Penetration Tester: What Is It, Job Description, Key Skills and Salary

Penetration Tester

What is Penetration Tester?

A penetration tester is a cybersecurity professional that conducts pre-authorized cyberattacks on a computer or network environment in order to evaluate the resilience of these systems under real-world threat conditions.

The task of pen testers and penetration testers is to simulate cyberattacks against a company’s network and endpoint systems. These pre-authorized tests are used to detect vulnerabilities and security flaws before malicious actors can exploit them.

Since the 1960s, computers were able to exchange data over communication networks. Security experts soon realized that data exchanges could be exposed to external threats. Because of the increasing importance of computers in government and industry, it was necessary to develop adequate protection.

More than 15,000 computer professionals, as well as representatives from both the public and private sectors, attended the 1967 Joint Computer Conference. They discussed the issue of network intrusion and how it is being addressed today through penetration testing. The RAND Corporation was one of the first to develop a system for penetration testing.

Multics, a sophisticated system of computer security, was introduced in 2000. It remained the industry standard until then. These test results were used by penetration testers to make suggestions and implement solutions that would increase the resilience of an organization’s IT infrastructure.

To play an active and attacking role in cybersecurity, a penetration tester will hack into a company’s digital systems. To find vulnerabilities that hackers could exploit, these tests might use a variety of hacking techniques and methods. You will keep detailed records and compile a report on your activities and how successful you were at breaking security standards. Businesses can use pen testing to make sure they comply with compliance standards.

Ethical hackers are often associated with penetration testers. They are IT specialists who use hacking techniques to help corporations identify potential entry points into their systems. Companies can use various tools and methods to simulate cyber attacks in order to evaluate the security of their current systems. This is called penetration.

Three settings are common for penetration testers:

  • In-house: This allows you to get familiar with the security procedures of your organization. You could also have a greater say in security updates and patches.
  • Security business: There are many tests that you can create and run while working in security.
  • Freelance: Some penetration testers choose to work as independent contractors. This route will allow you more flexibility in scheduling, but it may mean that you spend more time looking for clients early on in your career.

The goals of a pen testing team will determine the amount of information that testers have access to about the target system. Sometimes, the pen testing team sticks to a single strategy. Sometimes the process of pen testing changes as the team gets more familiar with it during pen tests. Access to pen test access is available on three levels:

  • Opaque Box: The target system’s internal organization is unknown to the team. Pentesters act like hackers, looking for possible ways to hack the system from outside.
  • Semi-opaque Box: The team has one or more sets of credentials. It is known as the target’s code, data structures, and algorithms. Test cases could be created by pen testers based on detailed design papers that include the architecture diagrams of the target system.
  • Transparent Box: Pen testers can access systems and artifacts, including source code, binaries, and containers. Sometimes, even the servers host those servers. This method provides the greatest degree of certainty in the shortest amount of time.

Also read: Penetration Testing: What it is Stages and Methods

Pen-Testing Technology

There are many pen-testing methods that can be used to provide information to attackers in order for them to execute their attack.

  • External testing: This external penetration testing targets the website, email accounts, DNS servers (DNS), and web applications. The objectives are access to and extraction of valuable data.
  • Internal testing: A tester accessing an app under its firewall simulates an insider attack during an intern test. This does not always simulate a rogue employee. This is not always a simulation of a rogue employee.
  • Blind Testing: The only information a tester can get when engaging in blind testing of a business is its title. Security personnel can see the entire attack unfold instantaneously.
  • Double-blind testing: Security personnel is not informed about the simulated attack in a double-blind test. They won’t be able to improve their defenses prior to a breach attempt like in the real world.
  • Targeted Testing: In this scenario, the security officers and testers work together and keep each other informed about their whereabouts. This training exercise allows security teams to quickly get feedback from hackers.

Responsibilities of Penetration Tester

The daily responsibilities of a penetration tester will vary depending on the organization. Five fundamental responsibilities are shared by all penetration tester positions:

1. Conducts tests on apps and networks

To find vulnerabilities, a penetration tester must create tests to break into security-protected computer systems and networks and web-based applications.

2. Assesses your physical security

It is essential to evaluate the security of server systems and network hardware devices physically. These physical evaluations should identify weaknesses and offer solutions to security issues such as temperature, vandalism, and humidity.

3. Conducts security audits

To assess the system’s compliance with predetermined standards, you will conduct network and security audits. This will allow you to spot potential security system flaws and attack vectors.

4. Analyze security policies

Organizations enforce security policies. These policies provide guidelines and protocols for accessing and using IT resources. You will have to assess the success. These policies, suggest changes and try to improve our methodological material.

5. Writing security assessment reports

After you have completed your research and tested, you will need documentation, security reports, and communication with management and IT about possible solutions.

Also read: SOC Analyst: What It Is and How to Become a SOC Analyst

Penetration Tester Key Skill Requirements

These skills are required to become a penetration tester:

1. Computer networks and knowledge

Every pentester should have a working knowledge of Open Systems Interconnection (OSI), and computer network architecture. This includes:

  • Link-layer protocols: 802.3 (Ethernet/ARP), 802.1Q (VLANs), and 802.11 (Wi-Fi)
  • Network-layer Protocols: IP (IPv4, ICv6) and ICMP
    Transport layer protocol: UDP
  • Application Layer Protocols: DNS and HTTPS, DHCP. LDAP. FTP. SMTP. IMAP. POP. SSH. Telnet.

It is important to understand how protocols work and their purpose. One should, for example, be able to explain the process of visiting a website. This will allow you to respond to questions like “How is our browser and remote server communicating?” Or on each OSI layer what network protocols are being used? You should also feel comfortable using packet capture programs such as Wireshark.

