Cybersecurity is a massive industry – and it’s only growing as our world becomes more digitized. Global spending on cybersecurity is over $100 billion annually, with countless organizations allocating large amounts of their budgets to keeping their data secure.
How can you be certain that your cybersecurity measures will withstand an attack? That’s where penetration testing comes in.
A penetration test (also known as a “pen test” or “ethical hacking”) is a simulated attack against your computer system. The test examines a system’s cybersecurity software and applications, looking for vulnerabilities that might threaten the organization’s data. Pen tests can inform IT infrastructure and employee training, helping create a better and safer system.
Advanced Penetration Skills Currently In-Demand
A successful penetration test is vital to ensure a company’s data security. But if you’re going to run a successful penetration test, you need a certain set of unique skills. These qualities will help you thoroughly test the company’s computer system, spot vulnerabilities when they appear, and make the right choices to mitigate any potential threats.
When employers look for IT professionals to run their penetration tests, they want professionals who have the following qualities:
- Understanding of web communications
- Knowledge of system vulnerabilities and exploits
- Coding and script writing
- Report writing and communication skills
- Willingness to keep learning
Let’s look at these qualities in greater depth to understand how they can serve a penetration tester.
Understanding of Web Communications
First and foremost, a penetration tester must have a thorough knowledge in secure web communications and technologies. These IT experts need to know how to register a domain name, secure a cloud-IP address, generate certificates for a domain, and much more. Without this knowledge base, it will be nearly impossible to properly analyze an organization’s computer system.
And these days, this knowledge cannot end with traditional web technologies. The rise of smartphones has made mobile web applications a crucial part of almost every business, and penetration testers need to assess the security of apps just as well as they do computer networks. Testers need to know how apps are built (and how they can be exploited) so they can fully assess a company’s data security across all platforms.
Knowledge of Vulnerabilities and Exploits
Most organizations use some sort of automated tool to protect their data, like anti-virus software or a firewall. These can be highly effective, but they don’t always guard against every possible vulnerability in a system.
This is why employers need penetration tests: to spot the weak areas that automated tools miss. If you want to run a successful penetration test, you need to know what you’re looking for – even when the software says everything is fine.
Penetration testers also need to understand exploits – in other words, the tricks hackers use to take advantage of gaps in your security. If you are aware of possible exploits in your system, you can design proper countermeasures to protect your data against people who try to use those exploits. It is important for penetration testers to both know which exploits their system may face and know how to counter them.
Coding and Script Writing
When a tester spots a vulnerability in a system, he or she has two jobs: alert the organization higher ups of the vulnerability, and fix it. The latter task will require a basic understanding and ability to write code. Penetration testers should have a basic proficiency in code languages like Python, Perl, PowerShell, and Bash so they can address vulnerabilities in any system, no matter how it was originally coded.
Report Writing and Communications
As we just mentioned, penetration testers need to tell their employers about vulnerabilities they’ve spotted in networks during testing. However, it’s important to remember that most professionals (outside of the IT field) don’t understand the minutiae of data security. They likely won’t understand IT lingo – and in some cases, they may not even understand the basics of data security software.
Penetration testers need to know how to communicate these complicated ideas to people who aren’t familiar with them. They will have to know how to clearly write reports and communicate verbally with their employers so that everyone understands the penetration test results and the steps the tester took to improve the company’s data security.
Willingness to Keep Learning
The last (and perhaps most important) quality a penetration tester should have is a desire to learn more about their industry. Hackers and other cybercriminals are constantly developing new ways to exploit vulnerabilities and steal data, so penetration testers must always be one step ahead.
If you’re constantly studying and learning about the new methods for hacking a system, you’ll be ready to defend your organization’s data if an attack comes your way. Constantly learning about new threats (as well as new coding tricks or new technologies to boost your security) will help you stay on top of the cybersecurity industry.
How to Master These Skills
Many of the skills we’ve listed above (effective and clear communication, a desire to learn) are innate qualities someone may or may not possess. Others however (coding, knowledge of technologies and vulnerabilities) can be taught – and if you want to be a penetration tester, you’ll need to learn them. Here’s what you need to do to master these skills:
Get A Degree
Firstly, individuals who want to work in IT should get a bachelor’s degree in computer science, information technology, telecommunications, cybersecurity, or another computer-related field. This will give you the foundation you need to understand computer systems – including data security systems.
In addition to a bachelor’s degree, most IT professionals need certification to help them gain more knowledge in their specific field. Professionals looking to run penetration tests could benefit from a Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) certification, which will teach them to appropriately assess security threats and design programs that mitigate any potential attacks.
Finally, the best way for someone to master penetration testing is to have on-the-job experience. IT professionals can work with their colleagues to learn tips and tricks for running successful penetration tests – and the more tests you run, the easier they will become.
If you want to learn more about a career in IT, visit Legends of Tech to view our library of training courses today.