Cybersecurity is an essential part to many modern businesses and neglecting it can be costly. To identify a system’s vulnerabilities that can be exploited by criminal hackers, cybersecurity professionals conduct penetration tests. But what exactly is pen testing? And how do you become a pen tester? NGT Academy instructor Patrick Gorman breaks down pen testing for us, from the VAPT process to the 5 pen testing methods. Plus, learn more about the typical pen tester career path and how NGT Academy is training the next generation of cyber security engineers!
Penetration testing (aka pen testing) is a security exercise where a cybersecurity expert attempts to find and exploit vulnerabilities in a computer system. Pen testing is important because it can bring attention to areas of a website that might be attacked. By allowing a responsible professional to test your systems, you can avoid costly mistakes and fix vulnerable areas in your systems.
Pen testing is often paired with a vulnerability assessment to effectively find flaws in a system.
While ethical hacking also includes hacking methods, pen testing is different because it generally looks at a narrow or specific weakness whereas ethical hackers look at a larger picture of the system as a whole.
How often are pen tests done?
Pen tests are generally done once or twice a year. Frequency can also depend on things like changes in cyber policy, changes in infrastructure, risk tolerance, and other factors. Regular pen tests are essential for ensuring that companies aren’t hit with major data breaches.
The VAPT process is a general procedure that pen testers follow. While vulnerability assessments and penetration tests are technically two separate procedures, they can be performed alongside one another to determine how strong a system’s cybersecurity is. There are many different pen tests for all types of systems, but they will follow the VAPT procedure for most situations.
Vulnerability tests are generally conducted to test and pinpoint where a system has weaknesses, such as being vulnerable to SQL injections. A penetration test can be paired with this assessment to probe these weaknesses and find out more information about a system’s defenses and areas that need improvement. Pen testers provide a detailed report to their clients after they’re finished testing.
When would an outside vendor be used instead of an in-house security team?
Many companies and businesses have in-house security teams, but sometimes it’s necessary to have an outside vendor complete a pen test. In larger industries where businesses are compliant with federal regulations, outside vendors complete pen tests to ensure companies are actually compliant. These industries include:
If your business isn’t required to be compliant with federal standards, chances are you don’t need an outside vendor to do a pen test.
1. External Testing
An external network pen test is designed to test the effectiveness of perimeter security controls to prevent and detect attacks as well as identifying weaknesses in internet-facing assets, such as web, mail, and FTP servers. All you need is an IP address for a firewall in order for an external test to be done.
2. Internal Testing
An internal network pen test is performed to help gauge what an attacker could achieve with initial access to a network. An internal network pen test can mirror insider threats, such as employees intentionally or unintentionally performing malicious actions.
3. Blind Testing
Blind testing imitates a real cyber-attack, apart from the fact that the company has authorized it. The information given is limited and the pen tester has to figure out most of the firm’s information, just as a real hacker would.
4. Double-Blind Testing
Double-blind testing is similar to blind testing, apart from that there is someone in the organization who is aware of the activity going on. The test is done to determine how fast and effective the security team’s ability to monitor or respond. This test prepares the team for a potential real attack and identifies where loopholes in the system need to be sealed.
5. Targeted Testing
Targeted testing involves the corporate IT team that works together with external professionals to determine the vulnerability of the company’s systems. The task is conducted on an open network where the team is able to compare their findings and find solutions to strengthen systems to prevent potential attacks.
What happens after a pen test is complete?
Once a pen test has been completed, the security team reviews the results and discusses them with the client. The pen testing team should think about developing a remediation plan for the client that remedies anything broken and needing to be fixed.
Everyone has to start as a beginner at some point, and pen testing is no different. Junior-level pen testers will run tests and complete reports on the results. Higher-level pen testers have the ability to complete more sophisticated tests. There are other tech roles like software engineers may occasionally perform pen tests, but a pen tester focuses on pen testing.
What certifications do you need to become a pen tester?
Pen testers aren’t required to have specific certifications, but there are some that can certainly help. Vendor certifications like CompTIA Security+, Offensive Security Certified Professional (OSCP), and Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) among others can be useful to professionals interested in pen testing. Junior-level pen testers will generally hold a CompTIA Security+ or CEH certification.
What are the tools that pen testers use?
Pen testers use a variety of tools to get their job done. These tools include Nmap, Wireshark, Metasploit, Hashcat, John the Ripper, Hydra, Nikto, and Burp Suite.
Do pen testers need to know how to code?
NGT Academy includes pen testing labs in the Cyber Security Specialization bootcamp that simulate certain elements of a pen test. You don’t need to know anything about pen testing before enrolling in the Cyber Security program. NGT Academy will provide you with all of the knowledge and tools you need to learn pen testing.
Cybersecurity is a field with plenty of potential and it’s set to explode in the coming years — There’s never been a better time to get started! The future of cybersecurity will likely include more artificial intelligence (AI), but there will always be a need for a human being to make decisions and figure out next steps. The processes (like VAPT) will remain largely the same, and while we will depend on many of the same tools, there is always the potential for new ones to be added to the mix.
While it’s great to practice with HackTheBox and other testing tools, I stress to students that they should set up their own testing environment. By setting up your own testing environment you are able to put your knowledge into practice.
Top 4 Tips for Launching a Cybersecurity Career after Bootcamp!
Find out why bootcamp instructor Lindsey loves teaching data science at Flatiron School!
Find out if UT Austin Boot Camps was worth it for Melissa!