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September 4, 2023 - 5 minutes

Pentesting: What is it? How Can I Get Started?

Learn everything you need to know about penetration testing

Ironhack - Changing The Future of Tech Education


If you like the idea of getting paid to essentially perform James Bond-type tasks and hack into the computer systems of large organizations such as financial institutions, chances are you'll be interested in a career as a pen tester.

Many organizations around the world employ hackers (ethical hackers in this case) to test their IT systems by trying to break into them. As data and digital information become more valuable and crucial to the world economy, the need for IT security is also increasing rapidly. Organizations such as banks, financial institutions, healthcare firms, and software companies need to protect their computer systems from actual hackers, therefore investing a lot of money and resources in digital security. Because of this, it’s become a lucrative and interesting career path to follow.

What is a Penetration Test? Or Pen test?

A penetration test - also known as a pen test - is a type of testing used by companies to identify vulnerabilities and weaknesses in their IT security. Any area where an actual hacker may be able to break into their network is a threat and a penetration tester imitates potential attacks on a computer network and tries to steal data, financial information, or personal data.

Performing actual cyber attacks is one of the strongest ways to truly test a network and verify its stability. Cybersecurity is a growing industry, and there is huge demand for professionals in this field. Different companies have different needs when it comes to penetration testing. This depends on the type of information that needs to be protected and the type of systems that they use.

What is the difference between pen testing and vulnerability assessment?

Vulnerability testing also falls under the area of IT security, but is a different type of examination. Vulnerability tests are generally carried out separately to, or sometimes before, penetration tests. They are designed to define and identify weaknesses in a system and to classify them. These weak areas can then be prioritized according to the danger they pose and addressed individually through upgrades, the implementation of firewalls, or software updates. It is not uncommon for a penetration tester to also carry out vulnerability assessments, though the purpose of these is quite different to pen tests.

Types of pentests

Pentesting is split into three main types of tests. These are referred to as white box, black box, and gray box. These three methods examine various potential scenarios that a criminal hacker may be in, depending on how much they know about a company's computer network:

  • Gray box penetration tests give the tester some knowledge about the system they are trying to hack

  • Black box pentests provide the tester with zero knowledge about the system

  • White box pen testing gives the tester all the details about a system or network

Penetration testing is a proactive way to ensure the security of an IT network. The three types of pentest cover the different positions that a hacker may be in and provide a solid overview of the potential risks that an organization may be facing.

What are Some Skills of Pentesters?

The skills required for pentesters vary, but include:

  • A solid scripting ability: Java and JavaScript are especially important, as are the computer languages Python, Bash, and Golang. 

  • A solid understanding of computer systems and network protocols.

  • Experience with various networks and operating systems including Windows, Mac OS, and Linux is required, and mobile penetration testing for both Android and iOS systems will sometimes need to be performed.

Additionally, curiosity and a technical mindset are important skills for a pen tester to possess. They need to constantly stay up to date with the latest developments in technology and be aware of new hacking techniques and opportunities that may be used by criminals. Creativity and strong communication skills are also valuable assets for anyone working in IT security.

It is important to keep your skills and knowledge as a pentester up to date; ongoing learning should always be part of your role as a penetration tester. Currently, security tools that are used by penetration testers include Wireshark, Kali, Metasploit, and Wed Inspect. 

Becoming a Pentester

The best way to become a pen tester is through learning and experience. Training in the area of cybersecurity will get you started, and is essential for anyone who is new to the field. A bootcamp in this area will cover topics such as computer hardware, software, routing protocols, and networks as well as network administration and IT security principles.

Knowing how to build a security program is also a key component in digital security, as is knowing how to create a firewall. Once you understand these facets of IT, you will better understand how to break into them and truly put them to the test.

Once you have completed a cybersecurity course, the rest comes with practice and ongoing training. Gaining experience in the field of penetration testing is the best way to learn the ropes. It is not only money that needs digital protection nowadays; personal information and business data have become incredibly valuable resources that hackers try to acquire. For this reason, the range of companies that need pentesting is vast, and it is a solid industry in which to build a career.

Get Started in Cybersecurity

A cybersecurity bootcamp is an intensive but highly efficient way to cover everything you need to know before applying for jobs in the industry. Taking a cybersecurity bootcamp is a great way to cover the fundamentals of cybersecurity and get you started on the road to becoming a penetration tester or IT expert. After graduating, working and gaining experience in IT security is the next step to master pentesting!

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