By being familiar with network protocols and knowing which ones can be trusted, penetration testers can stop someone from accessing personal data via a computer network. Understanding network topology maps and network schemas are essential because clients who are pen testing are often asked about them.

2. Understanding the different components of a network

Pentesters need to know the types of network software and hardware components, and how a can enterprise sets up its network. They also need to know what security measures are used. This includes a deep knowledge of network switches, routers/gateways, firewalls, and virtual local area networks (VLANs).

You should be able to see how the network control controls (NAC) are set up, and how you can get around them. This includes Media Access Control (MAC) cloning and Man in the Middle (MITM) attacks.

Penetration testers must also be familiar with the top network solution companies, such as Brocade, Checkpoint, and Cisco, F5 Networks. Fortinet, Juniper and Fortinet.This will allow you to better understand their systems and their vulnerabilities, as well as how one might exploit them.

3. Familiarity and familiarity with vulnerabilities and exploits other than tool suites

Interviews often include a question asking candidates if they are more familiar with security flaws than what automated tools can describe. The size of the company and the needs of the candidate will affect the questions asked. Pen testers must be able to tell if they can still work if a customer uses security tools that recognize a specific exploit. It is not a good idea for testers to be helpless if they are unable to use the tool XYZ.

It is not a good idea for testers to copy the vulnerability scanners’ reports verbatim. It is not uncommon for vulnerabilities to be discovered that have no known exploit code. Is this a vulnerability? Yes, there is a vulnerability. However, exploit code cannot be used to exploit it. While exploit writers may not be exactly what companies are looking for, pen testers who are proficient in the art of adapting exploits to work in specific networks need to be able to test them.

4. Willingness to continually learn

It is impossible for penetration testers to be experts in all topics. They must learn new things and get practical experience. Instead of waiting for a cybersecurity company to write a report on the latest exploit, why not create a virtual machine and get the code? Experiential learning is great for building muscle memory.

penetration test does not require “muscle”, but it does require the ability to recall knowledge and combine our understanding in new ways. If you are interested in working as a penetration tester, posting your learning videos is a great way to show that you have been learning. Videos can be fun for anyone and can be a great way to demonstrate knowledge.

5. Knowledge of web communications and security technologies

Although this section could have been split into two sections, it is more efficient to combine them for several reasons. Testers need the ability to register a domain name, map it onto a cloud-IP address and create secure certificates for that domain. Then, they can use those certificates to protect web communication.

Also, you should be familiar with security technologies. Web applications are now a common component of every assessment. Therefore, everyone should be familiar with them. The web application design must be understood by evaluators. They should also know how to identify input fields and obtain the data needed to abuse the functionality of the web application.

6. Ability to write or script code

While your code does not need to be production-quality, a penetration tester who also works as a programmer can reduce the time it takes to conduct an evaluation. At the moment, Python, Perl, and PoonerShell are the most important languages that you need to be proficient in. These languages should be fluent, but you also need to know how to use the keyboard to modify data in any format required to create an operational picture.

Also read: How To Build A Career In Ethical Hacking

7. Soft skills: public speaking, report writing, and being a team player

Each member of the team must be able to explain complex concepts in a way that is understandable by even non-technical people. If writing and speaking are not your strong areas, it is worth finding ways to improve your skills. People tend to avoid the highly skilled technical wizards that everyone wants on a team, but not in front of clients.

Even senior members of a pen testing team should be capable of handling basic processes. Workflows will be more efficient if one can trust that the other has their best interests at heart.

Penetration Tester Salary in 2022

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, (BLS) says that the overall employment outlook for information security analysts is good. The projected growth in employment for information security analysts from 2019 to 2029 is 31%, which is much higher than the average projection for all occupations. This optimistic outlook is based upon the increasing number of cyberattacks that could negatively impact businesses such as hospitals, banks, and other financial institutions that deal with sensitive customer or patient data.

Pay as a penetration tester will depend on your location, education, experience, and certifications. Two areas that often pay higher wages are financial services and military contracts.

ZipRecruiter reports that the average income for penetration testing in America is $118,000. (as per June 15, 2022 data). This is $56.73 an hour. This is $9,834 per month or $2,269 per week. The average salary for penetration testers in the United States is $97,000 (25th%) and $132,500 (7th%), with high-income earners (90th%) earning $156,000 annually.

ZipRecruiter projects an annual income of $63,000 to $178,500. You may have the opportunity to move up and earn more depending on your skill level, geographic location, and years of experience. A penetration tester’s average salary can range from $35,500 to $35,500.

Recent job postings on ZipRecruiter indicate that there is a strong demand for penetration testers within Chicago and Illinois. Chicago is the first state to offer salaries for penetration testers, out of all 50. They earn an average annual salary of $121,448. ZipRecruiter identified the 10 best-paying cities for penetration tester jobs. San Mateo, California is the most highly-paid city on the list.

Daly City, California, and Berkeley, California are close behind. These ten locations have a higher average salary than the national average. There are many opportunities for penetration testers to increase their financial potential by moving.

As a penetration tester, You will be eligible for a variety of employee benefits, including bonuses, a company pension plan, private insurance, gym memberships, and sponsorship opportunities for professional growth. Businesses in all industries are looking for pen testers because they can find vulnerabilities before the threat actor can.


There is a high demand for penetration testers today, as it is one of the best ways to combat zero-day threats. To learn how to become a penetration tester, you can look into courses such as CompTIA PenTest+ and EC-Council Certified Ethical Hacker Master (CEH), EC Licensed Penetration Tester Master (LPT Master), and many others. These certification courses will equip you with the necessary skills to be a successful penetration tester and help you advance in your career.

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