspects of the whole pen testing process.

How To Learn Penetration Testing At Home?

One of the most effective ways you can learn penetration testing from the comfort of your own home is to read, research and practice. 

There are some penetration testing courses out there which can give you a more in-depth guide for learning, however they are not necessary if you do your own research and put that research into practice.

Tools are also going to become your best friend, with many of the available resources being free to download and use.

However, learning to perform a penetration test isn’t going to be an easy task and is going to require you to have a lot of patience as well as put in a lot of hard work and practice, but this can be achieved with determination.

We cover more about learning pentesting for beginners on another article for those who want to go more in-depth.

How Long Does It Take To Learn Penetration Testing?

Learning penetration testing, in a nutshell, takes roughly 9-12 months. This also bodes down to the individual and some people learn at different paces, meaning some could learn sooner, some much longer. The key is to never give up.

Why Is Pen Testing Important?

It’s a well known fact that penetration testing for testing systems and networks are in demand within education and even research is increasing exponentially. Testing systems against real-world attacks is a necessity.

Not only to convince the organisation that the risks of a cyber threat are reduced massively allowing the higher ups to have more peace of mind, but also for standard compliance with third parties. An example of this is when you connect to a network that’s based within the public services sector, it’s important to ensure GDPR compliance among other compliances based on what the organisation offers.

For this reason, more and more security companies are now performing their services to test and identify all of this, along with other factors such as risk assessments and performing action to correct it all cost-effectively.

The last thing an organisation wants is to wake up one day, go to work and suddenly find out their data has been breached, as this could be costing a company thousands, or even millions per minute depending on the size of the organisation and the damage caused.

What Are The Goals Of A Penetration Test?

One of the main goals of a penetration test are to identify and eliminate any potential security risks. Discovering a weakness within a network or piece of software can potentially save a company a lot more money than it would to have the test in the first place. 

Once the vulnerabilities are identified, they can be removed and the weakness can be controlled more to eliminate or at least minimize the risk of a cyber criminal taking advantage of it.

Connie Cole
Connie Cole

Connie has been working within the cyber security industry for almost 10 years now, specialising in penetration testing or more specifically web application pen testing. She believes that everyone online should have access to this information and strives to provide people with the knowledge they need to begin within the industry and for others to stay safe online.

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